Chicago Blackhawks continue rebuild, let Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik become unrestricted free agents

The Chicago Blackhawks did not extend qualifying offers to pending restricted-free-agent forwards Dylan Strome or Dominik Kubalik, making them unrestricted free agents on July 13.

The deadline for NHL clubs to make offers to their restricted free agents was Monday at 5 p.m. ET. Those not qualified can begin officially signing with new teams at noon on Wednesday.

Strome's qualifying offer would have come in at $3.6 million. Kubalik's would have been $4 million. Chicago is projected to have $18.5 million in cap space heading into next season.

The Blackhawks' decision to move on from Kubalik and Strome in particular was surprising. It's common for teams to not qualify all their pending restricted free agents, but Strome's numbers last season were strong. The 25-year-old was the Blackhawks' fourth-leading scorer with 22 goals (a career-high) and 48 points in 69 games. Other than the 2020-21 season, where Strome managed only 17 points in 40 games, he has been solid for Chicago since they acquired him via trade from Arizona in November 2018.

Strome, 29, was the third overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft but struggled to find his footing with the Coyotes. Last season saw some of Strome's best hockey to date, and he's likely to have many suitors on the open market.

Kubalik, 26, had a tougher 2021-22 campaign, netting 15 goals and 32 points in 78 games. But the 26-year-old is just two seasons removed from a 30-goal year, and he has been a consistent performer in the past. Kubalik has 116 points in 202 NHL games to date and the physical assets of size and speed on his side.

That Chicago's general manager Kyle Davidson is moving on from both skaters is another indication of how committed the Blackhawks are to a full-scale rebuild. Davidson already traded dynamic scoring winger Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa last week for draft picks, another sign Chicago isn't expecting to improve on its 28th-place finish from last season.

Davidson said in May that salary-cap flexibility was key for Chicago moving forward and would factor into personnel decisions. That would have played a role too in why Strome, Kubalik and DeBrincat are all not part of the team's future.

"Any time a player is due for a raise or a new contract, you have to be looking not just for the next season but for the seasons moving forward," Davidson said. "That definitely goes into the decision-making process when it comes to any RFA or UFA or player you're going to bring in or contract you're going to sign. I think we have to be very smart and understanding what that could do to us moving forward. We don't want to be put in a corner, because cap space goes so quickly and it's so hard to get that flexibility back."