The Chicago Blackhawks made two things perfectly clear on Friday night at the 2018 NHL Draft. They wanted long-term flexibility on the blue line and they feel extremely confident that they’ll have the necessary salary cap flexibility to plug their roster holes beginning next week in free agency.
By selecting Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin with the No. 8 and No. 27 picks, respectively, they landed two puck-moving defensemen who fit the profile of what they look for on the blue line perfectly. However, both are probably two years or more from making an impact in the NHL, meaning they’ll have to use the trade market and free agency to reshape a roster that finished last in the division last season.
The Blackhawks reportedly tried to shop the No. 27 pick for more immediate help, as we predicted they might last month. In particular, they were looking for a young, ascending talent at forward that they could plug into their lineup immediately — likely a second-line winger or a third-line center.
But that report was either off or they didn’t receive an offer that fit their needs, so they opted to stockpile another potential top-4 defender and load their farm system. Boqvist and Beaudin now join Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell as the future of the Blackhawks defense but only Jokiharju is close to being able to make the NHL roster now.
Luckily, the Blackhawks managed to dig their way out of the salary cap constraints caused by a top-heavy roster they’ve had to work around the last few years. They’ve got over $10 million in cap space already, which allows them to add some help. Unfortunately, it’s probably not enough to add the level of quality they’re hoping for in the spots they’d like to upgrade, which is why they were probably hopeful to use that No. 27 overall pick to add a younger player.
However, the fact that they weren’t desperate to do a deal is a good sign. Because it would seem to indicate that they feel like they can move Marian Hossa’s contract, Artem Anisimov or possibly both to create the additional cap space needed to turn this team back into a contender.
If they use the forward depth they already have to plug holes at third-line center and fourth-line wing, they’d probably need roughly $15 million to add a second-line wing, a top-4 defenseman to pair with Duncan Keith and a No. 2 goalie. With that sort of space, Scott Powers of The Athletic thinks they could go after names like James van Riemsdyk, Justin Faulk and Carter Hutton, which would all be solid fits stylistically.
Obviously, if they would have had an opportunity to have their cake and eat it too tonight — to add a future star with No. 8 and flip No. 27 for immediate help — that would have been great, too. But absent of a perfect deal, the confidence to make a pair of picks with nothing but the future in mind is encouraging.
With pressure on Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville to prove that last season was a statistical outlier, it’d have been easy to take those draft assets and try to turn them into a short-term windfall. The fact that they didn’t means they’re either foolhardy or they’ve got a plan.
Given the three Stanley Cup titles, they probably deserve the benefit of the doubt.