LOTS TO DO — AND LIT­TLE TO DO IT WITH

OFF­SEA­SON SHAPES UP AS A PUZ­ZLE FOR BOW­MAN AS CAP-HIN­DERED HAWKS TRY TO KEEP AND ADD TAL­ENT

Chicago Sun-Times - - BLACKHAWKS BEAT - BY BEN POPE BPOPE@SUN­TIMES.COM @BENPOPECST

In his 11 years as Black­hawks gen­eral man­ager, Stan Bow­man has never seen an NHL off­sea­son like the one that lies ahead. In fact, he’s prac­ti­cally view­ing it as a new era al­to­gether. “In the past, the sys­tem we had was — even if not of­fi­cial — based on the con­cept of a ris­ing [salary] cap,” Bow­man said dur­ing his end-of-year me­dia avail­abil­ity Fri­day. “The com­pa­ra­ble con­tracts were based on that. Now, we’ll have a dif­fer­ent phe­nom­e­non.”

With the salary cap stay­ing flat at $81.5 mil­lion for the next two years, Bow­man fore­sees an in­evitable mar­ket correction com­ing. Few teams will have money to spend, few teams will be able to meet free agents’ con­tract de­mands, and val­ues will be driven down.

And the stag­nant cap is just the big­gest of nu­mer­ous changes this off­sea­son.

All the ac­tion that nor­mally hap­pens in June and July has been pushed to Oc­to­ber. The draft will be held en­tirely on­line. And no one knows ex­actly when, or how, the 2020-21 sea­son will hap­pen.

That said, Bow­man and the rest of the Hawks front of­fice still have a packed to-do list. Here’s an over­view of all the sto­ry­lines and events com­ing this off­sea­son:

THE DRAFT

The draft is set to take place on­line Oct. 9 and 10, and the Hawks will have their usual ar­ray of picks. Their first-round se­lec­tion will be roughly in the mid­dle of the or­der — 17th. They also hold not their own sec­on­dround pick but the Pen­guins’, and both their own and the Flames’ third-round picks, in ad­di­tion to their own fourth-, fifth- and six­thround picks.

Un­like last year, when the Hawks’ se­lec­tion of cen­ter Kirby Dach third over­all set the tone for the rest of the first round, the Hawks’ op­tions will be more af­fected by other teams this year. They need prospect depth at for­ward, and an abun­dance of solid play­ers are pro­jected go be­tween picks 10 and 25. Names to watch in­clude Seth Jarvis, an un­der­sized but high-scor­ing wing from the WHL; Connor Zary, a well-rounded cen­ter also from the Western Hockey League; Noel Gun­ler, an of­fen­sive-minded wing from Swe­den; and Dy­lan Hol­loway, a strong-framed cen­ter who played with re­cent Hawks signee Wy­att Ka­lynuk this past sea­son at Wisconsin.

Other for­wards such as Daw­son Mercer, Hen­drix Lapierre, Ro­dion Amirov and Jan Mysak could also be in the mix.

The Hawks could also make a splash by pick­ing Rus­sian goal­tender Yaroslav Askarov, who will take years to de­velop but is seen by some as a po­ten­tial once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion goalie.

RE­STRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Hawks’ list of re­stricted free agents — who will only stay re­stricted if they are ten­dered qual­i­fy­ing of­fers — is long this year: for­wards Dy­lan Strome, Do­minik Kuba­lik and Drake Cag­giula; de­fense­man Slater Koekkoek and goalie Mal­colm Sub­ban.

The flat cap will make it dif­fi­cult for Bow­man to re-sign all of those play­ers and also keep un­re­stricted-free-agent goalie Corey Craw­ford (more on him be­low).

“We do have some de­ci­sions to make,” Bow­man said. “We have some ideas on what we’re go­ing to do. That process is start­ing right now. [I’ve] had a cou­ple of meet­ings since we fin­ished the sea­son, and we’ll have more over the com­ing weeks. It’s our job to fig­ure out how we’ll have flex­i­bil­ity, as well as mak­ing sure we keep the play­ers we need to keep.”

Kuba­lik’s 30-goal rookie sea­son cranked up his value. He and the Hawks may be best served by ne­go­ti­at­ing a two-year bridge deal at around $4 mil­lion an­nu­ally, which would give Kuba­lik the chance to prove he’s not a one-hit won­der — set­ting him­self up for a huge 2022 pay­day — with­out swamp­ing the Hawks fi­nan­cially in the short term.

Strome, mean­while, saw his stock fall dur­ing an up-and-down sea­son. His in­abil­ity to click on the wing, and Dach’s emer­gence as the per­ma­nent No. 2 cen­ter, bumped him to the third line in the play­offs. His next cap hit may be around $3 mil­lion.

Cag­giula and Koekkoek were both solid role play­ers this year, and Bow­man had es­pe­cially com­pli­men­tary words for Koekkoek on Fri­day, but the cap crunch makes their fu­tures in Chicago un­cer­tain.

UN­RE­STRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Hawks only have one at the NHL level, but he’s a huge one. Find­ing a way to keep Craw­ford, or solv­ing the goalie conundrum through an­other method, is agenda item No. 1 for Bow­man this fall.

“That’s a top pri­or­ity, get­ting goal­tend­ing sit­u­ated for next year,” he said. “But I don’t have that mapped out right now.”

Craw­ford’s ex­pir­ing con­tract car­ried a $6 mil­lion cap hit; the Hawks prob­a­bly can’t af­ford that any­more. Ide­ally, Craw­ford — a ca­reer-long Hawk — would take a dis­count in the $3- to $4 mil­lion range, but he has no obli­ga­tion to do so.

The­o­ret­i­cally, the Hawks could pro­mote Sub­ban — if they re-sign him — or AHL starter Collin Delia to be their start­ing NHL goalie next year, but that would be risky.

Bow­man also could look to bring in an­other un­re­stricted free agent if Craw­ford leaves, but money will be just as big an is­sue then. The top un­re­stricted goalies — Robin Lehner, Braden Holtby and Jacob Mark­strom — will prob­a­bly be too pricey. Is­landers co-starter Thomas Greiss, Stars ace backup Anton Khu­dobin or Flames jour­ney­man Cam Tal­bot could be vi­able op­tions.

BUY­OUTS

The Hawks could, and likely will, use buy­outs to give them­selves more cap space— at least enough to have a fight­ing chance of re-sign­ing Craw­ford, Strome and Kuba­lik with­out a salary-dump trade.

The ob­vi­ous can­di­dates are de­fense­man Olli Maatta, al­though his strangely fan­tas­tic post­sea­son com­pli­cates the de­ci­sion, and for­ward Zack Smith. Bow­man also could try to trade Maatta.

Buy­ing out Maatta would save $3.4 mil­lion each of the next two sea­sons. Buy­ing out Smith would save $2.2 mil­lion next sea­son.

If ei­ther de­fense­man Brent Seabrook ($6.9 mil­lion cap hit) or winger An­drew Shaw ($3.9 mil­lion) isn’t ready for next sea­son and goes back on long-term in­jured re­serve, that also would free up more cap space, but both vet­er­ans have said they plan to be ready for 2020-21.

NEXT YEAR’S TEAM

The salary crunch, no mat­ter how it af­fects per­son­nel changes this off­sea­son, means the Hawks’ 2020-21 ros­ter prob­a­bly won’t be too dif­fer­ent from the 2019-20 one.

“We’ll have a sim­i­lar group, not the same group,” Bow­man said. “There’ll be some new faces. But there’ll be fewer brand new faces to the Black­hawks.”

That last sen­tence im­plies many of the Hawks’ ad­di­tions will be in­ter­nal. Top de­fen­sive prospect Ian Mitchell is fi­nally com­ing in; sought-af­ter Euro­pean im­port for­ward Pius Suter also re­cently signed. For­ward prospects Bran­don Hagel and Philipp Kura­shev and de­fense­men Lu­cas Carls­son and Ni­co­las Beaudin will con­tend for jobs, too.

One no­tice­ably missing part of this preview is the “free-agent sign­ings” cat­e­gory. That’s be­cause the Hawks are un­likely to make any sub­stan­tial out-of-town free-agent ad­di­tions, out­side of maybe a goal­tender. While un­re­stricted free agents Tay­lor Hall, Alex Pi­etrangelo, Mike Hoff­man and Torey Krug will make head­lines, the Hawks will not be in­volved in those sweep­stakes.

In­stead, their off­sea­son ac­tiv­ity will be less dra­matic and more cau­tious, largely shuf­fling around their own puz­zle pieces. ✶

JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IM­AGES (ABOVE), ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IM­AGES (SUB­BAN), PETR DAVID JOSEK/AP (ASKAROV)

Goalie Corey Craw­ford (above) could be on his way out, forc­ing the Hawks to con­sider pro­mot­ing Mal­colm Sub­ban (be­low left) or draft­ing Rus­sia’s Yaroslav Askarov.

Stan Bow­man

GETTY IM­AGES

Do­minik Kuba­lik

Dy­lan Strome

Drake Cag­giula

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