With news that the Blackhawks have signed Isaak Phillips on Wednesday morning, what is clear is that something has to give before the NHL Trade Deadline. The Hawks have too many defensemen under contract.
Coach Jeremy Colliton has already been managing a long list of options on the blue line at the NHL level. He has established veterans Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy, Calvin de Haan and Nikita Zadorov dressing every night. Adam Boqvist appears to be locked into the NHL lineup as well.
Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin, Lucas Carlsson, Madison Bowey and Wyatt Kalynuk have all received ice time this year as well.
That’s ten defensemen.
Only two of those ten – Zadorov and Carlsson – aren’t signed beyond the 2021 season. Both of them are restricted free agents this summer.
Phillips joins Alec Regula, Chad Krys and Anton Lindholm as players on the Rockford roster who have an NHL contract. Of those four, Lindholm is the cheapest ($742,500 cap hit) and has the shortest deal; his contract expires at the end of the 2021 season.
Regula, 20, is listed at 6-4 and 207 pounds and is a right-handed shot. He has appeared in 11 games with the IceHogs this season. Chicago acquired Regula from Detroit; the Red Wings selected him in the third round (#67 overall) in 2018. His entry-level contract has a $866,667 cap hit and has two years remaining after the 2021 season.
Krys is a long-shot to reach the NHL. Lindholm, 26, appears to be a placeholder in Rockford.
But that’s 14 defensemen with an NHL contract. Even with the Blackhawk carrying between two and four defensemen on the taxi squad this year, they have plenty of bodies on the blue line.
Rockford also has NHL veteran Cody Franson on an AHL contract. The IceHogs have also been playing Cole Moberg and Michael Krutil this season.
Moberg, 20, was a seventh round pick by the Blackhawks in 2019. He has appeared in nine game for the IceHogs this season. He’s listed at 6-3 and 187 pounds and is a right-handed shot.
Krutil, who turns 19 in June, was a fourth round pick by the Hawks in 2020. He has appeared in 12 games with Rockford this season. Krutil is listed at 6-3, 205 pounds and is also a right-handed shot.
That makes two bloated depth charts on the blue line between Chicago and Rockford. And we aren’t including Brent Seabrook in this discussion because his playing career is over.
Of the young players in the organization, there is a mix of right-handed and left-handed shooting defensement.
- Right-handed: Mitchell, Boqvist, Bowey, Regula, Moberg, Krutil.
- Left-handed: Beaudin, Kalynuk, Carlsson, Phillips, Krys.
The good news is there’s size on the way. If you look at the heights and weights we listed, you’ll notice a trend: Phillips, Regula, Moberg and Krutil are all listed around 6-3 and in the neighborhood of 200 pounds.
The Blackhawks also have big defensemen coming from recent drafts. Alex Vlasic (6-6, 200) was a second round pick in 2019 and had a solid sophomore season at Boston University. He is also a left-handed shot.
Obviously the organization needs to be mindful of the upcoming expansion draft. But Bowey getting ice time with the NHL club makes him eligible for the expansion draft; Chicago has checked that box already.
What makes the signing of Phillips perhaps more important is that his deal begins next season; Chicago is at 49 contracts right now. The NHL contract limit per organization is 50. But, as we have outlined, there aren’t many defensemen coming off the books next year (if they keep Carlsson and/or Zadorov). If the Blackhawks are looking to deal before the trade deadline, the organization being near the contract limit complicates their ability to add multiple pieces in any deal.