Free Agency should be off-limits for the Chicago Blackhawks this year
As luck would have it, just when the Chicago Blackhawks were at their worst, the list of players entering free agency is remarkably deep this year. However, the Blackhawks should avoid UFAs as much as possible. If the team is serious about hitting rock bottom, then splashing cash and signing big-name players can't be the team's strategy to rebuild.
There are other reasons to sign a well-known player via free agency. For example, if the team was looking for a way to market itself, then sure, signing a big name would make sense. However, the focus has to be on improving the organizational depth as a whole. The best way to do that is to stay well away from UFAs even though there are a lot of quality ones this year. Fortunately, no one in their right mind would consider Chicago a contending team so the really talented UFAs will probably sign somewhere else anyway!
What this season should be is one where expectations are low so that veterans understand the plan, and rookies are able to make necessary mistakes for the purposes of learning. Bringing in someone like Filip Forsberg might be cool to Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, but that forward is blocking the way for a prospect to take their first strides into the NHL.
If the team wants to sign UFAs, they should just sign their own, and then maybe trade them at the deadline. This is how I'd like Chicago to look at free agency this year. Calvin de Haan is due a new deal, but should he stick around? Probably not. He's a great player, and he deserves a shot at the Stanley Cup that won't be possible any time soon in Chicago. If he can stay healthy, a "sign-and-trade" deal might be good for everyone involved.
The obvious problem here is that the team needs to respect Kane and Toews. GM Kyle Davidson needs to level with them, and give these players the chance to decide their own fates. They carry a lot of weight as players, and that's something that can't be easily dismissed. Then again, according to rumours, Kane, Toews, and even DeBrincat could be on their way out soon. It's possible, but I'll believe it when I see it.
It's one thing for the Blackhawks to take on a "trade everyone" mindset, but it would be a poor business decision. There would be almost zero incentive for fans to even care that the team exists until they were good again. Considering the level of ill will that was accumulated due to the team's legal disputes, shipping out a couple of the most marketable players in franchise history will only turn more people away from the team. Unless there's an amazing return for Chicago's veteran stars, and ticket prices drop considerably for fans, I can't see how trading Toews and Kane will be beneficial for anyone.
If Chicago wants to bring in an older marquee player, that option is open, but what's the point? The team already has aging accomplished stars. Unless the team needs to spend the money to reach the salary cap minimum, there's simply no good reason to look for players through free agency. Free agents will block a path for rookies, and Chicago shouldn't be pretending it's going to be a good team this year. Hopefully, Davidson stays the course and focuses on internally drafting and developing talent. Free agency is not the way forward for the Blackhawks.