Blackhawks defenseman Erik Gustafsson was one of the biggest surprises in the league last season. While he was relatively productive in his two previous part seasons with Chicago, no one expected him to go out and collect 17 goals and 43 assists in 2018-19 but that’s what he wound up accomplishing. As a result, he entered this year as one of the more intriguing pending unrestricted free agents.
Logically, given the career year, Chicago wasn’t rushing to try to sign an extension back in the summer when Gustafsson’s value would have been at its highest. That proved to be a prudent decision as his offensive numbers have dipped considerably this season as he sits with 10 points (3-7-10) through the first 30 games of the season.
Although now would be a better time to discuss an extension, NBC Sports Chicago’s Charlie Roumeliotis reports that the team has not yet engaged Gustafsson’s camp about a possible new deal. Between that and where they sit in the standings (tied for seventh in the Wild Card standings and already 10 points out of a divisional playoff spot), that suggests that the 27-year-old could become a potential rental pickup in the weeks to come.
One potential reason for their unwillingness to sign Gustafsson to an extension is that they already have three left-shot defenders under contract through 2021-22 in Duncan Keith, Calvin de Haan, and Olli Maatta. Adding another one on what will still likely be a considerably higher price tag than his current $1.2MM AAV could make the price of their back end a bit too high, especially with Brent Seabrook and Connor Murphy also under contract. Combined, those other blueliners will count for nearly $25MM on their books for the next two seasons.
As someone with somewhat of a track record of offensive production, the fact that he can log over 20 minutes a night, and his low cap charge, Gustafsson should garner a considerable amount of interest from teams with playoff aspirations which should bode well for GM Stan Bowman to generate a strong return if he ultimately goes the trade route. Roumeliotis notes that Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has been spotted at several Chicago games already this season and Montreal’s back end on the left side is something that they have been trying to upgrade dating back to the offseason. Chances are that they won’t be the only team calling about Gustafsson over the next little while though.