There will be a lot of trades near the expansion draft, as teams will try to optimize their lineup without losing a player they consider part of their core.
The Blackhawks are still in salary cap hell. That said, they have many prospects on entry-level deals that do not require protection, leaving management with easier decisions.
Here are five players they risk losing for nothing on June 21:
5. Marcus Kruger - Center
The obvious reason is Kruger's cap hit. Paying a 4th line center over $3M a year is not cost-effective for the Blackhawks, but Kruger is not a 4th liner on most teams. Coach Quenneville has given him the bulk of defensive zone faceoffs and penalty killing duties. The Swedish center could flourish elsewhere with a bigger role.
I doubt the Knights will pick him up as a favor to Stan Bowman, but the Hawks general manager could sweeten the pot by adding a pick or prospect to entice George McPhee to select him. Kruger being an effective player, there's no doubt Bowman will also test the market in an effort to maximize his assets.
4. Ville Pokka - Defenseman
If the Hawks decide to protect 7 forwards and 3 defensemen instead of 8 skaters (which they should), two capable defensemen will be made available to the Golden Knights.
Acquired in the trade that sent Nick Leddy to the Islanders, Pokka is a 22 years old right-handed blueliner with offensive upside. While not a great skater, he's a smart defender known for his work ethic. After a great 2015-2016 season in the AHL, it seems Gustav Forsling has passed him in the Hawks depth chart.
3. Trevor van Riemsdyk - Defenseman
The 25 years old is a reliable third-pairing option for Chicago. He's steady, physical and moves the puck well, but has often been injured.
Las Vegas will only be able to select 6 defensemen in the expansion draft, which means van Riemsdyk, whose potential has most likely been reached, won't be amongst the most attractive blue line options for McPhee.
2. Richard Panik - Right winger
While being a productive AHL player, this is the first time he's finding the scoresheet on a consistent basis in the NHL. It looks like he can complement elite NHL players without driving play on his own, which is a major red flag.
Panik will also be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, which could be his only chance for a major payday and/or long-term contract after a career year.
1. Ryan Hartman - Right winger
Hartman is proving he can score in the NHL and constantly generates shots on net without power play time. The rookie can carry the puck, win puck battles and is known as an agitator, not unlike the recently traded Andrew Shaw.
Which is why the Hawks would be foolish to leave him unprotected and Las Vegas probably has him at the top of their list. He could still end up on the Golden Knights in a bigger deal involving a salary cap dump from Chicago.