The Chicago Blackhawks are at something of a crossroads this season with the team once again looking as though they could potentially miss the playoffs. There are legitimate questions about whether or not Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman will look to add a player or two with the newfound cap space he has available since shutting down both Brent Seabrook and Calvin de Haan, or if he will instead use that salary cap space to take on a bad contract in order to secure assets to use towards the future of the organization.
On Saturday Chicago Blackhawks insider Mark Lazerus shared some of his insights on the current situation in Chicago and made some bold predictions regarding the direction the Blackhawks would be moving in both during the 2019 - 2020 National Hockey League regular season as well as during the offseason that will follow it. Among those predictions was Lazarus stating his belief that Bowman will look to use a buyout to create some cap space, and he even named the two players he believes are likely to be the candidates. According to Lazerus either Blackhawks defenseman Olli Maatta or Blackhawks forward Zack Smith will become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Both of these acquisitions made sense at the time — Maatta brought some veteran defensive stability before the de Haan trade rendered him a bit redundant, and Smith saved the Blackhawks $1.3 million a year by allowing them to shed Artem Anisimov’s contract. But neither fits the Blackhawks’ long-term plans, and with the DeBrincat, Strome and Lehner raises looming, the easiest way to free up some cap space is to buy out one (or both) of them.
Maatta would appear to be the most likely candidate here due to several factors. , the biggest of which would be the cap savings that would be created by buying out Maatta this summer. The Blackhawks would save $3.4 million in each of the next two seasons and only suffer a meager penalty of $680,567 in the two seasons that followed. The Blackhawks also have prospect Ian Mitchell waiting in the wings and there are many who believe that he will join the Blackhawks prior to the end of this season, an addition that would also make the loss of Maatta significantly more manageable for the Blackhawks.
The reality is that the Blackhawks will need to sign Robin Lehner to a big new contract sooner rather than later and they will also have Alex DeBrincat's new contract to worry about as well. Lazerus has his finger on the pulse of the Blackhawks and if he believes strongly that one of these men is likely to be playing somewhere else next season, you can bet he's got good reason to believe so.