What Blackhawks can do with newfound cap space


The Blackhawks' salary cap situation significantly improved on Sunday when the team traded defenseman Olli Maatta to the LA Kings for forward prospect Brad Morrison.

The Hawks freed up $3.25 million of cap space with the move, and per CapFriendly, now have a little over $11 million to play with.

According to a report from the Athletic a few weeks ago, Chicago and two-time Stanley Cup champion goalie Corey Crawford, an unrestricted free agent, began negotiations when the club offered Crawford a one-year deal for $3.5 million. The Athletic recently reported the ball is in Crawford's court still regarding the offer.

The Hawks have other business to tend to beyond Crawford before free agency opens up on Friday. Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome, Drake Caggiula and Slater Koekkoek are all restricted free agents.

Kubalik was a 30-goal scorer as a rookie, Strome looks to be a dependable third-line center next season, Drake Caggiula is a feisty winger with some offensive skill and Slater Koekkoek looked better and better as a bottom pairing defenseman as last year dragged on.

Regardless of what the other players may command, Crawford is the top order of business and now the Blackhawks can afford to keep him. On Monday, former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner, one of the top netminders in the league, inked a five-year extension for $25 million with the Vegas Golden Knights that carries a $5 million cap hit.

Crawford would be wise not to seek the same, even for shorter term and even though he made the goalie battle with Lehner very interesting in Chicago last season before a trade ahead of the deadline sent Lehner to Vegas.

If the reported offer rings true, $3.5 and $5 million aren't too far apart. Crawford made it known he wanted to stay in Chicago on a short-term deal at his end-of-the-year interview. It would be a big surprise if a one or two-year deal can't be worked out now between Crawford and the Hawks.

Let's say Crawford takes a one or two-year deal for $4 million. That leaves around $7 mill in cap space to work with.

That may be enough to sign Kubalik and Strome, with Kubalik commanding the bigger payday, if GM Stan Bowman works a little magic. But then, another move would be required to free up some space if the team wants to keep Caggiula and Koekkoek.

Caggiula and Koekkoek may only take a few million combined to keep, but it's also good to leave yourself additional space if things get hairy.

As much as Caggiula showed he can get into opponents' heads and onto the scoresheet this year with nine goals and six assists in 40 games, the Blackhawks have Andrew Shaw returning next season who plays a similar game.

And as much as Koekkoek continued to show improvement, there's also a group of promising young defenseman in Lucas Carlsson, Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin and possibly Wyatt Kalynuk getting reps and looking to take on a big role with the team next year. 

It's also possible, regardless of if a deal gets done with Crawford, that the Hawks explore more trades. 

Day 1 of the NHL Draft begins on Tuesday with the Blackhawks possessing the No. 17 overall pick. We'll have to wait and see what they choose to do with it. In the meantime, after the newfound cap relief it's very possible we'll see Bowman take care of more business ahead of the draft.

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