Blackhawks offseason preview: Another busy draft, active free-agency window lie ahead

The Blackhawks will try to put the pieces in place to achieve their desired step forward next season while also further strengthening their long-term outlook during their 2024 offseason.

General manager Kyle Davidson and the rest of the Hawks’ front office have two busy weeks ahead of them, with the NHL draft this coming week and free agency starting the following week.

Here’s a guide to what this summer will bring for the Hawks:

Schedule and awards

The NHL usually releases its 2024-25 regular-season schedule right before the draft, although there’s no guarantee that timing repeats itself this year.

When they do, the Hawks will learn the date of their first trip to Salt Lake City to face the new Utah Hockey Club. They’ll also find out if the league’s schedule-makers took their request to maximize weekend home games as seriously as they did last year.

The NHL Awards show will definitely take place Thursday in Las Vegas, the night before the draft. That’s when Hawks forward Connor Bedard will most likely receive the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year, fending off a valiant push by Wild defenseman Brock Faber.

Connor Bedard will likely win the Calder Trophy a year after getting drafted, while the Blackhawks’ front office has shifted its focus toward the 2024 draft class.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Draft

The Hawks met this past week in Florida with Russian forward Ivan Demidov — after meeting regularly throughout the year with Michigan State defenseman Artyom Levshunov — and now have all the info they’ll get about their two options for the No. 2 overall pick.

Come Friday at the Sphere in Las Vegas, when the first round of the draft begins, they’ll finally have to announce a decision.

Either Levshunov or Demidov will become the next focal piece of their up-and-coming generation, joining Bedard, Frank Nazar, Alex Vlasic, Kevin Korchinski and others.

If they take Levshunov, their defensive prospect pool will become veritably stacked, and they’ll need to focus on amassing more offensive talent moving forward. They’ll have to decide whether Levshunov is ready for the NHL next season, would benefit from time in the AHL or should return to Michigan State for his sophomore year.

If they take Demidov, whose above-six-foot height and English fluency both exceeded expectations in Florida, their pool will become more balanced position-wise. But they’ll have to worry about working with Demidov’s Russian club, SKA St. Petersburg, throughout what could be a tense upcoming season.

The Hawks also hold the 18th pick and will choose between a much larger group of possibilities there — including forwards Michael Hage, Konsta Helenius, Igor Chernyshov, Jett Luchanko, Sacha Boisvert, Michael Brandsegg-Nygard and Cole Beaudoin and defensemen Stian Solberg, Adam Jiricek, EJ Emery and Leo Sahlin Wallenius.

For the second portion of the draft Saturday, the Hawks currently own two second-round picks (34th and 50th overall), two third-round picks (67th and 72nd), a fifth-round pick (138th) and a sixth-round pick (163rd).

Trades

Davidson tried to trade up in the teens of the first round last year, and he may well try to do the same again this year by offering to package together the 18th pick and one of the second- or third-round picks.

Beyond picks-for-picks swaps, though, Davidson will also work the phones to see which players might be available on the trade market — just as he will with every player on the free-agent market.

The Hawks’ summer wishlist likely includes one or two new top-six forwards, a second-pairing defenseman and several depth role-fillers — including a backup goalie to compete against Arvid Soderblom for that job — and they’re open to any route to acquiring those pieces.

The Hawks have been reportedly linked to Hurricanes forward Martin Necas, a 26-year-old pending restricted free agent, but his talent has always exceeded his drive and the Hawks don’t have any established NHL players to offer in return.

Other notable forwards on the trade market who could be of interest (for various reasons) include Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers, Columbus’ Patrik Laine, the Islanders’ Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Pittsburgh’s Reilly Smith, St. Louis’ Brandon Saad, the Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko and Anaheim’s Trevor Zegras. Some of those guys might be available for cheap due to their oversized contracts.

Joey Anderson is one restricted free agent the Blackhawks could re-sign.

Amber Bracken/AP Photos

Free agency

The Hawks have already re-signed Vlasic (six years at $4.6 million per), Lukas Reichel (two years at $1.2 million per) and depth forwards Cole Guttman, Zach Sanford and Brett Seney (one year each), but they’re far from finished.

Qualifying offers to restricted free agents are due next Sunday, and unrestricted free agency league-wide begins the following day, July 1.

The Hawks’ prospect development camp — which will be off-ice only for the second consecutive year — runs simultaneously the first week of July at Fifth Third Arena.

Hawks’ restricted free agents (RFAs): Forwards Joey Anderson, Taylor Raddysh, MacKenzie Entwistle, Reese Johnson and Michal Teply; defensemen Isaak Phillips, Louis Crevier and Filip Roos; goaltender Jaxson Stauber.

Anderson will likely be re-signed; he helped form a very stable defensive line alongside Jason Dickinson last season and wouldn’t be expensive. Phillips and Crevier will also likely be re-signed despite struggling during their NHL stints.

Everyone else could be on the chopping block. Stauber’s first two pro seasons have been full of highs and lows and his future is unclear.

Hawks’ unrestricted free agents (UFAs): Forwards Tyler Johnson, Colin Blackwell, Rem Pitlick, Mike Hardman, Luke Philp and David Gust; defensemen Jarred Tinordi, Jaycob Megna and Nikita Zaitsev.

Johnson made his desire to move on clear during exit interviews, Zaitsev already signed in Russia (coincidentally with SKA St. Petersburg) for next season and all other UFAs may soon follow them out of Chicago.

Blackwell is the only one of any interest, but his injury woes nonetheless make him unlikely to be re-signed.

Open-market free agents: This year’s league-wide UFA class isn’t star-studded, but it is rather plentiful. The Hawks might adopt the approach of reaching out to every UFA, gauging which ones show interest in two-year contracts at above-market-value cap hits and going from there.

Davidson’s reported interest in Jake Guentzel — one of this year’s few star UFAs — demonstrates he’s not unilaterally opposed to longer-term contracts, though, since that’s certainly what Guentzel will demand. Davidson said earlier this month those ideas “just have to make sense.”

Other UFA forwards who could be of interest include Jonathan Marchessault, Sean Monahan, Tyler Toffoli, Teuvo Teravainen, Max Domi, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, Jonathan Drouin, Jake DeBrusk, Vladimir Tarasenko, Chandler Stephenson, Daniel Sprong, Anthony Duclair and Stefan Noesen.

In terms of defensemen, the Hawks will be looking for something more specific — a partner for Korchinski, since Connor Murphy has been injury-prone and might be better suited on the third pair at this point. Right-handedness would be preferable, too.

UFA defensemen who could fit that bill include Chris Tanev, Brett Pesce, Sean Walker, Alexandre Carrier, Dylan DeMelo, Matt Dumba and Tyson Barrie.

In terms of goaltenders, the Hawks will seek an experienced guy willing to compete for the backup job. Kaapo Kahkonen, Ilya Samsonov, Casey DeSmith, Anthony Stolarz, Calvin Pickard, James Reimer and Martin Jones are UFA possibilities.

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