Sam Lafferty, a pending unrestricted free agent, is likely to stay with the Blackhawks this summer.
Both Hawks general manager Kyle Davidson and Lafferty himself sound eager to work out a new contract.
Said Davidson on Friday: “I think he can [fit into our future], for sure. He has been great. He has really impressed and fit in, and his style of play is endearing. It’s not dissimilar to the [Brandon] Hagel discussion, that that style of play is admired and coveted around the league. And so, as a UFA, he’s got the right to explore if he wishes. But I’d say we’d be interested in bringing Sam back.”
And said Lafferty on Sunday: “I’d love to come back. I love it here. It’s a really good fit. I love the city. I love the team, the organization — everything.”
The 27-year-old forward is currently finishing up a two-year contract with a $750,000 salary cap hit that he signed with the Penguins in 2020.
This will be his first time as a UFA –“I’m new to this,” he admitted Friday –and he hasn’t decided yet what length of term he’d prefer. He plans to leave most of the work to his agent, Pete Rutili. But he should be fairly affordable to re-sign regardless.
After all, he’d fallen out of favor with the Penguins and was acquirable just three months ago for the low cost of Alex Nylander, who has not yet made a single NHL appearance in Pittsburgh (he has tallied 23 points in 35 games for their AHL affiliate). Lafferty’s on-paper production — nine points in 44 games this season, including seven in 34 for the Hawks — is hardly eye-catching, either.
But his work ethic, forechecking ability and surprising deceptiveness have all stood out beyond the statistics, and he lately seems to make at least one beautiful play slicing through the opposing defense every game.
He’s a clearly underrated player with the potential for a breakout next season, which is exactly what the Hawks should be looking for at this early stage of their rebuild.
“I’m getting more comfortable in certain areas, like holding onto the puck a little longer,” he said. “My offensive game is growing. There’s a need here for that, and I hope to be able to build [on that] and help the team that way.”
He’s the most likely to return among the Hawks’ small UFA class, which also includes Calvin de Haan, Erik Gustafsson, Kevin Lankinen, Collin Delia and Kurtis Gabriel. Outside of possibly the two goalies, Lankinen and Delia, it’d be very surprising to see any of the others re-signed.
Meanwhile, the Hawks’ restricted free agent class –composed of Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik, Kirby Dach, Philipp Kurashev, Reese Johnson and Caleb Jones on the NHL roster, plus four more (including Wyatt Kalynuk) in the AHL –is far more interesting.
Strome, Kubalik, Johnson and Jones hold arbitration rights, which gives them additional leverage and will make Davidson a bit more wary of extending them qualifying offers. The arbitration angle of this –something that notably didn’t apply to Strome and Kubalik in 2020, the last time they were RFAs –is indeed not to be overlooked.
“It’s a really complicated thing when players have salary arbitration and [we have to guess] what that [salary award] number might look like,” Davidson said about Kubalik specifically. “And it’s even more complicated when that contract year was maybe not what it has been in the past.
“We’ll get into that with their agent and see where things land and try to determine if that fits the [Hawks’ preferred] financial structure.”