Last summer, the Blackhawks were fairly quiet on the free agent market with their July 1st signings consisting of goalie Cam Ward, defenseman Brandon Manning, and winger Chris Kunitz. As a cap-strapped team with several holes to fill, they had no choice but to look at bringing in depth players.
That should change this summer, at least if GM Stan Bowman has his way. Speaking with reporters, including NBC Sports Chicago’s Charlie Roumeliotis, Bowman indicated that he expects that the team will be a lot more active on the open market than they have been in recent years.
The expected departures of Ward, Kunitz, and center Marcus Kruger give Chicago $6.775MM to play with while they’re also not weighed down by Marian Hossa’s long-term cap hit ($5.275MM through 2020-21) either. While Hossa’s career is over, that amount is on the books in the summer which restricted the flexibility that the Blackhawks had at the time.
As things stand, Chicago has a little under $61MM tied up in 15 players for next season, per CapFriendly. With the Upper Limit expected to push past the $80MM mark, that leaves them with lots of room to work with.
Having said that, they would be wise not to spend right to the cap ceiling with multi-year deals. Winger Alex DeBrincat is a restricted free agent next summer and his next contract is going to be a hefty one after he put up 41 goals this season so they’ll need to keep some money aside for that deal. They may also want to keep a bit freed up for next summer knowing that starting goalie Corey Crawford is going to be an unrestricted free agent and they will likely need to commit big money to a starter, whether that’s Crawford or someone else.
Even with that in mind, however, they should have enough to make a splash on the free agent market in July. They’ve been speculatively linked to Blue Jackets winger Artemi Panarin given his success with Chicago in the past but they may also want to look into upgrading their back end as well. Whichever way they go, Bowman will have some financial flexibility to work with and it has been a while since he had that.