The Chicago Blackhawks are in full rebuild mode. This is one of the first things Kyle Davidson acknowledged when he was promoted from interim to permanent general manager on Mar. 1, 2022. Playoff aspirations never really materialized in this 2021-22 season. Now the trade deadline approaches, where the Blackhawks will be sellers. But even rebuilding teams need some veterans in the mix to lead by example and mentor up-and-coming players.
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Believe it or not, the Blackhawks only have six players who are 30 years of age or older. Calvin de Haan is one of them, but I believe he is the mostly likely veteran to be traded at the deadline. Besides de Haan, the other five veterans would be ideal candidates for a Blackhawks’ rebuild, if they remain with the team. Here’s the case for how each of them could play a defining role.
Even at 33 years old, Kane is one of the most talented players in the league. Instead of declining, he’s found new and innovative ways to improve his game. He also just loves the game of hockey. Considering his age and status, Kane could probably take as many maintenance days as he wants. But he doesn’t.
Instead, he’s out there with everyone else; even staying late to practice slapshots and play two-puck with whoever else wants to hang with him. He embraces the younger players, giving them advice on how to fine-tune their skills. It likely makes him feel young again himself.
Now, we all know teams have inquired about Kane. But the Buffalo native has a full no-movement clause and is in complete charge of his fate. Sure, chasing another Stanley Cup is alluring. But he’s got things pretty good in Chicago, and his legacy here seems to be important to him. In a recent interview he expounded on this,
…let’s be honest, I love Chicago, I love the city, I love the fans, the organization’s been amazing to me and my family…In the game of hockey, there’s not many guys that play their whole career with one team. So it would be a privilege and an honor to do that.
Kane also expressed his desire for the new general manager to give veteran players like himself a voice in the process. We now know the new GM is Davidson, who incidentally is the same age as Kane. I believe Kane will get his wish. Said Davidson of Kane,
Any time you can have someone of Patrick’s caliber and experience in your organization, then that’s something that’s very valuable. Again, we’re going to have very honest conversations going forward and he’ll know what we’re thinking; I’m sure we’ll know what he’s thinking and we’ll go from there. But having those people around is always a good thing.
Kane pretty much has the world at his feet with the Blackhawks. He has the respect of the organization, the love of the fans, and he’s the top dog among the players. He’s not guaranteed to get that anywhere else. His experience, talent and leadership would obviously be invaluable on a rebuilding team. I foresee Kaner with the Blackhawks past the trade deadline and through the end of his current contract, which expires at the end of next season. I also see him being signed beyond that, and until he’s ready to retire.
Toews situation isn’t as clear-cut as Kane’s. He’s had health issues that kept him out of commission the entire 2021-21 season. He also has a history of concussions, one of which recently sidelined him for 11 games and the entire month of February.
So much depends on Toews’ health. Like Kane, Toews has a full no-movement clause and his contract expires after next season. Unlike Kane, there haven’t been any trade rumors revolving around the captain of the Blackhawks. This probably has to do with his health issues, and the fact that his play hasn’t been the same since he missed last season.
Toews has certainly been humbled a bit. He’s lined up as the second line and sometimes even the third line center for most of the season. His average ice time has gone from right around 20 minutes over his last five seasons to 17:44 minutes this season. Instead of being the superstar and playmaker, he’s taken on more of a complementary role.
But that doesn’t mean Toews doesn’t add value. His experience is irreplaceable. Nobody (besides Kane) has had the kind of success he’s had. Toews has learned how to find more out of himself when he thinks he doesn’t have anything left to give. He’s been through the extreme highs and lows of three championships, and earned numerous other accolades in his prestigious career.
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Not to mention he’s a natural-born leader and long-time captain of the team. He takes the younger players under his wing, discussing the intricacies of the game both on and off the ice. He works with the other centers to improve their faceoffs abilities. Which, by the way, he is still extremely talented at winning. Not a bad thing for a rebuilding team to rely upon.
Head coach Derek King recently commented on Toews’ impact when he re-joined the team after clearing concussion protocol,
King on Toews' return: "It was nice to see him. Just on the bench, his leadership helps so much. It calms things down. They get a little panicky sometimes after shifts, and he settles things down."— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) March 4, 2022
If Toews can remain healthy and wants to keep playing in Chicago, he could be an invaluable mentor, and also probably the closest thing to a player/coach the Blackhawks have ever had.
People in Chicago tend to forget the experience Johnson brings. This is most likely because he’s never been the same caliber of player as Kane and Toews. He’s also new this season, and has been out of the lineup for most of it because of a neck surgery. But the 31-year-old has put together an impressive 10-year career that includes four seasons with 20 or more goals. He’s reached 50 points twice, and 72 points in the 2014-15 season. Johnson has also won two Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning, as well as losing in the Cup Final to the Blackhawks in 2015.
The veteran center already understands what it’s like to play a lesser role. As his tenure wound down with the Lightning and younger players evolved, he was pushed into a bottom-six role. But his experience came through in the 2020-2021 Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens. In Game 3, he potted two goals in the win. Head coach Jon Cooper had nothing but high praise for him after the game.
As teams change and they evolve, and the salary cap (comes into play)… guys are coming up. But there was one thing we never lost faith in: Tyler Johnson… He never lost faith in himself. And roles change, you have to adapt, and nobody’s done it better than Tyler… I couldn’t be more happy for somebody, and I know that his teammates were for his performance tonight, and being rewarded for everything he’s gone through… I’m extremely happy for the win. I might be a little happier for Tyler Johnson.
While Johnson’s injury hasn’t allowed him to really establish himself with the Blackhawks this season, he’s been utilized up and down the lineup and his right-handed shot has been an asset on the top power play unit. He also has a 59.4% success rate in the faceoff circle, albeit in a limited sample size.
Johnson is on a $5 million annual contract through the 2023-24 season, and the Blackhawks took on his salary in a trade to shed Brent Seabrook’s monstrous cap hit. He also has a modified no-movement clause. Long story short, it will be tough for the Blackhawks to unload him. So they might as well embrace what he has to offer on their rebuilding team.
Carpenter is another depth player who could be of great value among the bottom-six forwards. Most of the rest of that crew are, and will continue to be, youngsters that are trying to find their way. At 31 years of age and with seven years of NHL experience under his belt, Carpenter would be a calming veteran presence among them.
He completely understands his role as a shut-down guy and a penalty killer. He also isn’t too shabby at the faceoff dot, boasting a 52.1% success rate this season. He’s gritty, physical and has no trouble sticking up for his teammates. He’s just that kind of guy that teammates, coaches and fans alike all love and respect. Plus, he has the experience of a 17-game playoff run with the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017-18 season.
Carpenter is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, coming off a three-year contract with an annual cap hit of $1 million. The Blackhawks could easily sign Carpenter for another one-year contract for the same $1 million, or even a little less. In short, he comes cheap, and it would be of little risk to keep him around. Sure, he could have some value as a depth piece at the deadline. But if the Blackhawks don’t find a solid return for him, they sure could utilize his talents with them instead.
He’s 37 years old, he’s a future Hall-of-Fame goaltender the Blackhawks were lucky to land, and he was also supposed to be their biggest trading chip at the deadline. He still could be. Conflicting reports have surfaced that Fleury would like to be traded to a contender, AND that he’s asked to stay in Chicago. At this point nobody really knows where the truth lies.
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But we do know Fleury has said he would like to play at least one more season. Would he actually consider doing that on a rebuilding team in Chicago? Well, he was hesitant to uproot his family to come to the Blackhawks. So one could see where he wouldn’t want to do that again. Some things are more important than hockey.
Fleury and his family seem to like it in Chicago, so there is a possibility he would re-sign with the Blackhawks. Although, he would have to agree to a very Chicago-friendly deal. In a rebuilding mode, the team shouldn’t be spending a whole bunch of money for a star goaltender.
Also, Fleury would have to understand he’s not going to get the amount of starts he’s had this season. His role should be as mentor for the younger goalies, such as Kevin Lankinen and Arvid Soderblom. Lankinen hasn’t been given enough starts to really gauge whether he’s ready for the big show. He deserves that chance. But heck, it sure wouldn’t hurt to have Fleury around to ease him in a little bit.
The Big Picture for the Blackhawks
Fleury staying is probably the biggest longshot of all five of the above scenarios. Heck, all of these players could find different homes. They may be traded by the organization for picks and prospects. If they have a choice in the matter, they may not have the stomach for a full-on rebuild. But at least a few of them will be around for it. And they will be needed.
To once again quote Coach King,
You have a couple of older guys who want to take a crack at a Cup again, and you have some guys who are in between, where they’re vets, but they’re not quite where the other two (are). It’s a tough decision they’re going to have to make, if they want to be around for this, if they’re OK with it. But you need good vets. You need guys that are older. You can’t just throw a young team on the ice, totally young. Because this is where these guys learn how to play. It’s not from me telling them you have to do this, this and this. It’s listening on the bench.(from ‘Do Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane want to be part of the rebuild? And do the Blackhawks want them to be?’, The AthleticCHI – 3/6/22)
We will know more in the coming days, weeks and months. The trade deadline looms on Mar. 21, and more moves will likely happen in the offseason. Either way, the Blackhawks have some veterans on their current roster who could be an integral part of their future rebuild.