This offseason is going to be unlike any other in National Hockey League history. It already is with teams making trades while the Stanley Cup playoffs are still going on. With a very quick turnaround from the handing out of the Stanley Cup and the start of training camp, the Chicago Blackhawks have a lot of work to do and not much time to get it accomplished.
General manager Stan Bowman is not in an envious position with a flat salary cap and numerous holes to fill.
Other teams within the Central Division have already made some big moves like the Minnesota Wild trading away Eric Staal and the St. Louis Blues moving goaltender Jake Allen. The Blackhawks offseason is fluid and it seems like each move is dependent on another move happening first. Something will eventually cause a chain reaction and we will likely see the 2020-21 roster come together in short order.
Report: Crawford Not Happy with First Offer
The move that could very well be the one that gets the wheels in motion is what happens with Corey Crawford. It was recently reported that the Blackhawks offered their veteran goaltender a one-year contract worth $3.5 million. While many fans thought this was a fair offer, it sounds like the pending unrestricted free agent has other ideas.
According the Elliotte Freidman’s most recent 31 Thoughts column, the two sides still have some work to do.
Initially, Chicago and Corey Crawford were not seeing eye to eye on the dollar value of an extension. Crawford knew there would be a cut. How much was the issue.
Of course, in any negotiation, one side comes in low while the other gives a high number with the hopes of meeting in the middle. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks cannot really go much higher than that $3.5 million price. Squeezing out a couple of hundred thousand dollars more could be possible, but Crawford should not expect to get anything north of $4 million.
The free agency market for goaltending will be pretty deep, so the offer is probably right around fair market price. The Blackhawks could offset a request for more money by offering a second year and front-loading the first year. Hypothetically, Bowman can give Crawford $4.5 million in 2020-21 and $2.5 million the following season and the cap would still be $3.5 million.
It is unknown that the Blackhawks would want to commit to a second season due to Crawford’s age and recent concussion history. However, if he plays as well as he did this past season and stays on the ice, they could easily move that reasonable second year next summer.
Strome Wants to be Down the Middle
The future of Dylan Strome is another big piece of the Bowman’s quick offseason. The restricted free agent needs to be given a qualified offer by Oct. 7 or else he will hit the open market.
Strome’s first full season was not nearly as productive of what we saw out of him when he arrived in Chicago in 2019. Part of that is likely from an ankle injury he suffered in January as well as spending some time on the wing instead of at center, his natural position. He admitted to Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times that he wasn’t thrilled with head coach Jeremy Colliton’s experiment.
“I think [Colliton] knows I feel that I’m more comfortable at center,” Strome said this week, reflecting on his season. “My play showed that. It’s just different on wing; I’m not used to it. I feel like I can move the puck better at center, and have the puck more on my stick, and create some more plays.”
From “Dylan Strome, a restricted free agent, faces crucial moment in his Blackhawks tenure” – Chicago Sun Times, 9/19/20
However, the most interesting tidbit to come out of this piece was from Strome’s agent Mark Guy. He revealed to Pope that he has only spoken with Bowman to figure how when they will talk money later in the offseason.
Again, with so many other moving parts like Crawford and a new contact for Dominik Kubalik, it is really hard to figure exactly what happens with Strome.
Buyout Window Fast Approaching
Another factor of the offseason will be potential contract buyouts. Teams across the NHL will have a 13-day window to buy out contracts, starting on Sept. 25 and ending the day before free agency begins, Oct. 8.
I recently read through all the rules and stipulations when it comes to contract buyouts so you didn’t have to and here are the biggest takeaways. Teams are responsible for paying two-thirds of the remaining salary on the contract unless the player is under 26, in which case they’re only responsible for one-third. Buyouts are spread out over twice the remaining term of the contract. So, if the final two years of a deal is bought out, the payouts last four years.
The Blackhawks have a couple of buyout options that could help them gain some valuable cap space. The most popular choice among the fan base is likely Brent Seabrook, but buying out his contract only save the Blackhawks roughly $5.6 million in cap space combined over the next four seasons. In addition, there would still be a hit of $708,333 against the cap for four additional seasons after the contract expires in 2024.
The more realistic options are forward Zack Smith and defenseman Olli Maatta. If the final year of Smith’s contract is purchased, the Blackhawks will earn over $2.1 million in cap relief for the 2020-21 season. A potential Maatta buyout would take his cap hit of $4.08 million over the next two seasons and turn it into a $680,600 hit over the next four seasons, saving the Blackhawks’ over $3.4 million in each of the next two seasons.
Danault on the Move?
Back to Friedman’s 31 Thoughts, a name familiar to Blackhawks fans made an appearance.
The Phillip Danault situation is interesting. His name is “out there,” and there definitely is interest, but opposing GMs aren’t truly certain Bergevin wants to do it. He’s a good two-way center possibly asking for a bit more in free agency (after next season) than Montreal wants to do. Does Danault want to stay or go? And will the rumors alter his approach?
Danault was originally drafted by the Blackhawks in the first round (26th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. He was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in 2016 for Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise, in one of the worst trades of the Bowman era. Danault has blossomed into one of the best defensive centers in the league while Fleischmann and Weise struggled to stay in the lineup during the Blackhawks brief postseason run in the spring of 2016.
With the rumors swirling about Brandon Saad being on the market and his name being connected to the Canadiens, could there be a deal to be made here? Who knows? There are far too many uncertainties to speculate if this would even interest either side, but these are fun scenarios that make the offseason so intriguing.
The rapid-fire offseason is just about ready to hit full speed. The 2020 NHL Entry Draft will take place on Oct. 6-7 with free agency opens up on Oct. 9. The next few weeks will be crucial to the Blackhawks and their hopes for the 2020-21 season and beyond.