While Chicago made an announcement today regarding their plans to rebuild (a process that was already underway), don’t expect an exodus of veterans leaving the team either. Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic reports in the latest TSN Insider Trading (video link) that the Blackhawks intend on holding on to veterans Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook and having them as part of the core that will lead them out of this rebuilding phase. Toews made his frustrations known earlier this offseason with the lack of communication about this direction although GM Stan Bowman has spoken with that core leadership group. It remains to be seen how long this plan will take in Chicago but it appears that they will be keeping their long-time veterans around for the process.
The Chicago Blackhawks have taken a page from the New York Rangers, issuing a letter to fans explaining their recent moves and their commitment to a rebuild. The letter reads:
We recently said goodbye to a pair of popular, two-time champions and acquired some new players via trade and free agency. We understand it was tough to see those respected veterans go and realize you may have some questions about our direction. We’d like to adress that direction and share why we’re hopeful for the future of Blackhawks hockey.
We’re committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster. We want more than another window to win; we want to reach the summit again, and stay there–an effort that will require a stockpile of emerging talent to complement our top players. The influx of youth and their progression will provide roster flexibility and depth throughout our lineup.
We were already the youngest team in the 2020 playoffs and several Blackhawks experienced that intensity for the first time; this will help to further establish a culture that embraces the grind of improvement driven by competitors who are relentless, engaged and motivated by a team-first mentality to win.
As our young players develop and learn how to win consistently, they’ll make some mistakes. Inevitably, we’ll miss the mark sometimes, too, but we’ll communicate openly with you on this journey together. We know that what comes next must be more than just words, and that inspires us.
Chicago recently allowed Corey Crawford to leave in free agency and traded Brandon Saad to the Colorado Avalanche. The team is moving forward with an extremely inexperienced tandem in goal and a forward group highlighted by young players like Kirby Dach.
In 2018, the Rangers issued a similar letter to their fans after moving on from core players like Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello. Two and a half years later and the Rangers now have two top picks in the system and a large number of young, talented players ready to take them to the next level.
The Blackhawks obviously are hoping for a similar short turnaround, though there is lots of work to be done in order to get their organization back to contending for the Stanley Cup every year.
- Blackhawks winger Zack Smith still hasn’t been cleared medically following his back surgery in March, relays Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times. At the time of the procedure, the recovery period was expected to be three-to-four months but it’s well past that now. His agent Allain Roy indicated that Smith is making slow progress so it’s still possible that he’ll be ready for next season. A speculative buyout candidate earlier this month, Chicago wasn’t able to go that route with Smith because of the injury.
- Still with the Blackhawks, it appears that it will be a while before a deal is done with center Dylan Strome. The restricted free agent doesn’t have arbitration rights and an offer sheet isn’t likely forthcoming so there’s no immediate rush. To that end, Scott Powers of The Athletic reports (subscription link) that there hasn’t been much discussion about a contract yet. The 23-year-old has 89 points in 116 regular season games with Chicago since being acquired from Arizona where he struggled to live up to his draft billing as the third-overall pick in 2015.
As the NHL off-season rolls on, the minor league and European transactions get more interesting as NHL opportunities begin to dry up and notable names look elsewhere. Here are some of the more “major” minor transactions from today:
- After taking a year off to deal with the repercussions of a history of concussions, Rourke Chartier is back. The 24-year-old forward has signed a one-year AHL deal with the Toronto Marlies, the team announced. Chartier played in 13 games with the San Jose Sharks in 2018-19 and another 26 with the AHL Barracuda. However, after he failed to show consistent results over the course of his entry-level contract, the Sharks opted not to extend a qualifying offer. It turned out that Chartier needed the time off anyhow to continue recovering from his numerous concussions. Now feeling healthier, perhaps Chartier can return to the form he showed in the 2017-18 AHL season – playing at nearly a point-per-game pace in an injury-shortened season – but instead stay off the injury list for a time.
- With brother Dylan Sikura traded away by the Chicago Blackhawks, Tyler Sikura has decided to leave the organization as well. A former Blackhawk himself (contractually), Sikura played this past season on an AHL deal with the affiliated Rockford Ice Hogs, where he skated alongside his brother for much of the year. Now that Dylan is in Las Vegas, Tyler has taken his talents to Cleveland. The AHL’s Cleveland Monsters announced that they have signed Sikura to a one-year contract. Sikura is a productive minor league forward, with two 30+ point seasons out of the past three, and plays a responsible two-way game as well. He should be a regular contributor for the Monsters this season.
- The Ice Hogs have made an addition of their own, albeit still unconfirmed, in goaltender Cale Morris. The Notre Dame product announced himself that he has signed his first pro contract with Rockford, though no details have been disclosed. Morris started three seasons for the Fighting Irish and if his senior year had gone like his sophomore and junior, this would likely be an NHL contract that he’s signing. Morris was stellar in his first season as the Notre Dame starter in 2018-19. He posted a .944 save percentage and 1.94 GAA in 37 appearances, which was good enough to win him the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s top goalie and to make him a top-ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. In hindsight, he likely should have capitalized on his sophomore success and turned pro. As a junior, his numbers slipped slightly, but Morris was still one of the NCAA’s best. This past season was more noticeable drop-off; he recorded a .916 save percentage and 2.44 GAA – good numbers by most standards but not among the NCAA’s best and a far cry from his first two seasons. With Rockford, Morris will look to prove that he is still an elite goalie prospect by returning to the form he showed earlier in college. If he succeeds, the Blackhawks may already have a sneaky contender in the organization to fill the currently vacant role of goalie of the future.
Lucas Wallmark was surprisingly not issued a qualifying offer by the Florida Panthers, despite being the perceived centerpiece of the Vincent Trocheck trade, and became a UFA. One of the more intriguing names available, the young forward has decided to take his talents to Chicago, as TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports he has agreed to terms with the Blackhawks. It is expected to be a one-year, $950K deal, a great value for a budding two-way center.
Wallmark’s lack of a qualifying offer has been one of the biggest head scratchers of the off-season thus far. Wallmark’s qualifying offer would have only cost the Panthers about $743K. For that much, the team could have retained a player who recorded 28 points as a rookie with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2018-19 and 25 points in just 67 games with Carolina and Florida this year. Not only are his offensive numbers well worth a minimal salary, but Wallmark is also a good defensive forward. A plus face-off man who is comfortable defending in his own zone, Wallmark has the awareness and ability to be match-up asset and penalty killer, often hard to find in a young player.
Florida’s loss is Chicago’s gain, as Wallmark is still a bargain at $950K. With the guidance of Jonathan Toews, Wallmark could improve as a two-way centerman and has some fellow young, talented players to skate with in the Blackhawks’ bottom-six. Although he is only on a one-year term, it would not be a surprise to see this pay off as a long-term investment for Chicago.
The Chicago Blackhawks have made a short-term signing to help their forward group, inking Mattias Janmark to a one-year deal worth $2.25MM. This deal comes after Jonathan Toews’ remarks in The Athletic, critiquing management for not indicating to the team’s core they were entering a rebuild.
In certain situations, Janmark signing a short-term deal may appear to be adding depth for a lengthy playoff run. The veteran forward played in 26 postseason games with the Dallas Stars this summer, recording eight points and 38 penalty minutes along the way. Following the other Chicago moves, however, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a house flip.
Though Janmark is better suited to a bottom-six role and has scored just six goals in each of the last two seasons, he did record previous totals of 15 and 19. That would indicate there is a little room for improvement in Chicago if fed juicy minutes, leading to a possible deadline deal to bring back more prospects or draft picks for the rebuild.
After letting Corey Crawford walk in free agency the Blackhawks will be going with a tandem of Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban in net this season, something that certainly doesn’t inspire confidence for a Stanley Cup push. The team also moved on from the last year of Brandon Saad’s contract, though did bring Nikita Zadorov, an established NHL defenseman, back in that deal.
There’s no doubt that Toews and the rest of the Blackhawks will have a chip on their shoulders this season as they try to prove that they shouldn’t be in a rebuild. Perhaps Janmark, who had to settle for a one-year deal, will be able to do the same.
After years of adding veterans to their squad in hopes of fueling a hybrid rebuilding effort to keep the team in contention of a playoff spot, the Chicago Blackhawks have made quite a statement in the last few days, which included opting not to bring back long-time netminder Corey Crawford as well as Saturday’s Brandon Saad trade, suggest that the team intends to start a rebuild. That isn’t sitting well with the team’s core players, especially captain Jonathan Toews, according to The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus (subscription required).
The 32-year-old was a key element to the Blackhawks’ advancement into the round of 16 when the team eliminated the Edmonton Oilers in four games two months ago. He tallied four goals and seven points in that series before Chicago fell to the Vegas Golden Knights in the following round.
“Bottom line is, I want to win,” Toews told The Athletic on Saturday night. “The expectation for the other leaders on this team and myself is to come ready to training camp every year to be a playoff team. We prepare ourselves to win a Cup for our fans. I’ve never been told that we were going through a rebuild. That has never been communicated to me, for that matter. A lot of this comes as a shock because it’s a completely different direction than we expected.”
All four members of the Blackhawks’ remaining core, including Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Toews have made it clear they wanted to stay in Chicago and weren’t going anywhere. Now, just as the team was showing progress that their youth movement, especially from recent play from Dominik Kubalik, Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist. However, despite an impressive year from the 35-year-old Crawford, the team has decided to allow their young netminders, Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen to battle it out in the net. The team then sent Saad and most of his $6MM contract to the Avalanche for bruising defenseman Nikita Zadorov.
Lazerus writes that the change comes from the removal of team president and CEO John McDonough during the pause on April 27, who was completely against a teardown of the team. Interim president Danny Wirtz has been more open to the idea of a full rebuild and with an upcoming season with few fans in the stands, this might be the best time to undergo transforming the team.
Of course, all four remaining members of their Stanley Cup core are still under contract for another three years with Seabrook having four more years on his deal. All four players have no-movement clauses in their contracts, but would the team undergoing a full rebuild change their minds on leaving Chicago and waive their no-movement clauses? That’s hard to say as each player likely has a different mindset, although Toews made his stance clear.
“I haven’t been a part of that conversation,” he said. “This has all happened pretty suddenly, but the answer is no. Chicago’s my home, and I want to win here again.”
Who needs the free agent market anyway? The Colorado Avalanche have added to their forward group through trade, acquiring Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks. Sadd will come alongside prospect defenseman Dennis Gilbert in exchange for Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm. The Blackhawks will also be retaining $1MM of Saad’s $6MM cap hit. Zadorov subsequently accepted his $3.2MM qualifying offer for 2020-21.
This is now the second time that Saad has been traded by Stan Bowman, who originally sent him to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2015 only to reacquire him in 2017 (sending Artemi Panarin the other way). This time he’ll exit just a year away from unrestricted free agency as his six-year $36MM contract winds down.
It also comes after three somewhat disappointing seasons in Chicago, even if there’s not really a lot to complain about with the 27-year-old. Saad is an excellent player who racked up 62 goals and 115 points over those three years, but even more was expected of him after he reached the 30-goal and 50-point marks in Columbus.
Still, the other things that Saad brings to the table shouldn’t be overlooked. He is an excellent puck-retrieval option on the forecheck and protects it well once it is under his control. While he may not have the high-end playmaking ability that is required to be a real star in the NHL, he’ll be another weapon for the Avalanche to deploy in what is now one of the deepest attacks in the entire league.
In Brandon we are acquiring a two-time Stanley Cup champion who brings veteran leadership and experience to our team. He is a proven goal scorer and at age 27, is in the prime of his career.
Saad had two Cups under his let by the time he was 23, averaging more than 20 minutes a game in the Blackhawks 2015 championship. That proven playoff experience is important to a team like Colorado that is attempting to get over the hump.
Not to be forgotten for Colorado is Gilbert, who is heading into the final year of his entry-level contract and played 21 games for the Blackhawks this season. The 2015 third-round pick spent three seasons at Notre Dame and though he doesn’t possess much offensive upside, will serve as some important depth for the Avalanche behind their star-studded blue line.
That blue line of course is losing Zadorov, who has been (rightly or wrongly) one of the faces of the Avalanche franchise since his acquisition in 2015. One of the main pieces in the trade that saw Ryan O’Reilly head to Buffalo, his explosive open-ice hits were immediately met with fanfare in Colorado.
Unfortunately, those hits weren’t surrounded by enough other skills to warrant the kind of ice time that he received early on. Zadorov never did put together much of an offensive game, scoring a career-high of 20 points in 2017-18 and was quickly passed by other more dynamic defensemen in the system. While he has remained a viable option, he was made a healthy scratch several times this season and was obviously headed towards a breakup with the organization
After accepting his $3.2MM qualifying off Zadorov will be well paid, and perhaps he can find a new level to his game. He is still only 25 and will certainly receive enough opportunity on a Blackhawks team that suddenly appears to be in something near rebuild-mode.
After letting Corey Crawford walk, Chicago is expected to go with a young tandem of Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban in net, and haven’t made any substantial additions to the roster through free agency. With just a few years left on the hefty contracts for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, a new reality is coming in Chicago.
Dan Milstein of Gold Star Hockey, Zadorov’s agent, actually broke the news on Twitter
The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t qualify Malcolm Subban by this week’s deadline, but won’t be watching the goaltender hit the free agent market after all. Bob McKenzie of TSN reports that Subban is expected to sign a two-year contract with the Blackhawks today. The deal will carry an average annual value “just south” of $900K.
Once again, the Blackhawks have indicated that they expect the trio of Subban, Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen to compete for both NHL roles in 2020-21. That certainly doesn’t give the team much experience at the position, but Delia and Subban both have flashed the potential to start in the past.
Amazingly, this comes just a year after the Blackhawks started the season with both Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner on the books for a combined $11MM. The team has decided to go the exact opposite route apparently, now spending almost nothing on the position. Delia signed a three-year $3MM deal in Feburary of 2019, meaning he and Subban will total less than $2MM on the cap next season.
Subban, who has a career .899 save percentage in 66 NHL appearances, will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this contract.
11:00am: The deal is official now, but comes in quite a bit smaller than expected. Kubalik has signed a two-year contract with an average annual value of $3.7MM.
10:00am: While Chicago is set to lose veteran goalie Corey Crawford in free agency, they’re closing in on a contract with one of their pending restricted free agents. Mark Lazerus of The Athletic reports (subscription link) that the Blackhawks are nearing a three-year deal with winger Dominik Kubalik with a cap hit within the $3.75MM to $3.9MM range.
The 25-year-old had quite the rookie season after being acquired from Los Angeles, scoring 30 goals along with 16 assists in 68 games, good enough to earn him third place in Calder Trophy voting. He was even better in the playoffs, picking up four goals and four assists in nine games.
With this being his rookie season, there weren’t many direct comparable players in Kubalik’s situation which certainly would have made these contract talks a little more challenging. Assuming the deal is done as reported, Chicago will buy an extra year of team control while getting him signed at a second-line rate. There’s always a risk in making a commitment to someone with as minimal of a track record as he has but if Kubalik can even come close to matching his rookie-season output, he should be able to provide a strong return on that contract.