Blackhawks

Why this offseason could (and should) be different for Blackhawks

Why this offseason could (and should) be different for Blackhawks

The belief around the NHL last offseason was that the Blackhawks were going to be aggressive via free agency. They were coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 campaign and had some cash to spend.

But it was quite the opposite. 

After John Tavares and James van Riemsdyk inked long-term deals with their respective new clubs, the ripple effects turned out to be over-payment across the board on a free-agent class that wasn't very deep. So the Blackhawks settled on a one-year deal for Chris Kunitz up front and two-year contract for Brandon Manning on defense.

This summer could be different. And it should be.

For one, the Blackhawks aren't handcuffed by a Marian Hossa contract that was moved on July 12 — nearly two weeks after free agency opened up. That didn't help their cause and didn't allow them to have financial flexibility when it really mattered.

"It was becoming challenging to try to operate with that contract here," Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said at the time. "It necessitated us trying to make the move we made." 

The Blackhawks are in a much better position this time around. They're projected to have north of $15 million in cap space and plan to take advantage of it.

"I would expect us to be more active in the summer free agent market than we have in years past," Bowman said on Sunday during exit interviews. "First of all, we have the cap flexibility to do that. We haven't been in this position before. This is probably the first time ever we've had this much money to spend. Doesn't mean we're going to spend all of it on July 1. We have to sort of look over the next horizon of years and plan for that but we weren't in this position a year ago or two years ago. We were shopping in a different marketplace. We have the capability to look at that and we're going to look at trades as well.

"Sometimes that's another way. Depends on what players you're looking for, if they're available in the summer, sometimes they are and sometimes you have to do it through trades. There will be some moving parts but I wouldn't expect sweeping changes. I think we've got a lot of good things here and we showed that our last 50 games we played some really good hockey. We're trying to build on that, not really change it dramatically."

Acquiring Brendan Perlini and Dylan Strome from Arizona and Drake Caggiula from Edmonton in the middle of the season put the Blackhawks in a better position going into this summer than originally expected. They found a potential future second-line center (Strome) they thought they had in Nick Schmaltz, replenished a top-nine winger (Perlini) they lost in Vinnie Hinostroza and added a skilled, aggressive forechecker (Caggiula) that can play anywhere in the lineup and checks a lot of boxes the team doesn't have right now.

The Blackhawks are no longer in a spot where they're looking to subtract from the roster — only if it makes sense for the short term and long term, both financially and production wise on the ice. They want to start building around the current group, one that's led by 30-year-olds Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews who are coming off career years.

The time to capitalize is now.

"We're not going to bring the same group back," Bowman said. "That's clear. We don't do that really any year. There's changes to every team, even a team that ends up winning the Cup this year will have some different players. We're going to have some new players next year. What we're going to do is try to improve in the areas where our team needs some help and the way that looks isn't completely clear right now, but we have time over the next couple months to dive in and look at our team in greater detail and figure out how we're going to make that happen.

"There's obviously free agent signings, there's trades, there's growth from within. Those are the ways that your team improves from year to year and we're going to do that. So we're going to have some new players here next year for sure but we have a lot of players that are going to be back and I think a lot of the key guys who had good seasons they're coming back for sure, so we don't need across the board changes but we do need some new players."

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Blackhawks acquire Olli Maatta, send Dominik Kahun to Penguins

Blackhawks acquire Olli Maatta, send Dominik Kahun to Penguins

One of the Blackhawks’ priorities this summer is to add pieces that will help shore up the defensive part of their game after they gave up the second-most goals in the NHL last season. And they didn’t waste much time doing it.

Less than a week before the 2019 NHL Draft, the Blackhawks announced Saturday that they have acquired defenseman Olli Maatta from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for forward Dominik Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Maatta is 24 years old, carries a left-handed shot and is a two-time Stanley Cup champion. But he battled injuries last season and fell out of favor in Pittsburgh, where he was a healthy scratch for three games in the first round of the playoffs.

The Blackhawks are hoping a fresh start could help Maatta find his game again, and do it in a place that may better utilize his skill-set. Where he could help is in the defensive part. 

According to The Point, Maatta ranked 9th among defensemen in blocked shots per game (2.05), 26th in defensive zone puck battles won (2.45), 40th in blocked defense zone passes (3.77) and 47th in outlet passes (8.95). 

Maatta, who was taken in the first round (No. 22 overall) in 2012, had 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) in 60 games last season. His best year came in 2017-18 when he tallied 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) in 82 games. He has three years remaining on his deal that carries a $4.083 million cap hit.

It’s worth noting that when Maatta signing his extension with Pittsburgh on Feb. 26, 2016, the contract included a modified no-trade clause in his final two years, according to Cap Friendly. The Blackhawks will have the option to either honor that clause or nullify it.

The Blackhawks are expected to have some heavy competition among the forwards at training camp with the signings of Dominik Kubalik and Anton Wedin. That likely made Kahun expendable despite a rookie season in which he compiled 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) in 82 games.

2019 NHL Draft Profile: RW Kaapo Kakko

2019 NHL Draft Profile: RW Kaapo Kakko

From June 10-20, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile one top prospect per day — 11 total — leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft as the Blackhawks prepare to pick third overall.

Kaapo Kakko

Position: Right wing
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 194 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report from The Draft Analyst's Steve Kournianos:

"Multi-tooled winger with size and coordination who incorporates his impressive puck skills with a desirable physical package that consistently exhausts opponents. Blessed with incredibly soft hands and tight-quarter quickness, Kakko is a reliable stickhandler who uses timing plays to either get open or create space for his linemates.”

NHL player comparable: Mikko Rantanen

Fit for Blackhawks:

Alright, let’s get this out of the way with: Kakko isn’t going to be on the board when the Blackhawks pick at No. 3. He’s expected to be taken second overall by the New York Rangers.

But, hypothetically, if he did slip, Kakko is probably one of two players in this draft class who could step onto an NHL roster today and make an immediate impact. He’s that good, and we saw it at the 2019 IIHF World Championship when he scored six goals to lead Finland to a gold medal. 

Kakko would give the Blackhawks a dynamic winger on the right side to go along with Patrick Kane, meaning they wouldn't have to worry about their top-six right wingers for many years to come. You shouldn't draft a winger this high unless he's as close to a sure-fire prospect as they come, and Kakko would qualify.

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