Thursday, June 20, 2024

Blackhawks Keeping An Eye On Three Free Agents As They Prepare For Crucial Offseason

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While every NHL roster is built in a different way, each one that hoists the Stanley Cup has something in common – they’re made up of a combination of home-grown talent and big-name additions. The league’s best GMs have mastered the art of building talent through the draft and prospect pool while simultaneously supplementing that talent with top free agents and navigating the salary cap.

For Chicago, one of those two parts is already in place. For the past few seasons, GM Kyle Davidson’s team has boasted one of the best prospect pools in the entire league. Winning last year’s lottery and selecting Connor Bedard obviously had the biggest effect, but it’s clear the Blackhawks have plenty of young pieces in place – future stars like Frank Nazar, Alex Vlasic and Kevin Korchinski.

But this summer could be the perfect time for Chicago to complete the other part of that process – landing big free agents. Free agency doesn’t officially open until July 1, but there’s no question the Blackhawks already have their eyes on a handful of pending UFAs. Three players in particular would be perfect fits for Chicago next season.

Ilya Samsonov

For the Blackhawks, one of the biggest dilemmas since last season ended has been the team’s plans between the pipes. Veteran goaltender Petr Mrazek had a career year behind a Swiss-cheese defense, but young Arvid Soderblom showed that he isn’t quite ready to become a full-fledged starter.

However, if the Blackhawks plan to field a more competitive team next year, that mission starts with a rock-solid backstop. With 27-year-old Ilya Samsonov potentially headed for free agency, Chicago would be a perfect destination for both sides. The star netminder, who was terrific all year but was a bit inconsistent in this year’s playoffs, will likely command a hefty payday after coming off of a $3.55 million salary, which would be the main reason for his departure from the Maple Leafs. Who better to make a deal happen than the Blackhawks, who currently have almost $34 million in cap space?

Chicago has made its mission clear that it wants to maintain cap flexibility for the long run, especially with players like Nazar and Bedard needing new contracts by 2026. But it would be difficult to pass up Samsonov if he were to become available. A middle-term deal (2-3 years) would be enough time to take some of the workload from Mrazek, who isn’t getting any younger, while giving players like Soderblom and star prospect Drew Commesso time to develop. Then, when the Blackhawks have finally built a contender, they can turn to those younger players who fit their timeline even better.

Martin Necas

For the Blackhawks in free agency, the two most important factors in every decision are a player’s age and cost. A player in his 30s, like Steven Stamkos, would be great, but not exactly practical, as Chicago won’t be ready to compete for a Stanley Cup for another few years.

One player who fits their steep qualifications is Martin Necas. After a two-year bridge deal with a $3 million AAV, the Carolina winger is set for restricted free agency. But if the Blackhawks truly believe he can make their team better in the long run, they have the resources available to outbid all comers, or even package a few draft picks from their vast war chest to acquire his rights. With 59 playoff games on his resume already, there’s no question Necas would instantly be a star in Chicago after breaking 50 points in each of his last two seasons.

Filip Hronek

The aforementioned defense filled with holes will certainly be patched with an influx of high-caliber prospects over the next few years, but another way to seal up the blue line is to acquire a big-name free agent – someone like Filip Hronek. The 26-year-old RHD is coming off of a stellar 48-point season and even scored a goal for Vancouver in Monday’s Game 7 loss.

It’s hard to predict what a team like the Canucks will do this summer, as they have almost $25 million in cap space to work with but must bring in or bring back nine players. Could Hronek find himself as the odd man out? He’ll be first on the docket for general manager Patrik Allvin as the team’s only RFA, but with several high-dollar contracts on the books already, Vancouver may be reluctant to add another. If that’s the case, look for the Blackhawks to pounce, making a move that would solidify their defensive zone for years to come.

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