It’s July, which means it’s a busy month for the NHL. There is the Expansion Draft for the Seattle Kraken on July 21, the NHL Entry Draft on July 23 and the start of free agency on July 28. This means that now is crunch time for the Chicago Blackhawks to make decisions on what their roster is going to look like for next season.
Rumors have been a plenty so far, with them being linked to big names like Dougie Hamilton (Carolina Hurricanes), Seth Jones (Columbus Blue Jackets) and even Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres). This past week, the team also got monumental roster news that could ignite a lot of movement via trade sooner rather than later. On our weekly show, “Blackhawks Banter,” our Blackhawks’ team comprised of myself, Gail, Kauchak, Greg Boysen and Shaun Filippelli has a lot things to break down. Here is a preview of what will be discussed.
The Blackhawks got some great news regarding captain Jonathan Toews. In a video posted in the media on June 30, he stated that he is feeling better from Chronic Immune Response Syndrome; the illness that kept him away from from the game for all of last season. He said he is planning on being in the lineup for the season opener. So, let’s play with the lines. Hypothetically, if Toews were in the lineup for the first game of the season, who would you put on his line?
Unless Toews is a complete shell of his former self, the Blackhawks are going to benefit immensely from his return to the lineup. He brings his strong two-way play, as well as his career 56.9% faceoff success rate. Couple that with the captain’s unmatched leadership qualities and veteran experience, and I have high hopes for a much better and more balanced forward group.
Kirby Dach might be the heir apparent No. 1 center to this team. But I still think it’s Toews’ spot to lose, and Dach isn’t ready to replace him just yet. That said, Toews should start out the season centering the top line. Remember in the 2019-20 campaign when Dominik Kubalik worked so well on Toews’ left wing? Well, there’s no reason to believe they can’t pick up right where they left off. And this would then solve that problem of Kubalik not getting enough ice time. I believe last season he was deployed mostly on the third line to provide more balance to the forward group. This year head coach Jeremy Colliton should have more options. He has several second-year players who have more experience under their belts, as well as some newer talent to add to the mix.
As far so a right winger for the top line, I’d go with Pius Suter. He centered the top line most of last season. He’s familiar with top line minutes and responsibilities. Playing wing would take some of the pressure off, giving him even more opportunities for success. With Kubalik, Toews and Suter heading up the top line, one could still keep Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane together on the second line, with Dach as their center. But that wasn’t part of the question, so I’ll just stop now….
Kubalik is going to be on Toews’ left side, no doubt about that. He had the most success during his 30-goal rookie season playing with the captain. The right side is wide open. Depending on how things look down the middle, possibly putting a guy like Suter on this line would be a good idea if he’s not playing center. If Lukas Reichel makes the team out of training camp, putting him with Toews would be beneficial so he can learn from one of the best two-way centers in team history.
Being the professional and proven star that he is, I don’t doubt that Toews would be able to perform with any of their current roster alongside him. However, I’d want to make it as comfortable of a transition as possible for him, and set him up for success right off the bat. With that said, I’d put Kane to his right and DeBrincat to his left.
Two familiar faces, who can both keep up with Toews’ drive to win, while helping set the pace for him to catch up to game-speed even quicker. Besides, that sounds like a pretty fitting line to mentor a rebuilding squad.
My first thought was Kubalik because him and Toews have always worked very well together. My other thought was someone like Vinnie Hinostroza, if he gets re-signed. Colliton is never shy about putting young guys, like John Quenneville, on the first line with Toews right off the bat. So, I can see that being a possibility. Kubalik and Hinostroza worked very well together during the second half of the season. Toews is also familiar with Hinostroza as he is on his second stint with the club. So, I would try a line of Kubalik-Toews-Hinostroza if the cards fall into place.
2. Jones’ Trade Package
Because the team has been linked to defensemen like Jones for a majority of the offseason so far, It’s natural to start thinking of what a trade package may look like in that scenario. Aaron Portzline, the Blue Jackets’ writers for The Athletic, came out with an article that gave a hypothetical trade package that the Blackhawks could offer. It was Philipp Kurashev, Nicolas Beaudin, Lukas Reichel, and a first-round draft pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. (from ‘Trade packages for Seth Jones: What the Blackhawks, Avs, Kings, and Flyers could offer the Blue Jackets?’ – The AthleticNHL – 07/01/2021). Are you okay with this package? If not, how would you tweak it?
No, no, no, and no! Did I mention no?!
Kurashev and Beaudin each had promising rookie seasons. Both of them have the potential to grow into serviceable players, if not more. Reichel is unproven in the NHL, but his ceiling looks incredibly high. Based on their history, I trust the Blackhawks’ European scouts that Reichel is a diamond in the rough. I wouldn’t want to part with him before he’s even had a chance to play in Chicago.
AND they want a first-round draft pick in 2022? That’s a lot to give up for just one player.
Especially if Jones isn’t willing to sign an extension beyond this season. If he’s willing to commit for maybe three seasons and keep his cap hit around $5-6 million, then maybe. And take Reichel out of the equation. Although I’m guessing he’s the prize pony in this package.
First off, that proposed package was based on what the Ottawa Senators got from the San Jose Sharks for Erik Karlsson. While Jones is better than Karlsson is right now, he is not even close to the player Karlsson was the time of the that trade. Karlsson was a multi-time All-Star, won two Norris Trophies and had six seasons with at least 62 points. Jones has not accomplished anything near to that. Plus, everybody knows the Blue Jackets are desperate to move Jones, so they are not going to get the huge haul in return.
There is no way I would give up that package for Jones, unless there is a VERY team-friendly extension that comes with it, and I don’t think that will happen. I feel Beaudin is going to be the best all-around defensemen of the current young group. The Blackhawks are very high on Reichel, so I can’t see them moving him before he makes his NHL debut. Plus, rebuilding teams should not be giving up first-round draft picks. If that is what Columbus wants, hang up the phone.
I’m as far from being okay with that package as one can be. I’m not going to debate that Jones would be a good addition to the Blackhawks, or any team in need of defensive support, but that cost is simply unjustifiable. Especially in the midst of a rebuild.
While I can make sense of including Beaudin and a pick in a trade, with the hopes of an upgrade in return, Kurashev looks like he’s forming into a player that will fill a production void for Chicago. Also at the moment, Reichel shouldn’t even be in such conversations as we need to see where his hype can lead him. I’ll maintain that I really wouldn’t do much to make this trade a reality, as I don’t think now is the time to spend so much on a piece of the puzzle that won’t yet complete their plan.
The two things that make sense in that trade package would be Beaudin the first-round pick. Beaudin seems like a prospect that the Blackhawks would part with in a trade package since I don’t see them parting with other defense prospects like Adam Boqvist, Wyatt Kalynuk and Ian Mitchell. With the first-round pick, that seems like a given to acquire a player like Jones. But I definitely think no on Kurashev and Reichel. They are two of the high-ranked prospects in the organization that I can’t see giving up all at once. So unless they work around that with other prospects, I would say no to that trade package. It doesn’t seem to benefit the team’s future at all if they give away some of their most promising players.
3. Keith Out
On June 30, Elliotte Freidman dropped a bomb on Twitter that the Hawks were working on a potential Duncan Keith trade to either the Pacific Northwest or Western Canada. According to a Blackhawks’ source, it’s not a scenario where the team was trying to move him, but that Keith would like to be closer to his son. (from ‘Could Duncan Keith be traded?: What I’m hearing about the Blackhawks’ offseason – The AthleticNHL – 07/02/2021) Give me your thoughts on how moving him will impact the team’s future.
As far as how it will impact the team, Keith has two more years on his contract with a cap hit of $5.5 million. So they could get a substantial amount of money off the books by moving him. This would allow them to more reasonably pursue one of the big-name defensemen out there in Hamilton or Jones.
It would also let them protect one more defenseman in the upcoming expansion draft. Without having to protect Keith, they could keep Connor Murphy, Nikita Zadorov and Riley Stillman instead of Murphy and just one of the others. Or they could even keep Calvin de Haan. Although it would be sad to see a Blackhawks’ legend like Keith go, it could be a practical move for all parties involved.
I think trading Keith will be beneficial for all involved. It just isn’t working for him in Chicago any more. He is being misused and he has never quite jived with Jeremy Colliton and his “defensive” system. If he wants to be closer to his family while possibly trying for one last deep run, he has earned that right. He is a Blackhawks’ legend and nothing will change what he has accomplished and what he has meant to this franchise.
Although it would be odd to even consider Keith in another city, let alone see him in anything other than a Blackhawks sweater, my initial reaction to this news was that it seems positive for the club. We know what he’s done here and he’ll forever be one of Chicago’s all-time greats, but it makes sense to move on from those in their late-30s when you’re in the midst of a rebuild. Plus, freeing up his cap space wouldn’t be a bad thing for their financials and this would force their youth into having to manage increased minutes and higher pressure scenarios. And, if it’s what Keith wants, he deserves that. It’s a win-win, all around.
I think the thought of the team moving on from Keith will have more of a mental effect on the team more than anything. It would be hard for the fans too. Keith is beloved, not just by the city, but by the locker room as well. Like Brent Seabrook, Keith has also been noted as a teammate that everyone loves and looks up to. He has been one of the players that has been the backbone of this team for years, so sentimentally, it’s tough. He deserves to play for whatever team he chooses. Like Greg said, he has more than earned it. But on the business side, it does make sense to focus on the rookie defensemen and prospects because that is what a rebuild is all about.
We have a whole lot more to cover when it comes to the biggest news and rumors for the Blackhawks so far. Be sure to tune into the show and share your thoughts with us!
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Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.