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The Chicago Blackhawks are in an enviable position as the NHL trade deadline approaches in two weeks.
By most measures, they’re ahead of schedule in the first full season of their rebuild.
They’re flush with cap space with almost $22 million in salary saved with players on long-term injured reserve.
And they have plenty of young talent to develop, so they’re not looking to acquire a veteran and a costly salary — and definitely not a rental.
“No question, this is the most cap space we’ve ever had because of the long-term injury,” Stan Bowman, the team’s president of hockey operations and general manager, told the Tribune.
Bottom line, the Hawks are in no rush to spend their sizable cap space. However, they are willing to use it to help a team unload a contract — as long as they get the asset or assets they want.
“I can tell you what we’re not looking for: We’re not going to be using our young assets and draft choices to try to bring in veteran players,” Bowman said of the April 12 trade deadline.
“So on a very short-term basis, we have a lot of flexibility. But then we start getting into future years, if you’re looking at taking on a player from another team, if they’ve got an additional year or two or three years, then at that point the fact we have a lot of cap room this year doesn’t really help us for two or three years from now because we don’t know what our cap will look like at that point. So much changes from year to year.
“So I think in the short term, yes, we have a lot of flexibility that we’re willing to use, but it’s still early.
Bowman said he expects talks to ramp up, but “at this point, I’m just doing a lot of listening, I’m just checking in with managers to let them know our situation.”
Bowman said the Hawks would be receptive to trading for young players who have more than a year left on their contracts or draft picks. But the front office isn’t searching for anything in particular.
“I think what we’re going to do is react to what’s out there in the market,” he said. “There’s certain teams that are going to be trying to do certain things, and if we can capitalize on a situation and improve the long-term prospects of our group, then we’re going to do that.”
However, the Hawks could afford to stand pat at the deadline.
They’ve have been pleased with the progress they’ve seen from rookies Pius Suter, Philipp Kurashev, Brandon Hagel and Ian Mitchell — and that group certainly includes goalie Kevin Lankinen, who is in the Calder Trophy conversation.
Center Kirby Dach, a bright spot in the Edmonton bubble this summer, just returned to the ice this weekend. And the team has been encouraged by Adam Boqvist’s development this season.
The Hawks’ philosophy has been to acquire draft picks, prospects and young veterans, so any deal the Hawks make would likely align with that. There would be limits to the kind of contract the Hawks take on, of course.
“If we brought on a veteran player, it would be because the other team was attaching an asset to it that we thought would be part of our future,” Bowman said.
“I think the (current) young players have actually been a bright spot, so we want to continue to give them a chance. I don’t know if anything’s changed really relative to our expectations for this year,” he said, referring to the playoff race.
Bowman dangled the possibility of a one-for-one trade for players who are at similar stages in their careers.
“If we have a young player that we like but we’re getting another young player that we think fits in better or fills a need, then that’s an avenue we’re going to pursue,” he said. “Or if we can get a young asset attached to a veteran player, that’s another thing.”
But there are caveats.
“We’re not going to be spending assets to bring in players who are not signed past this year” — no matter their age,” Bowman said.
So to any Hawks fans who have harbored designs on a Taylor Hall acquisition from the Buffalo Sabres, consider that Hall is an unrestricted free agent after this season. So the Hawks’ trade parameters would seem to rule him out.
As Bowman alluded to, the Hawks have breathing room this season, but the next season or two could see a flat cap because of the league’s revenue hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Hawks have Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Andrew Shaw, Zack Smith and Alex Nylander on long-term injured reserve (they’re spending about $3 million of $25.3 million), but the landscape could change, and certainly should next season.
“We’re not going to bring back the same group of 25 guys,” Bowman said. “In the process of that happening, as we bring in new players, what might be a need as of March 2021 might not be a need and when we get to this offseason, because all of a sudden we’ve made some other move.”
The Hawks might want to add size and a right-handed shooting defenseman, among other needs, but Bowman isn’t looking to address everything at once. He’d rather target attributes that reflect the organization’s culture than focus on measurables.
“It’s never that cut and dry. There’s a lot more nuance to it,” he said. “We’re looking for players that can bring that relentless approach, that work ethic; that’s something that our team is built upon.
“We’d love it if we had guys that did all that and they were big guys, that would be great. But just to get a big guy, or just to get a right-handed shot, and then you can say, ‘Well, I checked off that box.’ That’s looking at it a little too simplistically.
“It has to be a little more holistic than that.”
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