Zawaski: Hawks' Focus Turns To Trades, Free Agency

Chicago has its sights set on adding another top-six forward.

Jay Zawaski
June 24, 2019 - 8:50 am
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(670 The Score) On Friday night, the Blackhawks got their man in selecting 18-year-old Saskatoon Blades center Kirby Dach with the No. 3 pick in the NHL Draft.

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Now, their focus shifts to the trade and free-agent markets. Some major trades have already gone down across the NHL in recent days, with P.K. Subban, J.T. Miller and Patrick Marleau finding new homes. The Blackhawks made a trade of their own, sending forward John Hayden to the New Jersey Devils for forward John Quenneville, who's the cousin of former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.

On Sunday, the NHL’s interview period began for unrestricted free agents. General managers around the league are now free to contact and negotiate with unrestricted free agents, though no signings can be made official until next Monday.

At this point, I feel any upgrades to the Blackhawks' blue line will come via trade. Bringing in another defenseman without losing someone from the roster would be nearly impossible. Five of the six defensive spots are filled, leaving the sixth spot for one of Henji Jokiharju, Gustav Forsling (if he re-signs), Slater Koekkoek, Carl Dahlstrom, Dennis Gilbert or Adam Boqvist. While I believe a trade may be coming, it’s hard to read the tea leaves on who might be shipped out.

The Blackhawks have long coveted Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk, who has one year left on his deal. The Hurricanes and Faulk have reached an impasse on a new deal, according to reports. The Hawks tried to acquire Faulk ahead of last season, but the asking price of Brandon Saad was too rich for Chicago's blood. I wonder if the Hawks have changed their minds this summer.

Would a defensive prospect like Jokiharju or Boqvist get a deal done? It’s hard to predict, but the Blackhawks' love for Faulk hasn’t died down over the last 12 months. He scored 35 points last season, including 10 on the power-play. Faulk would be the shot in the arm the Blackhawks' blue line needs. If he's their only offseason addition, I believe they’re not only a playoff team but a contender in a weakening Western Conference.

Another Carolina defenseman is in the mix too. The Blackhawks are pursuing 28-year-old defenseman Calvin de Haan, a source said Monday afternoon. de Haan scored one goal and had 13 assists in 74 games last season. Last July, Carolina signed him as an unrestricted free agent. Rumors had it that the Hawks were interested then, so to see his name pop up again isn’t a surprise. The only question would be why are the Hurricanes ready to move on so quicky? de Haan has three years left on his deal, which carries a $4.55-million annual cap hit. 

If the Blackhawks are active in free agency, as I expect them to be, I’d imagine the focus would be at forward. As it shakes out now -- on paper, at least -- the Blackhawks' top six would feature some combination of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Brandon Saad. The sixth spot would have to include Dylan Sikura, Dominik Kubalik, Drake Caggiula or Brendan Perlini, but none of those players are proven top-six talent.

With that in mind, here are a few of the names I’m hearing who might be on the Blackhawks' radar as the start of free agency approaches:

Anders Lee, Islanders winger
Age: 28
6-foot-3, 231 pounds
51 points (28 goals, 23 assists) in 82 games

The Blackhawks have been interested in Lee, as I reported last week. And Lee will indeed explore free agency, NHL.com reported Sunday. I’ve heard whispers that Lee and Hawks general manager Stan Bowman may have had informal meetings already. There's definitely mutual interest between Lee and the Blackhawks, a source confirmed Sunday.

Lee would bring versatility, skill and size to a lineup lacking in all those categories. If Dach happens to make the team out of camp next season, which seems like a long shot at this point, that would be quite a duo to contend with, especially in the playoffs. Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton has acknowledged the team’s need for more size and physicality. Their 2019 draft coupled with a signing like Lee would validate his comments.

Gustav Nyquist, Sharks winger
Age: 29
5-foot-11, 184 pounds
60 points (22 goals, 38 assists) in 81 games

Nyquist had spent his entire career with the Red Wings before the Sharks acquired him ahead of the trade deadline en route to their Western Conference Final appearance. He recorded 11 points in the Sharks' 20 playoff games. Nyquist would bring affordable top-six depth to a lineup that has one of those types of spots to fill. While he lacks the size of Lee, he brings proven scoring talent and veteran experience. Nyquist is the kind of player who makes whatever team he’s on better.

Joe Pavelski, Sharks center
Age: 34
5-foot-11, 190 pounds
64 points (38 goals, 26 assists) in 75 games

As the Sharks' captain, Pavelski leaving San Jose is one of those things I’ll believe when I see. He has been one of the faces of the Sharks for his entire 13-year career, and I find it hard to believe they won’t find a way to get a deal done.

However, the Sharks just signed Erik Karlsson to an eight-year deal worth $11.5 million annually. Blackhawks fans know better than anyone what those deals can do to a roster, and the Sharks have some difficult roster decisions to make. Could Pavelski sign a short-team deal with the Hawks to finish out his career? I’ll believe it when I see it, but a source did confirm that the Hawks were interested in his services.

Of these three players, Pavelski is the most exciting, but I think Lee makes the most sense. He’s younger, incredibly durable and seems to want to be here if he doesn’t return to Long Island. He also brings the combination of size and skill the Blackhawks need, and the prospect of him and Dach teamed up for the next five or six years makes me excited.

It should be a busy and newsy week in Blackhawks land. Stay tuned to my Twitter feed, 670theScore.com and the Madhouse Chicago Hockey Podcast whenever news breaks or is about to break. I’ve got you covered.

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Bernstein & McKnight Show on 670 middays from 9 a.m. to noon and a columnist for 670 The Score. He's also the co-host of the Madhouse Chicago Hockey Podcast, which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify or your preferred podcast app. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.​​​