Stan Bowman

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

The Blackhawks had cap space to use this summer but elected to shore up their depth rather than make a splash when free agency opened up on July 1. Perhaps a large reason for that was because Marian Hossa's $5.275 million cap hit over the next three years complicated what they could do exactly in the short term without jeopardizing the long term.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman admitted Tuesday that they had had discussions about moving Hossa's contract for a year now. But it finally reached a point where they simply needed to get it off their hands, even if it meant giving up Vinnie Hinostroza as a sweetener.

"We tried to make that deal work in every other way possible but they obviously said he had to be in it," Bowman said of including Hinostroza.

That's how important it was to free up even more cap space. By trading Hossa's contract in a nine-piece trade with the Arizona Coyotes, it created more options for the Blackhawks and financial flexibility going forward.

"It was a difficult trade from a sentimental perspective, because we'd love to not have to do that," Bowman said. "But on the practical matter, it was becoming challenging to try to operate with that contract here. It necessitated us trying to make the move that we did make. You don't know when those opportunities are going to come to try and make that type of a move. ... When this presented itself, we talked it through and got to the point where we thought it was something we had to take advantage of."

The problem for the short term is, it's mid-July and the big-name free agents are off the market. There's not much the Blackhawks can do to improve their roster externally unless they make a trade, which would require dipping into the pipeline.

And it's unfair to put a grade on the Hossa trade as a whole without seeing how they utilize that extra cap space. Could that be before the 2018-19 season starts?

"It's an option if we can find the right player or the right situation," Bowman said. "We certainly have more options now than we did before. I wouldn't say we have to do something. Having cap space is an asset in and of itself, so things will come along maybe in the summer or maybe in the beginning part of the year where teams have a couple players that make their team unexpectedly and that makes some other players more expendable. In the past we probably haven't really been a good match for those types of situations because we didn't have the cap room at that time, so now we're going to be in the mix for those types of things.

"Whether we use it right away or whether we use it during the season, I think the nice thing is we have the flexibility now going in to the coming years where we're going to need cap room, all that and more, to sign the young players."

It doesn't sound like there's much urgency to pull something off between now and when training camp rolls around in September. At least for now.

That doesn't mean there won't be once the market picks back up again. 

"Each year teams have surprises, good and bad, in camp," Bowman said. "Our team’s the same way. You have ideas on how your lines are going to look or how your players are going to be ready. Sometimes guys surprise you in a good way, sometimes it’s not what you think. There’ll be some adjustments around the league, but probably not a lot of activity.

"If you look back the last couple of seasons, late July and August are quieter as far as transactions. But there are some arbitration cases coming up around the league; those may get settled ahead of time. But if they do go to arbitration, if the number's not the way the team likes it, they may look to do something. There’s the possibility of moves, but probably closer to training camp is more when changes may happen."

Are the Blackhawks done making moves?

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AP

Are the Blackhawks done making moves?

The NHL Draft and free agency came and went without any sort of fireworks for a Blackhawks team that missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade. It was a little surprising.

But maybe it shouldn't have been.

Stan Bowman has been very transparent on what the main priority is going forward and that's to save room in the long run for when the young guys like Alex DeBrincat, Vinnie Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Dylan Sikura are due new contracts. They're the present and the future.

Surely, the Blackhawks were hoping to land an impact-type player up front and on the back end on July 1, but only if it made sense. Any contract longer than two years would've presented problems for the reasons listed above.

When Bowman joined Blackhawks Pregame Live on Feb. 8 — three weeks before the trade deadline — to acknowledge the team won't look much different next season, he wasn't kidding.

Here's the full transcript for context:

"I don't expect us to be a buyer this year," Bowman said at the time. "It's nothing to do with where we're at in the standings, I just think that each season is a little bit different. Your team is different. I think the strength of our team is we're trying to build some young players that we're going to have. We have a lot of new players this year relative to last year. It's hard when you bring in 11 or 12 new players in every year, so I think next year's team is going to look very similar to this year's team. Not identical, we're going to have some changes, but I think you look at some of these young guys, we're expecting them to take that next step, so bringing somebody in to sort of bump them out of the lineup probably doesn't make a lot of sense right now."

Fast forward to the end of the season and his message stayed the same:

"We're not in a difficult cap position like we have been in some previous years," Bowman said. "From that perspective, it's looking better for the potential to make some moves. I think we're going to examine everything. We're going to look long and hard at ways to improve our team through personnel. I guess I want to make it clear our No. 1 priority as we move forward is to make sure we can keep these younger players — DeBrincat and Schmaltz and Hinostroza and some other young players that are going to maybe join our team over the next year or two. That's the direction we're headed, and we want those guys to be Blackhawks and to take a bigger role.

"Knowing that's on the horizon, you have to be prudent with what you do with your money this summer. It might be looking at some shorter-term contracts for some free agents. And if there's a situation that makes sense on a longer term, we're not going to shy away from that, but it would have to be understood that we're going to be able to commit to those young guys who are here. They showed in a short amount of time that they're sort of the future of where we're headed over the next couple seasons, and we want to make sure they're part of it."

And on July 1, no change in his tone or approach when discussing the balance between now and the future:

"The main thing for us is to accumulate a lot of really good young players that are on the cusp of breakout status," Bowman said. "And I think you’re not quite sure when it’s going to happen. The process of turning it over to the young guys, you still have to mentor those young guys. And I think we have some veteran players that have done some special things, obviously winning three Cups with the Blackhawks, but also having to help them a little bit. Sometimes everything falls on their shoulders, not only to lead the way but to mentor young players. That’s where bringing in a veteran on a shorter-term basis can help. Because these guys bring some things to the table.

"The important thing for us is we have some impressive young guys that are going to take on bigger roles in the coming years. But we also have some elite NHL players in the prime of their careers right now. So we’re going to try to do our best to supplement that and give them not only some players to help them perform better on the ice, but also to lead young players. It takes a combination. I don’t think you can win with just a bunch of young guys. There’s a little bit of a misconception. You also can’t have just a bunch of older players. You have to have that mixture of the two.

"The hardest thing is finding these elite players and we’ve got a number of them. Not only do we have them, but they’ve proven that they know how to win, more than almost any other team in the league we’ve got guys that have a lot of experience and have accomplished a lot in their careers, but they’re hungry to accomplish more. So that’s what we’re looking at here.

"We’re looking to rebound next year and to surround our really good players with some guys that can help them out and take the next step for the young guys so that, we’re talking a year from now, some of these young players have really emerged as legitimate difference-makers. I think we’re on the verge of that and we’re hoping that that does take place."

For five months, Bowman has been consistent about the Blackhawks' short- and long-term goals and there wasn't a desire to risk reaching into the open market this free agency for a player that might get in the way of those plans. It's easy to see why when you look at how the market unfolded.

James van Riemsdyk got a five-year deal that carries a $7 million cap hit, a contract too lengthy and pricey for the Blackhawks. Same with James Neal, who signed a five-year deal worth $5.75 annually. Jay Beagle would've been an ideal bottom-six centerman, but he received four years worth $3 million annually. Again, another case where both term and money was an issue there.

Ian Cole's $4.25 million cap hit may have been doable, but more-so on a two-year deal than three. Calvin de Haan's $4.55 million per year also was likely in the Blackhawks' range, but the four years wasn't.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks made three signings and none of them went beyond two years with Chris Kunitz and Cam Ward each signing for one year and Brandon Manning for two. Notice a theme? 

Schmaltz and Sikura will be restricted free agents after this upcoming season and DeBrincat and Hinostroza will be in the same boat in two seasons. That's where the Blackhawks plan to tie their money up.

So if any moves are to be made going forward, whether that's in the form of a trade or whatever is left of the free agent market, the only way it happens is if it fits under the Blackhawks' budget both money and term wise. But that won't stop them from calling.

"It's our job to make calls and have discussions and we've done that and we'll continue to do that," Bowman said after the free-agent signings last week. "At this point, there's not a lot happening today, so there's a lot of players changing teams and teams that are looking at options they're not quite sure. So the trades aren't as likely to materialize. If they're going to happen at all, they're not going to happen today or tomorrow. It'll be more when things start to settle in a little bit and teams are looking at ways to improve. Maybe a trade will be a better option at that point. With all the movement happening today, it's probably more likely throughout the league trades will happen a little bit later.

"We have had some discussions on various players and nothing is close to happening. As far as whether we would make a trade or not, I'm not sure the percentages on that. We'll have a better idea as we get into the summer here and we see which free agents move where, and they'll be some teams that don't get what they're looking for, then they might be a little more open-minded to a trade."

Blackhawks 2018 NHL Draft capsules: Scouting reports and analysis

Blackhawks 2018 NHL Draft capsules: Scouting reports and analysis

A recap of the Blackhawks' selections in the 2018 NHL Draft, and their scouting reports, including analysis from Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and VP of amateur scouting Mark Kelley:

Round 1, pick 8: Adam Boqvist, defenseman

Round 1, pick 27: Nicolas Beaudin, defenseman

Round 3, pick 69: Jake Wise, center

— What you need to know: Wise, 18, scored 11 goals and dished out 32 assists in 38 games for the United States National Team Development Program last season. He also scored a goal and added four assists in seven games during the Under-18 World Junior Championship. Wise will play at Boston University next year.

— Scouting report: Wise is 5-foot-10, 194 pounds and is known to be an excellent skater. He's also responsible in his own end, which is a trait the Blackhawks always appreciate in their younger players.

— Player reaction: "I thought the Hawks were probably one of the teams I was going to go to for the longest time. I don’t know why, but I always had a gut feeling. And to go to the Blackhawks, it’s unbelievable. Unbelievable organization and I couldn’t be happier."

— Analysis from Kelley: "He's just a really smart two-way centerman. He had a great start to the season and then he missed some time and it was ironic when he came back, it was the same time Jack Hughes joined the team and all of a sudden they had a No. 1 and No. 2 center and the team really took off."

Round 3, pick 74: Niklas Nordgren, forward

— What you need to know: Nordgren, 18, compiled 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists) in 28 games for Jr. A SM-liiga in the HIFK U20 league, and produced at a point-per-game rate in the playoffs with six goals and four assists in 10 games. He also reigstered 10 points (eight goals, two assists) in seven games for Finland during the Under-18 World Junior Championship. He plans to return to Finland next season.

— Scouting report: Nordgren is an undersized winger (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) but has the ability to score and can play in any situation.

— Player reaction: "Pretty exciting to get [drafted by the] Blackhawks, one of my favorites teams in the NHL."

— Analysis from Kelley: "He has great instincts around the net, he has a really good stick in traffic. I think if you look and track his goals you'll find they're goal scorers goals. He gets in the dirt, he's not afraid and he's just got a really great release."

Round 4, pick 120: Philipp Kurashev, forward

— What you need to know: Kurashev, 18, recorded 60 points (19 goals, 41 assists) in 59 games for the Québec Remparts of the QMJHL, and added one goal and four assists in six postseason contests. He also scored a goal and added two assists in five games with Switzerland during the Under-20 World Junior Championship.

— Scouting report: Kurashev is 6-foot-0, 190 pounds and is known to be a smooth skater who can blow past defenders during odd-man rushes. There are concerns about his effort level, but the package is there and that's what attracted the Blackhawks.

— Analysis from Kelley: "Really smart, skilled centerman but he's also really strong on his skates. We thought he had a really good year this year. We think he's better acclimated, we expect him to have a real good year this year coming back."

Round 5, pick 139: Mikael Hakkarainen, forward

— What you need to know: Hakkarainen, 20, accumulated 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) in 36 games for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL last season, and added an assist in three playoff games. He was a member of the Chicago Steel for 16 games in 2016-17, where he recorded four assists. Hakkarainen will play at Providence College for the 2018-19 season.

— Scouting report: Hakkarainen is 6-foot-1, 194 pounds and can be an impact-type player and contribute on special teams.

— Analysis from Kelley: "I think what attracted us to him was, when you went and saw him play, he got on the scoresheet but even if he wasn't on the scoresheet you noticed him play. He played hard. 200-foot."

Round 6, pick 162: Alexis Gravel, goaltender

— What you need to know: Gravel, 18, had a 3.38 goals against average and .890 save percentage in 39 games with Halifax Mooseheads last season, and a 2.70 GAA and .917 save percentage in eight playoff games. 

— Scouting report: Gravel is 6-foot-3, 223 pounds, which immediately stand out because it's the kind of size and big frame the Blackhawks like in their goaltenders. His strengths include his quick glove hand and rebound control.

— Player reaction: "It's amazing. It's probably the best day of my life. I just look down and there's a Chicago Blackhawks logo on the jersey. It feels amazing. It's unreal."

— Analysis from Bowman: "Alexis is a guy we think has a lot of potential. And with goalies you have to be patient with them, they take a little bit longer [to develop]. But he’s got a lot of ability, he’s got the size to be an NHL goalie, and I think that’s part of it. We’re happy that he was there and we were able to get him."

— Analysis from Kelley: "He's going to have a great situation. They're going to host the Memorial Cup next year. We're expecting a peak year out of him. He's been a good goaltender. This year we saw him play some really good games. He's in a good spot. We like the opportunity for him."

Round 7, pick 193: Josiah Slavin, forward

— What you need to know: Slavin, 19, had 42 points (23 goals, 19 assists) in 60 games last season with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, and two goals and one assist in seven playoff games. He is expected to return to the USHL before going to Colorado College in 2019-20. He is the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin.

— Analysis from Kelley: "We like the project there. We think where he is on the curve, he's gonna play another year and then go to Colorado College. We just like the whole project."