One of the best things that came out of the weird pandemic season last year was that Chicago Blackhawks fans were able to see what the younger players in the organization were capable of. In a way, that has continued this year because Covid is still a thing as are the protocols for players that test positive. By necessity, Chicago has had to continue the youth movement to accommodate all of the players that need to isolate, on top of any other injuries.
It's a double-edged sword, but the Chicago Blackhawks proved themselves to have an abundance of NHL-ready depth players. No one wins championships without having reliable role players, and Chicago has a bunch of them. In fact, probably too many.
The glut of depth players will impact roster decisions for next year. For example, does Chicago really need to bring back Erik Gustafsson again? No, even though they might. (Sigh) As a bottom-pairing defenseman, Chicago has younger, equally capable players ready to go right now that can fill that spot in the lineup. The organization has to be looking forward, and the future isn't an inconsistent 29-year-old third-pairing blueliner.
Chicago's overloaded talent pool is especially acute defensively. Right now, Chicago has Calvin de Haan, Jake McCabe, Connor Murphy, Riley Stillman, Caleb Jones, and Erik Gustafsson as active defensemen. Seth Jones only just came out of Covid protocol on January 18. However, the team has eight more players under contract. Ian Mitchell, Wyatt Kalynuk, Nolan Allan, Jakub Galvas, Alec Regula, Nicolas Beaudin, Isaak Phillips, and Louis Crevier. The oldest person on that list is Kalynuk at 24-years-old. There's a young group ready to go.
Galvas, Beaudin, Mitchell, Phillips, Kalynuk, and Regula have all played at least a little bit in the NHL. In my opinion, Beaudin, Phillips, and Regula should spend some more time in the AHL. However, Galvas, Mitchell, and Kalynuk could dress for Chicago's next game and I'd be fine with that. The problem is that there isn't space for 10 defensemen, and this list doesn't include players like Wyatt Kaiser who was drafted in 2020, and may start working their way up the depth charts with the Blackhawks sooner rather than later.
Looking at the players that are spread between Rockford and Chicago, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that former GM Stan Bowman's draft strategy was the equivalent of a chef throwing pasta at the wall to see what stuck. Eventually, if you cook enough of it for a long enough amount of time, and just keep throwing more at the wall, something will stick. Voila! Results that you can work with. or something like that and now Chicago has too many role-players.
Legit top-6 players are harder to come by, but it shouldn't be impossible. Chicago significantly damaged its organizational depth during the most recent off-season, but players will still be available that can be signed as free agents if nothing else. There are going to be options. Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames is an intriguing player because he'll be a UFA after this year, and there's been trade speculation circling around him for years. Perhaps if Calgary doesn't make a big postseason splash they cut ties with the winger, or vice-a-versa? He might be expensive, but he'd probably help Chicago's offensive problems.
The issue with attracting Gaudreau, or any other high-profile player is that Chicago is in a bad spot right now as a team. They will almost certainly be sellers at the deadline because the organization needs to focus on its future. Cap space probably won't be an issue in the short-term, but it's more likely that Chicago takes on a bad contract to get assets, rather than pursue top-tier talent to chase the Stanley Cup.
All of those role players listed above are good to have, but it feels safe to say that some of them will be traded out of necessity for Chicago's future. Every team needs competent players to fill out the bottom of their lineups. The Chicago Blackhawks have an abundance of those players. As the trade deadline looms, Chicago will need to decide on who signs for the future, and who to cut ties with.