We’re entering the meaty portion of this offseason. The NHL draft begins Friday in Buffalo and free agency commences July 1. The Blackhawks have selections to make, questions to answer and a roster to shape.
And so it begins again.
With the salary cap set at $73 million for the 2016-17 season, general manager Stan Bowman can move forward with potential signings and other offseason moves. The top priority still seems to be re-signing Andrew Shaw, although Bowman said on Thursday there’s been no progress on that front thus far. Shaw’s agent Pat Brisson said via email last week that he expects to talk to Bowman at the draft this weekend.
“We’ve had some good discussions with his agent, so that’s ongoing. And we’re trying to get something done. That’s how I can characterize it right now,” Bowman said from Buffalo. “There are a lot of things we’re working through and that’s certainly one of them.”
The Blackhawks have some cap room but not a ton. If they do sign Shaw, he could take $3 million or more of that; he had a cap hit of $2 million last season. Do the Blackhawks get a defenseman? Do they make some other deal in the next few days/weeks? Plenty of speculation abounds this time of year but Bowman wasn’t talking about any of it.
“There are lots of rumors floating round. I’d say a majority of them are false but you can’t comment on individual rumors. We have a job to do and there are a lot of conversations this time of year,” Bowman said. “We’re trying to prepare for the draft, we have eight picks and that’s an important part of building for the future, making sure we prepare well and choose the right players. The other part of it is shaping our roster for next season, which can come through trades, preparing for free agency and those type of things. There’s a lot happening and these are busy days.”
In the meantime, the Blackhawks have shored up several depth players recently. Richard Panik signed a one-year deal last week. Nick Schmaltz signed a three-year, entry-level deal on Sunday. Dennis Rasmussen was re-signed for this coming season on Wednesday. As much as everyone likes the splashy deal and players these depth guys are just as important, especially to a team constantly fighting cap issues.
“It’s a huge part of what we’re trying to do here and critical to our success going forward,” Bowman said. “[This is Rasmussen’s] third year with us. He took a big jump last year and now he’s trying to build on that and expand his role. With Nick, we’re thrilled he made the decision he was ready for pro hockey. We’ve felt that way for a while here, watching him the last two years in college. He’s grown his game from when we drafted him and we thought it was time for him to take the next step. He felt the same way. He’ll have a great opportunity to show us what he can do in camp. We don’t hand out jobs but they’re there to come and earn. He’s prepared to have a big summer. When we get to see him on the ice, you’ll see the talent he has.”
The Blackhawks have eight picks at the draft; they’ve usually selected a good mix of forwards, defensemen and goaltending and they’ll probably do the same this draft. But this weekend usually goes beyond taking future prospects. The Blackhawks have decisions to make and a roster to shape. Much of that could start this weekend.