On Thursday morning the Blackhawks announced that they had signed 19-year-old defenseman Shawn LaLonde to a new three-year contract extension.
LaLonde, one of the organization’s top prospects, is currently second on the Belleville Bulls in scoring with 26 (8G, 18A) points in 27 games. In 217 regular season games in the Ontario Hockey League, LaLonde has scored 137 points (42 G, 95 A) and served 256 penalty minutes.
The 6'1" 195 lb. Ottawa native was the Blackhawks second pick (68th overall) in the 2008 draft, and was one of the last players cut from Canada’s Junior World Championships roster.
Could this be the tea leaves beginning to align?
The Blackhawks will obviously be cutting payroll this coming summer, and this commitment to LaLonde appears to be an obvious move to secure the blue line if/when changes occur. LaLonde is not ready to debut with the Blackhawks during this season, but this contract likely points to a coming end of someone’s Chicago career among the current Hawks defensemen.
Given LaLonde’s offensive abilities, the player he would most logically replace would be Cam Barker and his $3 million cap number. There have been rumors that a number of teams have already expressed interest in Barker, and he could be a popular player on the trade market later this season and into the summer.
Hawks GM Stan Bowman has been very public in saying he does not need to take salary off the books during this season, and that the Hawks can play “as-is” through the playoffs. But next summer, the team will certainly need to move between $9-15 million of existing payroll off the books. Barker could be a valuable chip in that cost-cutting.