The Blackhawks will eventually have a decision to make on No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach, whose clock is officially ticking after he made his NHL debut over the weekend and scored his first goal in his second game two nights later.
The Blackhawks, as we know, can give Dach up to nine NHL games before having to decide whether they want to burn the first year of his entry-level contract. Whether he makes it past nine games or not, if the Blackhawks don't feel like he's pro ready for the full season, the only other option for the team is to send Dach back to the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL because he's not eligible to play in the AHL full-time this season due to CHL rules.
That being said, it appears the Blackhawks are at least preparing for the possibility that Dach could be kept on the NHL roster beyond the nine-game tryout this season.
TSN's Bob McKenzie reported Wednesday on NBCSN that: "You don't have to make a decision on this right now, so Stan Bowman and the Chicago Blackhawks won't, but if you twisted their arm and said you do have to make a decision, I think they're definitely leaning towards this guy being an NHL player this season."
The roster move the Blackhawks made earlier in the day indicates the organization is making sure it can afford Dach's services in case he does stay the whole season.
Connor Murphy was placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) Wednesday with a groin injury, which means he'll be sidelined for a minimum of 10 games and 24 days. By putting him on LTIR instead of regular injured reserve, the Blackhawks get some cap relief and that’s noteworthy when you factor in Dach's potential performance bonuses that could reach up to $2.5 million.
When Dach was activated and recalled, the Blackhawks exceeded the 7.5 percent cushion in total amount of potential performance bonuses by $595,000, according to Cap Friendly. That number was then applied to the cap, which put the Blackhawks near the upper limit. So every dollar counts, considering the bonus money rolls over to next season's salary cap if there isn’t enough financial space at the end of the season to absorb the hits.
The other noteworthy item from McKenzie's report: The Blackhawks aren't too worried about burning the first year of Dach's entry-level contract. They're more-so looking ahead to the 40-game mark, which would put him one year closer to becoming an unrestricted free agent — a player must be 27 or older as of June 30 or accrue seven seasons to become a UFA, and hitting 40 games counts as a full season if they're on the NHL roster, injured or not.
The Blackhawks have said all along that there's no set plan on Dach's future and his performance will dictate what's going to happen. But the team is prepared for every scenario, and that includes keeping him past the nine-game tryout and 40-game benchmark.