Despite greatly improving their team this offseason, the Chicago Blackhawks still let a valuable forward walk away in free agency, and it’s someone they probably should’ve kept.
There is no question in anybody’s mind that the Chicago Blackhawks will be a better team next year. Putting aside the salary cap issues that they will undoubtedly run into at some point, the ‘Hawks look to be vastly improved on paper, and should hopefully push to make the playoffs in 2022.
The additions of valuable players like defenseman Seth Jones and Vezina-winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury should, in theory, make Chicago a much tougher team to play against next year. However, I think the front office has made a mistake with one player that sadly won’t be on the roster next year: forward Pius Suter.
Suter was in the unique situation of being a restricted free agent after his first season of NHL play. Despite the ‘Hawks choosing to qualify a number of players, they did not extend an offer to Suter, and he signed a two-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings at the beginning of free agency.
In my mind, Pius Suter is one player that the Blackhawks definitely should’ve, at the very least, given a qualifying offer to. Suter proved to be a decent offensive force and was a pleasant surprise on a Blackhawks team that didn’t have many high points.
Besides scoring his first three NHL goals in the same game, Suter showed that he could slot into any team’s top six and make an immediate impact. He was a natural at grinding towards the front of the net, which often led to goals like this one against Dallas:
Now, it was always a given that the team wasn’t going to keep every contract from this past year, for the simple reason that there weren’t enough spots in the lineup. This was especially true at Suter’s center position. However, in light of letting Suter go, the ‘Hawks picked up another center by acquiring Tyler Johnson in a trade with Tampa Bay, which allowed them to get rid of Brent Seabrook’s contract.
While Johnson is a good depth player, this isn’t 2013, and he is unfortunately not the offensive juggernaut that he was a few years ago. While Suter and Johnson had similar season point totals last year, Johnson only scored eight goals, compared to Suter’s 14, and they both played the same number of games. I understand that they really only acquired Johnson to unload Seabrook from the books, but I don’t think that he is a decent replacement for Pius Suter, and I would’ve still rather seen Suter filling up that center position than Johnson.
Suter is also six years younger than Johnson, and, perhaps most importantly, would’ve been cheaper to hold onto, even after qualifying him. Suter’s contract with the Red Wings, per CapFriendly, was for $3.25 million. Compare that to Tyler Johnson’s contract, which is valued at $5 million. While these monetary values aren’t that far off from each other, every dollar counts when you’re in a cap crunch like Chicago currently is.
I also feel that Suter would’ve had more inherent value in the coming years. All in all, I feel like his career is just going to go up, while it appears that Tyler Johnson is more of a depth forward whose offensive contributions may continue to wane.
In the end, I think that the Blackhawks probably could’ve unloaded Seabrook’s contract to Tampa Bay and hung onto Pius Suter. This is especially true given that one of the RFAs they qualified, Nikita Zadorov, ended up being traded to Calgary a few days later anyway, so there’s no reason they couldn’t have also qualified Suter.
Plus, given that Tyler Johnson has played on the wing before in his career, there’s no reason that Suter couldn’t have held onto a spot on the ‘Hawks roster. If there was chemistry, then perhaps he could’ve even played alongside Johnson at some point.
It appears that this is all hypothetical, though, as Suter will now be taking the ice for Detroit the next few seasons. It is interesting to consider, though, how his presence on the Blackhawks could’ve helped the team going forward.