The 2022-2023 season is in the books for the Chicago Blackhawks. Fans are mere days away from finding out who wins the Bedard Sweepstakes. Regardless, the Blackhawks and the other teams in tank mode will each get a quality player. Will drafting a top player be enough for the Hawks to move on from tank mode? Will prospects develop enough to move up in the standings? The bigger questions, though, is what role will cap space play in the direction of the Blackhawks next year?
At this point, the Chicago Blackhawks have $41,221,789 on the books. That is nearly $40 million shy of a full cap and about $20 million short of league minimum. The forwards account for just under $13 million. Because of the contracts of Seth Jones, Nikita Zaitsev and Connor Murphy, the defense accounts for about $20 million. Goal tending is $3,800,000 for Peter Mrazek. Finally, dead cap hits tally up to just over $5 million.
Clearly, the Chicago Blackhawks need to stay as close to $60 million, as they are not yet in "win now" mode. That leaves about $20 million to add. If the rookies and/or prospects are added, they won't help much. Their contracts all carry a $750,000 to $950,000 hit. That means that the Blackhawks will have to add some veterans to the team. $20 million means five to six vets at a hit around $3 to $4 million each.
In that range, there are quality players available. That is either good or bad depending on how one looks at it. When developing young players, it's essential to have some vets around to share knowledge of the game and help their approach in the midst of an 82 game grind. However, if a team is trying to add prospects to a once depleted group, veterans can achieve more success than desired, and ultimately lose top spots in the draft.
The Chicago Blackhawk fanbase is all too aware of this. In the midst of a tank, Coach Luke Richardson and the likes of Andreas Athanasiou, Jason Dickinson, Tyler Johnson, Petr Mrazek and Alex Stalock played like their lives depended on it. Their drive and determination lessened the Hawks chance at the number one pick. And, that is a real concern for Hawks fans. (for now) It's clear that Richardson relates to players. It's clear that they play hard for him. It's clear that the identity of this team moving forward is going to be one based on two-way hard work.
Most assume at this point that the Blackhawks will resign Athanasiou. His cap hit was $3 million last season and will likely stay the same or near. The Hawks need the hit and he proved to Richardson that he adds value. And, he had great chemistry with Lukas Reichel. He will be a big help in Reichel's development. I would also imagine that the Blackhawks will resign Philipp Kurashev. Davidson really seems to like him; his point production is rather tepid, but he is still young and worth the hit. The Blackhawks will also resign Anders Bjork. He is a bit older, but had some nice games with the Hawks, eight points in 13 games. Caleb Jones and Ian Mitchell are both restricted free agents on the defensive side. Both have less than stellar metrics and should be moved if possible to make room for younger prospects with more upside.
Of course there will be trades and other moves, but there will still be space available for those vets. Max Domi is available and would welcome a return to Chicago. He loved his time with the Hawks and endeared himself to Hawks fans as well. He would likely come in at $3-$3.5 milion cap hit. Other players in that range are Alex Killorn, Connor Brown, Alex Kerfoot, Miles Wood, among others. They should stay away from defensemen and goalies- the prospects need the time and the goalie pool might be the strongest position for the future.
Another name that comes up frequently is Alex DeBrincat. He is a restricted free agent. As much as I would like to see him in a Hawks sweater, his cap hit will simply be too large. If the Hawks play all of this correctly, the bulk of the future cap would be tied up in Kevin Korchinski, Lukas Reichel, Frank Nazar and Connor Bedard/Adam Fantilli. Spending money on DeBrincat now would be premature and hinder the growth long term and potentially hand cuff the Blackhawks.
While some fans are calling for the Tank 2.0, the addition of many veterans to fill out this roster and meet minimum salary cap will ensure that the Hawks do not finish in the bottom three next season. Will the Blackhawks be good? No, of course not. However, Luke Richardson will bring out the best in those added folks. Along with a rising Lukas Reichel, maybe Kevin Korchinski, and potentially Connor Bedard, the Blackhawks will surprise some folks next year and be a difficult opponent on most nights. Don't expect a lottery pick in 2024.