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Free Agency: Madness

July 28, 2021, 3:41 AM ET [698 Comments]
Theo Fox
Chicago Blackhawks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The NHL free agency period hasn't started yet but the past few days since Friday has been a roller coaster with the trades to acquire defenseman Seth Jones from the Blue Jackets, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the Golden Knights, and forward Tyler Johnson from the Lightning.

Today's commencing of the free agency period is sure to extend this wild ride even longer but hopefully start to introduce some rhyme and reason to what all of these transactions mean in totality for the Blackhawks as they plan for the upcoming season and beyond.

Below are some thoughts on what transpired yesterday, what could happen today, and what could possibly be the plan for 2021-22 and moving ahead. Honestly, who knows what's in store today and the rest of the week so be prepared for even more twists and turns.

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Marc-Andre Fleury

At face value, adding Fleury -- a three-time Stanley Cup champion and reigning Vezina Trophy winner -- is a good move by the Blackhawks because of the experience and mentorship he provides for one season to support Kevin Lankinen as he grows as the team's starting goalie.

If you're going to bring in a veteran netminder, why not bring in one of the best in the league in Fleury. Even better is his high price tag is on the payroll for only a single season. Add in that a lowly-rated prospect in Mikael Hakkarainen was the lone asset given up: bonus.

However, what stings from this trade is the fact that general manager Stan Bowman didn't get any other asset in return whether a high draft pick or high-end prospect by relieving Vegas of $7M off of their salary cap. Not even future considerations were tacked on to the deal.

Furthermore, it's odd and irritating that the Hawks failed to perform due diligence to talk with Fleury to affirm that he would play for them. Even if they knew this in advance, there should have been conditional assets added to the trade if he didn't report or retired.

There are individuals who lose in this trade. One is Hakkarainen because not only did the Hawks view him as expendable but the Golden Knights don't want him either as he will be permitted to continue playing in the Chicago organization with the IceHogs or Fuel.

Then there's the impact on Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia as far as their worth to and treatment by the Hawks especially if things eventually fall through with Fleury. If that occurs, the Hawks may have to retain one or both of them. Either way, it's a kick in the teeth.

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Tyler Johnson

Again, at face value, the addition of an experienced forward with Stanley Cup experience in Johnson is a decent decision as he's strong at the faceoff dot and can be an insurance policy if Jonathan Toews can't play a substantial portion of the upcoming season.

Johnson is versatile in that he can play center or wing and anywhere in the top 9. While he's no longer capable of hitting the 50 point plateau unless he has a sudden surge as he enters the latter part of his career, 15-20 goals and 40 points are still within his reach.

Like the Fleury trade, though, the Johnson trade left the same feeling of being shortchanged by the trade partner. In this case, Tampa Bay can not only go over the cap limit by the amount of Seabrook's cap hit but also have more to work with now that Johnson's hit is off the books.

The 2nd rounder that they received is an acceptable return but there's frustration that Bowman could have held out longer to milk the Lightning for a 1st instead. Between the two trades, though, the Johnson trade is more palatable than the Fleury trade.

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Free Agency & Trade Expectations

If Monday's decisions on qualifying offers to their own RFAs and yesterday's trades are any indication, then anything can happen with what the Blackhawks plan to do during the free agency period to sign UFAs and on the trade market to open up roster and cap space.

Here are a few things to watch for:

* Expect Nikita Zadorov and possibly Calvin de Haan to be shipped out.

* Expect Dylan Strome to be on his way out and possibly Alex Nylander, too.

* Expect Brandon Hagel, Vincent Hinostroza, and David Kampf to be re-signed.

* Expect Pius Suter to be let go and allowed to hit free agency with a slight chance of getting re-signed on a less than desirable contract.

* Expect one of Ryan Carpenter or Brett Connolly to be on another team with a draft pick in return.

* Expect either Subban, Delia, or both to be moved out in exchange for a draft pick (in separate deals if both are goners).

* Expect a veteran goalie to be obtained via free agency or trade in the event that Fleury doesn't report to Chicago or decides to retire.

* Expect at least one affordable UFA veteran defenseman brought in on a one-year deal.

* Expect at least one affordable UFA veteran forward also secured on a one-year deal.

Something that could handcuff the Hawks is the rest of the league knows Bowman doesn't have as much cap space to work with than he did a week ago. So if he's looking to trade to free up space, other teams aren't going to help thus leading to less than optimal returns.

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Thoughts on the Rebuild

In yesterday's blog, I pondered aloud whether the Blackhawks aren't necessarily abandoning the youth movement and associated rebuild but instead are kicking the can down the road by a year as they go all in for 2021-22 before resetting with youngsters in 2022-23.

The silver lining to a deferred rebuild is that it buys time for prospects like Henrik Borgstrom, Lukas Reichel, MacKenzie Entwistle, Mike Hardman, Ian Mitchell, Wyatt Kalynuk, Nicolas Beaudin, and a bevy of Icehogs to marinate as long as needed in the minors so they're fully baked.

That extra year could really do wonders for their confidence and development for healthier and longer term productivity individually as players and collectively for the Hawks. Some veterans would be gone a year from now but some will still be around to supplement them.

Also, if it is the case of gunning for a playoff berth and deep run this season, then is Jeremy Colliton the right head coach to lead the team? Being impatient with the player personnel in this new context but not with the coaching staff doesn't make sense.

It's safe to say Colliton will at least start the season as head coach but could be on the hot seat if the team falters early. The Hawks at least have a veteran coach already in house in Marc Crawford who could serve as the bench boss in an interim capacity before a permanent one is identified.

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IceHogs Signing

The timing of this announcement isn't good given it coincides with the opening bell of the NHL free agency period and who knows what other transactions the Blackhawks may pull off today but the IceHogs will have a player signing at lunchtime.

Possibilities on who the Hog signee is are either winger Mitchell Fossier (collegiate free agent last year), center Chad Yetman (2020 6th round pick), or defenseman Cole Moberg (2019 7th round pick). Another notable UFA is winger Riley McKay.

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