One of the best things to come out of last year’s bizarre pandemic season was that Chicago Blackhawks fans got to see what the organization’s young players were capable of. In a way, that continued this year because Covid is still a thing, and so are the protocols for players who test positive. Out of necessity, Chicago has had to continue the youth movement to accommodate any players who need to self-isolate, in addition to any other injuries.
It’s a double-edged sword, but the Chicago Blackhawks have proven they have an abundance of NHL-ready depth players. Nobody wins championships without having reliable role players, and Chicago has plenty of them. In fact, probably too many.
The glut of deep players will impact roster decisions for next year. For example, does Chicago really need to bring back Erik Gustafsson? No, even if they could. (Sigh) As a bottom defenseman, Chicago has younger, equally capable players ready to play right now who can fill that roster spot. The organization must be forward-looking, and the future is not an inconsistent 29-year-old defender in third pair.
Chicago’s overstuffed talent pool is particularly acute defensively. Currently, Chicago has Calvin de Haan, Jake McCabe, Connor Murphy, Riley Stillman, Caleb Jones and Erik Gustafsson as active defensemen. Seth Jones only just got out of the Covid protocol January 18. However, the team has eight other players under contract. Ian Mitchell, Wyatt Kalynuk, Nolan Allan, Jakub Galvas, Alec Regula, Nicolas Beaudin, Isaak Phillips and Louis Crevier. The oldest person on this list is Kalynuk at 24. There is a young group ready to leave.
Galvas, Beaudin, Mitchell, Phillips, Kalynuk and Regula have all played at least a bit in the NHL. In my opinion, Beaudin, Phillips and Regula should spend more time in the AHL. However, Galvas, Mitchell and Kalynuk could dress for the next Chicago game and that would be fine with me. The problem is, there’s no room for 10 defensemen, and that list doesn’t include players like Wyatt Kaiser who was drafted in 2020, and could start moving up the ranks with the Blackhawks sooner rather than later. .
Looking at the players split between Rockford and Chicago, it would be easy to conclude that former GM Stan Bowman’s draft strategy was the equivalent of a chef throwing pasta at the wall to see what stuck. Eventually, if you cook enough of it for long enough and keep throwing more at the wall, something will be to stick on. So ! Results you can work with. or something like that and now Chicago has too many role players.
Legitimate top 6 players are harder to find, but it shouldn’t be impossible. Chicago significantly damaged its organizational depth this past offseason, but players will still be available and can be signed as free agents if nothing else. There will be options. Johnny Gaudreau from Calgary flames is an intriguing player as he will be UFA after this year, and there has been trade speculation around him for years. Maybe if Calgary doesn’t make a big splash in the playoffs, they cut ties with the winger, or vice versa? He might be expensive, but he would likely help Chicago’s offensive problems.
The problem with attracting Gaudreau, or any other top player, is that Chicago is in a bad place right now as a team. They will almost certainly be sellers by the deadline as the organization needs to focus on its future. Cap space probably won’t be an issue in the short term, but Chicago is more likely to get a bad contract to get assets, rather than scouting for top talent to chase the Stanley Cup.
All of these players listed above are good to have, but it’s safe to say that some of them will be traded out of necessity for Chicago’s future. Every team needs skilled players to fill the bottom of their rosters. The Chicago Blackhawks have an abundance of these players. As the trade deadline approaches, Chicago will have to decide who to sign for the future and who to cut ties with.