The Seattle Kraken expansion draft is in the rearview mirror and the Blackhawks came away from it unscathed after losing pending unrestricted free-agent forward John Quenneville, who spent all of last season with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.
Now, the attention is fully on the NHL Draft and free agency, the former of which begins Friday and the latter of which opens on Wednesday.
Blackhawks President/GM Stan Bowman and Vice President of Amateur Scouting Mark Kelley met with the media on Thursday to discuss the coming days ahead. Here are some of the highlights from it:
The Blackhawks have significant cap space available after trading Duncan Keith ($5.538 million cap hit) to the Edmonton Oilers, to go along with the fact Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million) and Andrew Shaw ($3.9 million) are likely to be placed on long-term injured reserve at some point. Bowman intends on using it, but he plans to be strategic on the when and how part.
"We do have some options, which is great," Bowman said. "In the past, I feel like we've been in a different situation relative to the salary cap so that maybe we didn't have as many avenues that we could pursue. I think right now we do have the ability, if we want to. That's not going to preclude us from doing anything. We have some flexibility.
"That was a big part of the Duncan Keith trade. We certainly wanted to put him in a position that was going to work for him, but the benefit for us was we were able to get a young defenseman in Caleb Jones that we think has a lot of upside. He's kind of just coming into his own. And on top of that, we cleared up some cap space, we got another draft pick for next year. I think that trade really served a couple different purposes for us, and it put us in position here leading into free agency where we're going to be able to pursue some players if it works out."
A goaltender at No. 12?
The last time two goaltenders were taken in the first round of the NHL Draft was 2012, when Andrei Vasilevskiy was taken at No. 19 overall and Malcolm Subban was selected at No. 24 overall. That drought is almost certainly going to end this year.
Sebastian Cossa and Jesper Wallstedt are the two clear-cut top goaltenders in this draft class, and they're a slam-dunk to be taken in the first round. Which one goes off the board first is an interesting debate, but the Blackhawks should absolutely consider taking one of them at No. 12 overall.
"When you’re talking about Wallstedt and Cossa, their body of work this year has separated them from the other goaltenders available in the draft," Kelley said. "Obviously, if you look at our board, we have one ahead of the other. I think if you polled 32 teams, it would be really interesting when we go back and we find out a little bit more to see where the teams had them, to see if it was 50-50 or if teams go in the same direction we’re going."
Will Jonathan Toews be ready for Opening Night?
Earlier this summer, the Blackhawks captain revealed on his social media that he missed the 2020-21 campaign with chronic immune response syndrome. He's back in Chicago and training for the upcoming season, and the goal is to be ready for the season opener.
When asked, Bowman did not confirm nor deny whether Toews would be 100 percent for the first game of the season.
"The truth is, we don’t know and Jonny doesn’t know how he’s going to feel," Bowman said. "None of us have a crystal ball to know how he’ll feel in September. He’s here training, he’s working through getting back to where he can play for us. We’ll just take that as it comes, though. We don’t have to put any pressure on him being ready for a certain date. We’ll see how it goes."
Alex Nylander update
And lastly, Bowman confirmed that Nylander is on track to be ready for training camp in September after missing all of last season with a knee injury. In fact, Nylander is already good to go right now.
"Alex is going to [be] 100 percent — he is now, he’s ready to go — so [he will be] by training camp," Bowman said. "He’s training and preparing like normal. He’ll be ready."