A single-word answer could be, “improve”, and that is what the Blackhawks need to do this off-season. With the focus being on younger players, what would that look like? The first formal step in the re-build was in 2020-21, but now it’s time to push the re-build further and start bringing in elite talent.
The Chicago Blackhawks will likely start by isolating their best up-and-coming players, and then go out and begin acquiring complementary pieces. If 2020-21 was about seeing what the organization had, then 2021-22 will be about refining the lineup. Some of this has already started to take place.
Rockford stalwart Matt Tomkins has signed to play in Sweden. Chicago signed both Henrik Borgstrom and Arvid Soderblom. Neither Cole Moberg nor Roope Laavainen was offered a deal by the Blackhawks in time for the June 1st cut-off date, as noted by CapFriendly. Even if these are small deals on the surface, it’s all but assured that more moves are coming.
The draft is just around the corner, and so is the entry draft for Seattle. Both of these events will (hopefully) positively impact Chicago. Those dates are July 23-24 for the NHL’s draft (Chicago will be drafting 11th), and Seattle will select players from the 31 existing teams as of July 21. Once those events have passed the off-season will truly begin, but the lineup will also be a little clearer.
When they announced their dedication to the youth movement, the Blackhawks put their fans on notice. The thing here is that it was basically just Stan Bowman and the rest of the organization throwing up the white flag before the season even started. There wasn’t a whole lot of risk here. That announcement pushed expectations so low that everyone assumed outright that the season would be long and painful. The further down the standings, the better.
What more efficient way to race to the bottom than by playing a bunch of untested rookies? The only thing is, they were better than everyone thought they’d be, but sadly, no stars in the making. What Chicago has now are holes that need to be filled.
There’s no question that they have substantial organizational depth. This is positive, and most of it came from their own system. If Chicago is going to seriously compete, then the team needs to draft and develop their own players. They proved that this is something that the organization can do. The next step is to find that top-tier talent. This is more difficult. Outside of drafting in the first few slots of an entry draft, the options are, get really lucky later in the draft (see Alex DeBrincat), trade, free agency signing. That’s really about it. Who to bring onboard, and how much money will actually be available? Neither of these questions has clear answers, yet.
Fortunately, Chicago will have quite a bit of cap space, and no real rush to use it. Barring miracles or divine intervention, the Blackhawks aren’t going to be a contender next season, nor were they expected to be among the league’s best teams. That’s all fine, and Chicago can focus on trying to attract talented players from around the league to fill in the roster with the caliber of players needed to truly compete for the Cup.