Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has consistently stated that the plan is to re-sign Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level contracts expire. It's why the Blackhawks have had a quiet offseason via free agency, because any contract brought in longer than two years might interfere with that.
It's too early to project what DeBrincat's second contract could look like, but we got an indication on Friday of what Schmaltz's number and term may come in at after Dylan Larkin inked a five-year extension with the Detroit Red Wings worth $6.1 million annually. It's easy to see the similarities between the two players.
For one, Larkin and Schmaltz share the same agent in Kurt Overhardt, so Schmaltz's asking price is likely to be in the same range as Larkin's starting point. They're also both centers and were first-round selections in 2014, drafted five picks apart (Larkin at 15, Schmaltz at 20).
On the ice, their production has been almost identical.
In his first three seasons, Larkin averaged .057 points per game and registered a career-high 63 points in his third year. Schmaltz is averaging exactly .057 points per game through his first two seasons and is on track to crack the 60-point mark in his third. There's a disparity when it comes to their faceoff numbers, with Larkin possessing a career 48.4 win percentage and Schmaltz at 37.7, but from his rookie to sophomore campaign Schmaltz went from 30.9 to 40.1, a substantial improvement.
Their roles are similar as well, with each slotted in as the No. 2 center of their respective teams with the potential to work their way to No. 1 over the course of time. In fact, Schmaltz's ice time went from 13:16 to 18:14 from Year 1 to Year 2 while Larkin went from 16:33 to 16:09 before jumping to 19:51 in Year 3.
The Blackhawks clearly felt Schmaltz was ready for a much larger role in his second year, and he was. It should be interesting to see how he's utilized in Year 3 and whether his ice time could get closer to the 20-minute range like Larkin's, which would certainly impact Schmaltz's offensive production in a positive way, especially if it means more power play time.
Assuming Schmaltz continues to progress the way we expect him to, it wouldn't be surprising to see his contract look similar to Larkin's. Schmaltz will become a restricted free agent next season and as of July 1, is free to begin extension talks with the Blackhawks.
Both camps — the Blackhawks and Schmaltz — are likely not interested in a bridge deal, and it wouldn't make sense for either side anyway. A five-year deal would give Schmaltz long-term security at a solid number along with a chance to earn another big payday by the end of it when he'll be 28 years old while the Blackhawks secure their top-six center for his prime years.
Here's where things may get a little tricky.
According to Craig Custance of The Athletic, Larkin has a full no-trade clause in Year 5 of his new deal. The Blackhawks currently have nine players on their roster with either a no-movement clause or some form of no-trade clause. They're one of the teams known to hand those out frequently; it's part of why free agents like coming to Chicago because they offer player control and protection. But obviously, that doesn't give the Blackhawks much flexibility when it comes to player movement.
At the same time, it might be challenging to avoid not giving Schmaltz some kind of clause in his new contract because he's one of the guys you want to take care of and make sure you have for a long period of time. So it may not be the number and term the Blackhawks and Schmaltz's camp spend the most time on during negotiations.