As the current NHL season is winding down, general manager Stan Bowman and the Chicago Blackhawks prepare early with an eye on next season. Bowman has six of the current team’s defensemen set for the 2018-19 season after recently making two contract moves. Completing those moves will allow him to focus on the team’s forwards, four of whom are restricted free agents after the season. The RFA situation, the upcoming NHL Draft, potential trades, and free agents will all factor into the makeup of the 2018-19 Blackhawks.
Chicago Blackhawks Prepare for Next Season
The 2017-18 NHL season has been a major disappointment for the franchise and its fans. The team went into the season hoping to erase the stinging memory of the first round playoff sweep by the Nashville Predators. Their goal was to compete for another Stanley Cup, not go into rebuild mode so soon. Unfortunately, Bowman’s off-season roster moves did not work out as planned. The Blackhawks are now facing an important summer rebuild process that will not be easy. All eyes are on Bowman as the rebuild begins and the Chicago Blackhawks prepare for next season.
Blackhawks Prepare Early On Defense
Over the last two weeks, Bowman settled on new contracts with two defensemen. Based on numbers from CapFriendly.com, Bowman signed potential restricted free agent Erik Gustafsson to a two-year deal at $1.2 million per season. He also signed potential unrestricted free agent Jan Rutta to a one year deal at an eye-popping $2.3 million. While signing Rutta to the one-year deal sets up the team’s six defensemen for next season, many are questioning the contract amount for a first-year player. There are many who feel Bowman rushed into the contracts and overpaid for both defensemen. For more on this risky move by Bowman, check out this from Sean Fitzgerald from Blackhawk Up.
“The ‘Hawks now have committed $3.45 million to Gustafsson and Rutta. The defense as a whole now has a combined cap hit of $20,363,462 for next season.”
“So now, after wrapping my head around both contracts, I’ve come to three conclusions. One, Bowman doesn’t have a clue about contracts. Bowman now has a proven track record of overpaying the wrong guys — Bryan Bickell, Marcus Kruger, Brent Seabrook, Jan Rutta and Erik Gustafsson among them.”
Critics will be questioning Bowman’s moves on the team’s defence corps for a long time. Their defensive play this season has been terrible with too many turnovers and poor D zone coverage. Many in Chicago were looking for the team to make drastic changes on defence, not stand pat. Taking the same six defensemen into next season is a risky move for the Blackhawks general manager. Bowman’s fingers will be crossed hoping the play of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith drastically improve next season. Without that, there will be many long nights for the Blackhawks goalies again.
Forwards and Future Moves
The Chicago Blackhawks have most of their forwards locked up for next season. They will, however, need to deal with four players who will be restricted free agents and one who will be an unrestricted free agent. How Bowman handles the RFA’s will decide how much cap space will be available to invest in any free agents during the off-season.
The current 21-man roster has eight forwards whose contracts are set for next year and beyond.
- Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews – $10.5 Million each through 2022-23
- Brandon Saad – $6 Million per season through 2020-21
- Artem Anisimov – $4.5 Million per season through 2020-21
- Nick Schmaltz and David Kampf – $925,000 per season through 2018-19
- Alex DeBrincat – $778,333 per season through 2019-20
- Matthew Highmore – $775,833 per season through 2019-20
Restricted Free Agents
The Blackhawks have four players whose contracts are up and will be RFA’s. Of the four restricted free agents, Vinnie Hinostroza and John Hayden should be priorities for Bowman to sign based on their play this season. Unfortunately, Tomas Jurco and Anthony Duclair have both struggled to find a consistent role with the Blackhawks. Signing them for a reasonable amount will be a test for Bowman and his salary cap skills.
- Anthony Duclair – $1.2 Million
- John Hayden – $925,000
- Tomas Jurco – $800,000
- Vinnie Hinostroza – $717,500
Current Expiring Contract Unlikely To Return
Patrick Sharp – $800,000 one year 2017-18
A healthy Corey Crawford will be a huge plus for the Blackhawks next season. Before going down with an injury in December, Crawford’s play was outstanding. He carried the team on his back, often covering up for the poor defensive play in front of him every night. If he can recover and return to form, the Blackhawks will be in a much better situation. As everyone found out this season, no Crawford = no playoffs.
Anton Forsberg and Jean-Francois Berube are now manning the net for the Blackhawks while Crawford is out. Both of them have struggled with consistency and will be competing to back up Crawford next year. Barring a trade, one of them will begin the season in Rockford with the Ice Hogs. How they play the rest of the way will determine who backs up a hopefully healthy Corey Crawford.
Goalie Contracts as They Stand Today
- Corey Crawford – $6 Million per season through 2019-20
- Anton Forsberg – $750,000 per season through 2018-19
- Jean-Francois Berube – $700,000 per season through 2018-19
Summer Of Uncertainty
It will be interesting to see how Bowman finalizes the Blackhawks roster with the NHL draft, pending restricted free agents, and free agency. The still uncertain status of Corey Crawford will also affect moves Bowman makes in the off-season. Blackhawk fans are hoping this summer works out better than last, and that it’s a short rebuild for their favourite team.