It was reported on Sunday that Tampa claimed defenseman Mike Kostka off waivers from Chicago. In doing so, the Bolts did the Hawks a huge favor.
According to Capgeek, the Blackhawks had 49 contracts on their books before Kostka was claimed. The limit for contracts in each organization is 50 during any season.
Why does that matter?
The Blackhawks currently have at least two players that will be completing their college hockey careers in the coming weeks that they should want to sign, and would have needed to make another move before the deadline to clear space for them.
Forward Kevin Hayes is having a big season at Boston College, and defenseman Stephen Johns is a strong, stay-at-home defenseman who is finishing his career at Notre Dame. The Hawks also own the rights to senior defenseman Justin Holl at Minnesota.
Under the terms of the CBA, the Hawks have until August 15 to sign them to a permanent contract. [Update: because Hayes and Johns were bona fide college students when drafted, and have spent four full years in college, the Hawks have until mid-August to sign them permanently].
The most recent, notable case of a college player hitting free agency was defenseman Justin Schultz, who was drafted by Anaheim but signed with Edmonton.
The Hawks might still look to make moves before the trade deadline, but moving Kostka opens up enough space for the Hawks to get Hayes and Johns signed and, possibly, contributing in Rockford (or Chicago) before the end of this season… or as a “Black Ace” during the postseason.
Another prospect to keep an eye on as we get closer to the trade deadline Dillon Fournier, a defenseman the team drafted in 2012. By rule, the Hawks own the rights of draft picks for two years but Fournier remains unsigned.
Fournier was having a good season (13 goals, 19 assists in 36 games with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL) before his season ended prematurely this season because of injury.