Friday, June 21, 2024

Blackhawks Preparing To Sign First Long-Term Contract Of Season

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As the Blackhawks entered the 2023-24 season, the team’s unit with the most questions was undoubtedly the defensive group. While Chicago’s forward lines generated plenty of excitement (thanks, Connor Bedard), the question wasn’t whether the group of blueliners would be able to develop into a stout NHL unit, but rather whether the Blackhawks’ offense could keep pace with the high scoring of their opponents.

The defensive unit’s low expectations were no fault of their own, but simply a result of inexperience. With Kevin Korchinski, Alex Vlasic, Wyatt Kaiser, and Filip Roos expected to be among those getting significant minutes at the NHL level, a learning curve seemed only natural.

But through the first 55 games of the season, the opposite has been true. The defensive lines haven’t been stellar by any means (3.49 goals allowed per game), but they’ve certainly outperformed an offensive group currently dead last in goals scored. With the puck in the defensive zone for well over half the game on a given night, the blueliners have outperformed all expectations.

Perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise of the group all year has been 22-year-old Alex Vlasic. After short stints in Chicago for the past two years, he turned into a full-time NHLer at the start of this season. It didn’t take long for him to move to the top pairing, where he’s become a staple next to veteran Seth Jones.

Though he lacks NHL experience, Vlasic has been terrific in a huge role for the Blackhawks this year. Logging well over 20 minutes on the ice every game, he’s noticeable every time he’s out there thanks to his seemingly limitless reach and defensive wherewithal. Vlasic isn’t an offensive superstar, but he’s actually been among the best defensemen not just on his team, but in the entire NHL. According to an Evolving Hockey model, Vlasic is the fifth-best defensive player in the entire league this season.

Fortunately for Vlasic, he’s become one of the league’s top defenders at a pretty lucrative time – he’ll be a restricted free agent when his entry-level contract ends at the end of this season. It would be foolish for the Blackhawks to let things get to that point, though, especially with their current abundance of cap space. So what will Vlasic’s extension look like, assuming it’s in the near future?

GM Kyle Davidson has spoken in the past about striking a delicate balance with Vlasic’s next contract – the goal is clearly to lock him up for several years, but not so long that he’s dooming the Blackhawks if disaster strikes. Therefore, Vlasic and Chicago are likely looking at a term of five or six years for his upcoming extension. He’d be able to stick around at least until the Blackhawks are competitive again without eventually becoming one of the NHL’s worst contracts (like his linemate). His value as a defensive-minded blueliner should be around $5 million, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise if he signs a deal like 6 x $6M. Such a contract would allow Vlasic long-term stability while taking advantage of a team with an abundance of cap space. On the other hand, the Blackhawks would be thrilled to lock up the future of their defensive top line for just $6 million per year, especially in an era where the league’s salary cap is quickly shooting up.

The Blackhawks have done a great job of locking up their veteran skaters this year, but their most important deal has yet to be signed. Vlasic has the makings of a defensive star for years to come, and the team that drafted him should be paying him accordingly in the coming weeks.

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