In February of 2018, Glen Sather and the New York Rangers publicly announced to their fan base that there might be some unpopular moves coming, essentially indicating that the organization was committing to a rebuild. And now, the Rangers are young, talented, have the likely first overall pick Alexis Lafrenière about to join the fold and will be one of the more exciting teams in hockey for the foreseeable future. That did not take long.
Though that could, should and would be the preferred path in Chicago, it is not happening and it will not happen period. It is simply not in the fabric of the organization’s culture to admit recent mistakes or make a splash, whether that means an early departure of a fan favorite or a game-changing acquisition. Rightly or wrongly, the Hawks have decided to reward loyalty of past performances of their players as opposed to forecasting for longer-term success, and consequently, the team is stuck in neutral. So, if any fans have thoughts that the current on-ice product will look drastically different for the 2020–21 season, it is best to leave those expectations locked in the basement somewhere.
Something will give soon though, and it may not be that long of a wait after the Stanley Cup Finals are completed, but more than likely nothing drastic is ahead. With a frozen cap, as it stands right now, the Hawks have just under $8 million in annual cap space to play with. They are assessing unrestricted free agent Corey Crawford and restricted free agents Drake Caggiula, Slater Koekkoek, Domink Kubalik, Dylan Strome and Malcolm Subban. That is a lot of names without much room.
Crawford and Kubalik are the big-named targets of the bunch. Rumors are already swirling that the Hawks have been working with Crawford on a new deal, but it is anyone’s guess as to what is really on the table. The safe bet, considering loyalty points are critical to the Hawks’ brass, would be to assume that the netminder will be back on a short-term deal. What the price point could be is up for speculation, and it should be. It would be frustrating to see the Hawks offer anything north of $3 million annually considering Crawford’s age and health history. There is a real possibility that even if resigned, he may start in half of next season’s games. So assessing his current value is an unenviable task. This certainly is not an easy decision to make, especially considering how weak the Hawks have been defensively the last few seasons.
Kubalik will be looking for a substantial raise, but what General Manager Stan Bowman should look to do—that he unwisely did not wait to do with Alex DeBrincat—is offer Kubalik a “prove it again” two-year bridge deal to the tune of $3 million or less per year. In the harsh reality of this business, a first-time restricted free agent in the NHL has little leverage with their next contract. This somehow eluded Bowman when dealing with 2020 RFA to be DeBrincat, instead rushing to extend him last season for double of his current market value. Assuming the Hawks want Kubalik and he wants to stay, he truly is not in a position to play hardball this offseason.
The other RFAs find themselves in difficult spots and probably nobody more than Strome. If Kubalik and Crawford are inked, then the idea of moving Strome is very realistic. It is difficult to identify how much Strome is worth or how much he is willing to settle for. And while the other names in the RFA group are less attractive, you still need cheap labor and players rostered at $1 million or less per season. Koekkoek should probably be in a different uniform next season and Subban may be out if the Hawks feel Collin Delia is equal in ability, but sneaking in the hard-nosed Caggiula under the cap would bring back some much-needed sandpaper. All three of these RFAs are arbitration eligible as well. Should the Hawks not utilize a buyout option of Zack Smith or Olli Maatta—Maatta seemingly less likely at this point—then there simply may not be the funding to hold on to Strome. Again though, he is an RFA without arbitration rights, so Bowman holds all the cards and should wait for the market to play out well ahead of prioritizing Strome’s fate.
There is also is the argument of whether or not Strome is a good fit in Chicago as well. He lacks speed, is moderately productive offensively, is not good enough defensively to alter his game to be a third-line pivot and has proven that he cannot play the wing. If Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach are the top two centers heading into 2020–21 season, where does Strome really fit in? Another component factoring into Strome’s value is how some feel that he “compliments” DeBrincat’s game. However, if you commit over $6 million to a winger, there should be ample players he can skate with. Suggest for a moment that Smith is bought out. Should those dollars be used for Strome, or should the Hawks seek to move Strome for assets and go bargain hunting for additional needs with the $2.16 million in savings with a Smith buyout? The latter may be the better play.
The Hawks are committed to Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as members of the “now-aging” core. Brandon Saad has one year left on his contract with a $6 million cap hit. While many think it is fun to speculate he may be on the move, what are the Hawks looking to get in return? If Bowman and company truly believe they are in some sort of “win-now” mode, then unless they are seeking to blow it up and get picks an prospects in return, dealing Saad may not result in gaining an NHL roster player or players that will drastically improve the club. Plus, Saad is one of Bowman’s “guys” and we know how that goes.
The Hawks’ current defensive unit is not in great shape despite a relatively deep prospect pool. If Maatta is bought out, as some have suggested, then you lose the player who was arguably their best defender in the postseason, therefore weakening your blue line for the upcoming season. Should Bowman wish to trade Maatta or Calvin de Haan, which will be hard, unlikely and ill-advised, the Hawks should expect to retain some salary for either player.
As always, there will be moves people do not anticipate and perhaps Bowman and company have a trick or two up their sleeves. That said, with the recent historical mantra of “we like our team” and the 2010–2015 nostalgia tour still marketable to the casual fan, do not expect the team or their results to be much different next season. Strome may be elsewhere and a nice role player here or there may be added, but this is your team.
Following Sather’s lead from 2018 would be incredibly exciting, but the combination of depreciating assets with no-movement clauses and an administration in denial, the much-needed “blow up” or any radical changes in the make up of the team is unlikely.
Center Ice › Forums › ANALYSIS: Movement is coming soon, but do not hold your breath
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