The Blackhawks currently sit at the bottom of the Central division, only ahead of the struggling Arizona Coyotes with yet another season down the drain. With this years first belonging to the Blue Jackets following the Seth Jones pick up, the Blackhawks have to put all their focus on re-signing key players, moving out unnecessary contracts, and filling out positional needs with cheap options in free agency. If the team can do that, they will have a successful off-season. In this article, I will discuss five specific things I believe the Blackhawks need to do, to have that successful off-season, and have an improved year, with a competitive squad.
Re-Signing Dylan Strome
Even though he’s been front and center of trade rumours for a couple years and was a healthy scratch at one point in his time with the team, Dylan Strome has been impressive to say the least, proving he wants to stay in Chicago and be apart of the rebuild. The 25 year old forward came over from the Arizona Coyotes in the 2018-19 season after starting out the year struggling, as he only had 6 points through 20 games. The Blackhawks traded F Nick Schmaltz back to Arizona in exchange for Strome and F Brendan Perlini. Perlini is now apart of the Oilers organization.
After joining the Blackhawks, Strome turned his game around and put up 51 points in 56 games, and has only advanced his game into a offensive go-to player for the team. Although struggling slightly over the next 2 years and dealing with rumours, Strome still managed to put up 55 points through 98 games over those 2 seasons, and stayed with the team through the struggles. This season after being placed in the top 6, Strome has only proved further why he should stay in Chicago as he is currently on pace for 51 points in 69 games, while being 4th in points.
If the money isn’t outrageous, and the Blackhawks can workout a 4-5 year extension, they should do everything in their power to re-sign Dylan Strome. I personally would look at a 4 year deal around $2.5-3M AAV, and see where it goes from there, but once it gets north of $4M, that’s when they should stop. With the Hawks having a little bit of wiggle room, they could lock up Strome while being able to re-sign a few more UFA’s and RFA’s, but also make a splash in free agency.
Signing a new Goaltender
The Blackhawks traded their star goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury away, as they granted his wishes of being moved to a Stanley Cup contender. With that move, the team is left with Colin Delia and Kevin Lankinen going into next season. Now, both goaltenders have potential to become stars as we’ve seen sparks in both players. But, the ideal choice, to me, would be bringing Lankinen back with another goaltender that’s trusted to play more then half of the games, and I’ll go over a couple of candidates.
Mikko Koskinen: Koskinen has 1 year left on his deal with the Oilers, and I’m convinced he will not be back in Edmonton. Koskinen has shown that in a role where he isn’t the starter and gets rest with another trusted goalie with him, he can have really good games and steal wins away from teams. I would assume Koskinen gets a bridge deal if he leaves Edmonton, sitting between 2-3 years, around $2-3M AAV.
Braden Holtby: Another prime example of a goalie who plays well when not given the starter role and is given rest is Braden Holtby. Running him with Lankinen could lead the Blackhawks to having a strong 1A, 1B tandem as Holtby has shown promise in Dallas with the games he’s played, as well as when he used to play with the Capitals. I can see Holtby being around the same price as Koskinen.
Evaluate Coaching Staff
Since the Blackhawks fired Jeremy Colliton and two assistants after a brutal 1-9-2 start to the new campaign, the Blackhawks promoted Derek King to interim head coach after coaching their AHL affiliate, the Rockford Icehogs. Since King stepped in, the Blackhawks have been 24-29-9, which is rather impressive for a team that wasn’t expected to be much better then a bottom tier tanker after the awful beginning to the year.
The Blackhawks need to lock up Derek King, what he’s done for the team has turned them around entirely and with the pieces he has, he has made the best of them. Battling through injury troubles, having players constantly involved in rumours, he has found a way to keep the Blackhawks an entertaining team to watch with stars like Debrincat and Kane doing their thing, and new guys like Taylor Raddysh and Caleb Jones being given opportunities wherever they can be. With the right pieces next season, King could start to turn this squad into at bare minimum, a team fighting for a wild card spot.
Make Moves, Be Aggressive
I personally and strongly believe the Blackhawks need to be aggressive. With the amount of cap space they have and with the legends playing there already, they have some serious advantages when it comes to attracting free agents, and players who have NMC/NTC’s. It’s clear the Blackhawks need help in almost every department as far as depth goes, and there are some cheap options out there to add in their bottom 4 D, their bottom 6 forwards, and as I mentioned earlier, a new goalie. A few options for pickups can include the following:
Vladislav Namestnikov: The Stars added Vlad at the deadline to add to their depth up front, and he has always been a player that plays the role he’s given perfectly. The 29 year old centermen currently has 28 points through 71 games this season, and will likely only cost between $1-1.5M AAV.
Justin Braun: The Rangers picked up Justin Braun and he has been playing the role he’s been given quite well. The 35 year old has 18 points through 67 games with a +1 rating to add. His leadership and experience would only add to the culture that the Blackhawks are trying to build.
Ilya Lyubushkin: After being traded to the Leafs, Lyubushkin has been considered a 6th/7th D man with their team. He’ll be a key depth add going into playoffs, but it’s very likely he walks to free agency. The Blackhawks should be all over this, and he wouldn’t be too expensive either. I would predict around $2-2.5M AAV.
Talk to Kane/Toews
Finally, the Blackhawks need to sit down and talk to their faces of the franchise. The two stars and the two most well known leaders in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who have won Stanley Cups with Chicago, and would like to win at least one more before they both decide to retire. Recently, they’ve both been involved in trade rumours. Specifically Kane, but Toews’ name has been tossed around.
The organization needs to sit down with them both and tell them the direction the team is going, and then give them the option of what they want to do. If they want to stay and be apart of the rebuild, they should have some sort of say in who to bring in. If not, you grant their wishes and move them to a contender but be focused on bringing in enough assets that your future looks bright for years to come.