Blackhawks needs, targets in NHL free agent market

The Blackhawks’ chaotic July of player movement isn’t finished yet.

With only 33 (out of a maximum 50) contracts currently on the books –and only two restricted free agents, Philipp Kurashev and Caleb Jones, to sign eventually –the Hawks need to accumulate more players to fill out their organizational depth chart.

That could lead to general manager Kyle Davidson to be somewhat active when the NHL’s unrestricted free agency market opens Wednesday.

One thing the Hawks absolutely need is a second goaltender to support Petr Mrazek, although UFA-to-be Kevin Lankinen could still be re-signed. They might not have many better options.

League-wide, the goalie market has shifted way out of balance, with many teams searching for goaltending help but few quality goalies available. The Maple Leafs, Capitals and Oilers are all desperate. Nonetheless, lower-tier UFAs like Martin Jones, Thomas Greiss or Dustin Tokarski might fit the Hawks’ hole.

The Hawks also likely need to acquire a few veteran forwards to simply field a full roster.

They currently employ only three forwards making more than $1.2 million (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Tyler Johnson), only eight who have played in 50 career NHL games (those three plus Sam Lafferty, Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk, Jujhar Khaira and MacKenzie Entwistle) and only 16 total. Starting the season with those numbers would be irresponsible, regardless of the tanking objective.

There are tons of UFA forwards that could be considered, ranging from familiar face Mattias Janmark to reclamation project Ondrej Kase to dozens more, but the Hawks will likely make their decisions after gauging the market. They’ll want to pick up scraps on the cheap rather than barge into bidding wars. Eventually, they could try to flip their short-term signings for draft picks at the 2023 trade deadline.

The hottest-burning question, however, is whether Kane and Toews will approach Davidson requesting to be traded, now that they’ve seen the intense degree of rebuilding occurring around them.

So far, the two longtime stars and their representation have stayed mum, and Davidson has argued the case that their continued presence brings value in leadership and mentorship. But it would be understandable if they did decide they wanted out.

If Davidson is to have any reasonable chance of moving their $10.5 million cap hits, he’d need to do it soon, before other teams commit virtually all their already-limited cap space to free agents.

Conversely, the Hawks may consider taking on other teams’ bad contracts if they can receive an asset for doing so.

The Flyers are desperately trying to move out former star forward James van Riemsdyk, who has one year left at $7 million, to make a run at current star UFA Johnny Gaudreau. The Hawks are one of few teams in a position to help, and it sounds like they’re looking into it.

Even beyond Philadelphia, the contract-dump market is teeming with possibilities. The Penguins need to dump a defenseman — most likely Marcus Pettersson, with three years left at $4 million. The Bruins probably need to move one of defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (two years left at $3.7 million), defenseman Mike Reilly (two years left at $3 million) or forward Craig Smith (one year left at $3.1 million).

Contracts that are probably too long for the Hawks’ liking, but might still be in play elsewhere, are Sergei Bobrovsky’s with the Panthers (four years left at $10 million) and William Karlsson’s with the Golden Knights (five years left at $5.9 million). When it comes to Vegas, perhaps no-longer-needed backup goalie Laurent Broissoit (one year left at $2.3 million) could fit both the Hawks and Knights’ needs.

The Hawks could even look into reacquiring Brent Seabrook’s contract (two years left on long-term injured reserve at $6.9 million) from the Lightning, funny as that circumstance would be.

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