It’s been a VERY busy week for the Chicago Blackhawks. The 2022 NHL Draft is in the books. The organization ended up with three first round picks, after starting the day with none. But they paid the price with some painful trades. There’s no doubt new general manager Kyle Davidson is tearing it all down and starting from scratch. Rebuilds are painful, and we’re on the cusp of some tough years in Chicago.
I was able to procure our panel of writers who cover the Blackhawks for a roundtable discussion. Today Today Brooke LoFurno, Connor Smith, Shaun Filippelli and Gail Kauchak weigh in on the implications for the Blackhawks based on the trades surrounding the draft.
Let’s start with the biggest news, and that’s the Alex DeBrincat trade. Just hours before the draft, the dreaded rumors came to fruition; DeBrincat was dealt to the Ottawa Senators for three draft picks: the 7th overall pick in the first round and the 39th overall pick in the second round of this draft, plus a 3rd-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft.
There were no secrets this could happen, but it shocked Blackhawks’ fans nonetheless when it really did. There’s been much discussion about whether it was the right thing to do. So I broach this as our first question to our panel. How do you feel about the DeBrincat trade?
Thoughts on the DeBrincat Trade
I gave a more in-depth response to this question in my latest article, but in short, I think general manager Kyle Davidson greatly missed the mark on the DeBrincat trade; I don’t like it at all. To move someone like him, you have to make sure you are getting something substantial that includes picks, prospects, and players. To only get three draft picks for him is a huge miss.
If the seventh-overall draft pick they got for him, which turned into Kevin Korchinski, turns into a star, that would be great. Still, I believe not getting any established talent in return and hoping the draft picks transpire correctly is the wrong move. I think it may have hurt the rebuild rather than helped it.
Perhaps I was in the minority — delusional, even — when it comes to having hoped that the DeBrincat trade rumours were just that. Despite the headlines continuing to suggest that it was just a matter of time, it just seemed far too illogical for the Blackhawks to trade a 24-year-old superstars who was in line for becoming the next face of the franchise through this rebuild. Yet, it happened.
That said, it would have certainly been a lot easier to digest the news had the return aligned with the value that Chicago gave away in the transaction. I understand the need for picks, especially since the Blackhawks didn’t have any in this year’s first-round prior to the DeBrincat trade, but that the deal didn’t also include any prospects heading back the other way was a missed opportunity.
It’s one thing for management to commit to the rebuild, but they have to be careful not to tear things down in a less than constructive manner in the meantime.
This feels like a very big gamble by Davidson, and while time will tell, I don’t think it was the right move. DeBrincat is a superstar; he’s 24 years old and is a two-time 40-goal scorer. Though you could certainly argue trading DeBrincat helps expedite the Blackhawks’ rebuild — after all, you need to give up assets to gain assets — he’s exactly the type of player the team could’ve built around given his age. And yes, while he’s due for a raise next summer, I don’t think that would’ve been an issue for Chicago especially with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ contracts coming off the books.
What also makes this trade tough from a Chicago standpoint is the return, which feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. The Senators have a solid prospect pipeline that includes Jake Sanderson, Ridly Greig, Tyler Boucher, and more. A near- or league-ready prospect, who’s a little more proven but still young enough to make a difference the next time Chicago contends, would’ve given something fans to get excited about while still helping the rebuild.
Now, is it possible Korchinski becomes the Blackhawks’ Cale Makar? There’s a chance, sure, but nothing feels certain right now. This rebuild is very young, and though it’s long overdue, there’s no guarantee it becomes a success.
Don’t get me wrong; the DeBrincat trade was a big blow. I was hoping the Blackhawks could still undergo a true rebuild AND keep the Cat around. But let’s face it; he was the organization’s biggest trading chip. Yes, you could say they received an underwhelming return for him. But Davidson referenced the big money DeBrincat will demand in his next contract gave many teams pause about making a deal. That’s a fair argument. Davidson went on to say getting “a top-10 pick was enough to make the deal”. We have to hope he went with the best opportunity he was given. Because obviously the Blackhawks felt the need to trade DeBrincat, which leads me to my next point.
Let’s consider how good DeBrincat really is; especially playing alongside Kane. The Blackhawks DON’T WANT TO BE GOOD NEXT SEASON! DeBrincat’s presence would likely make them at least mediocre. We all know mediocre hasn’t gotten this team very far these last six or seven years. Being bad for a couple of years is also going to yield even more high draft picks in the future as well.
It was time to cut the cord. Rebuilding involves trading your best assets with the future in mind. That’s what the Blackhawks did. While it’s painful right now, trading DeBrincat will likely shorten the timeline back to contention in the long run.
Let’s move on to another big surprise from early in the draft. The Blackhawks traded Kirby Dach to the Montreal Canadiens for picks No. 13 and No. 66. It’s a little hard to stomach that the former 2019 third overall pick was given up for a 13 and 66 in this Draft. But Davidson is obviously tearing it all down, and they didn’t have confidence in Dach turning things around after his underwhelming first few seasons. With that said, how do you feel about the loss of Dach for the Blackhawks?
Reaction to the Loss of Dach
I’m okay with moving on from Dach. I wasn’t overly impressed with his play, but I know his wrist injury and lack of confidence didn’t do him many favors. For whatever reason, some teams and players don’t mesh correctly, which could be the case with him. I don’t think it was the right fit, and there’s no shame in that. However, I think he will be a good fit for the Canadiens. If he puts it all together in Montreal, the Blackhawks will have to live with that. But getting the 13th overall pick for a player that needed a change benefitted both sides.
Mixed, to be honest. Dach almost certainly won’t become the next Toews or Patrice Bergeron at this point in his career, but he was clearly rushed into the NHL by the previous regime. That, along with injuries, seemed to take a toll on him, so a fresh start could certainly be beneficial. Yet, despite all the adversity, he’s still 21 years old.
I will say, I don’t mind the return here. Unlike DeBrincat, Dach’s nowhere close to being a superstar, yet there’s still a chance he blossoms into a reliable top-to-middle-six forward. Though draft picks are a gamble, I think Chicago received fair value as Dach hasn’t met his potential yet, even if he thrives in Montreal.
Unlike my thoughts on the DeBrincat rumours, I was more readily prepared to accept that Dach might not be in Chicago heading into 2022-23. I have been a supported of his, even through the struggles, as it just seems the upside is too high to give up on the former third overall pick this early in his tenure. But, I do understand Chicago’s perspective here and it also offers Dach an opportunity for the fresh start he would’t have been granted as a Blackhawk.
While it, again, seems like Chicago would have been better off if they were able to get an actual prospect back within this negotiation, this trade was an easier one to digest than DeBrincat’s. It seemed to make sense for all sides, despite the fact that I still expect to see Dach breakout in a way that the Blackhawks will no longer be able to benefit from.
I’m not too concerned about the loss of Dach. I kept on trying to give him the benefit of the doubt over and over. But I realized at some point it was a forced exercise. I really do hope a change of scenery is helpful for this young man. But I also don’t believe he will ever develop into the superstar he was purported to be as the third overall pick in 2019.
As I’ve said numerous times, Dach has a lot of upside with his big frame and obvious skill level. But his inability to finish and his ineffectiveness at the faceoff dot (career 34.6%) don’t seem to be going away, no matter where he plays. These skills just don’t transfer over to the NHL for Dach. He may improve in these areas, but I think they will always be weaknesses.
Instead of working around these weaknesses (like having Dach play wing, for example), the Blackhawks can now focus on young players that naturally have these skills and can offer more upside. Bring on Lukas Reichel!
The last piece of business that came out of the first night of the draft was the Blackhawks acquiring goalie Petr Mrazek and the 25th pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs for their 38th pick. The Blackhawks now have their NHL-caliber goalie for the season, without having to force one of the still developing Kevin Lankinen or Collin Delia into the fire behind a bad team. Are you happy with the addition of Mrazek?
Viewpoints on the Acquisition of Mrazek
I’m not crazy about the Mrazek acquisition. I know that he can be a great goaltender, as that was established when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes. I don’t like it because I don’t think Mrazek currently fits the team.
Because the Blackhawks are in a complete rebuild, I think it would make more sense to stick with Lankinen and Delia while allowing their goaltenders like Arvid Soderblom and Drew Commesso to develop more. I do like that they were able to get a first-round draft pick for him, but otherwise, not a big fan of the move.
I don’t know if I’m “happy” with this addition, per se, but the Blackhawks needed an NHL-caliber goaltender. Adding Mrázek helps solve this issue; he’s faced several inconsistencies over his career but is at least a known commodity. This feels like a rebuilding move, and while I don’t think it’s much for Chicago fans to get excited about, I’d rather have a known veteran hold down the fort as opposed to rushing in top prospect Arvid Söderblom. Re-signing Lankinen or potentially finding another veteran seems like the next logical step for Chicago, given Mrázek’s recent injury history.
Davidson acquiring Mrazek from the Maple Leafs has been one of the more polarizing moves in recent days. It seems that as Toronto fans praise Dubas for ridding of that disastrous contract, Chicago fans are quick to point out that their side basically gained a goalie for nothing.
The fact is, the Blackhawks can afford to have taken on Mrazek’s contract and it also helped them secure a signed goalie — their first of this offseason. They also upgraded their pick in the process, which is a win in and of itself.
I do think Mrazek’s career numbers suggest he’s far better than his 2021-22 results illustrate, but I’m also hopeful that the Blackhawks sign and prioritize Lankinen moving forward. It should have been his net from that impressive rookie campaign in 2020-21 and Chicago owes it to him to give it back throughout this rebuild.
This move simply makes sense. The Blackhawks can afford Mrazek’s $3.8 million cap hit, and they received the 25th overall pick as well in the deal. Now they have a veteran NHL-caliber goalie in net. Although not a really good one; because remember, the plan is to be bad next season!
Regardless, Mrazek can hold down the fort behind a developing team, and be a mentor to the younger goaltenders in the system. He will be a placeholder of sorts until someone else is ready to take the reins. It will be interesting to see if the Blackhawks sign either of Lankinen or Delia, and how the plan unfolds in the crease moving forward.
Finally, the losses of DeBrincat and Dach have surely opened the eyes of veterans Toews and Kane. This Blackhawks’ team is NOT going to be good next season, or for many seasons after that. As a matter of fact, that’s the goal of a true rebuild. Toews and Kane might not have truly believed this would happen. But it has.
Do either one of these superstars want to stick around through all of this? My final question is this: What do you think will happen with Toews and Kane moving forward?
The Projected Fates of Toews and Kane
I don’t think Kane will stay. I think Kane stayed longer than we all thought, but with DeBrincat and Dach gone, they aren’t giving him much incentive to stay. I think Toews will remain because it will be harder to trade him and his contract. They deserve another Stanley Cup, and it won’t happen again in Chicago for a while. I would love for Kane to stay because who doesn’t love watching him play? But I don’t see that happening. He wants to win, and the draft made it abundantly clear the Blackhawks aren’t going to be doing much of that in the coming years.
I think Kane’s gone by next year’s deadline, a situation I couldn’t have seen happening even just a few months ago. Though he’s 33, Kane’s played some of the best hockey of his career over the last five years or so and doesn’t deserve to spend the final part of his career on a flawed Blackhawks’ club. I could see a handful contenders calling come next winter.
Toews, on the other hand, is a different story due to his contract. He’s also probably much closer to retirement than Kane. However, his comments following last spring’s deadline seem to indicate he’s not as content with the Blackhawks’ direction as the former. Though $10.5 million is a tough salary to move, I don’t think Davidson would mind eating some of that contract given Toews’ longevity and dedication to Chicago, nor do I think he would with Kane’s.
At the end of the day, both players deserve better. If they want to stay in Chicago, great, but it’s hard for me to envision a scenario in which both are Blackhawks come next summer.
It seems all too likely that Chicago’s cognizant effort to truly breakdown this roster and affect a more meaningful rebuild will mean that those who would have otherwise been prepared to stick around might be more willing to move. Toews and Kane included.
Neither have been shy about their thoughts on playing on a struggling squad, regardless of the fact that it’s a reality they were bound to face as some point in their tenure. After a failed attempt to slap together a contender heading into 2021-22, Chicago’s new regime is being clearer about their approach.
As such, it seems far more likely that Toews and Kane would not only be willing to waive their NMCs but that they’d even be active participants in finding a way out. Time will tell where they end up, but it seems their days in Chicago are numbered at this point.
If I’m Toews and Kane, I don’t see them wanting any part of this rebuild. I think they were both being unrealistic about being able to contend sooner rather than later. But stripping the team of both DeBrincat and Dach makes it pretty clear Davidson is starting from scratch.
If he doesn’t want young stars like DeBrincat and Dach to build around, then why would he want two aging superstars? I’m sure that’s what both Toews and Kane are thinking. Is this Davidson’s way of forcing their hand? After all, he could get a sweet return for both of them.
Who knows what’s going on behind closed doors. Maybe Toews and Kane’s legacy’s as Blackhawks are too important to them. Maybe they will enjoy the mentor role moving forward. Maybe change is just too much for either one of them at this point in their careers. But I find all this a little hard to believe for players as competitive as Toews and Kane.
I know it might make more sense for them to be flipped at the trade deadline. But I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if neither Toews nor Kane is with the Blackhawks to start this coming season.
Thanks for reading our roundtable post. Let us know in the comments section what you think of the DeBrincat and Dach trade’s, the Mrazek acquisition, and the potential fates of Kane and Toews. Keep it right here at The Hockey Writers for more news and updates as we head into free agency!
Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up, and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibility’s with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Quote to live by, “Follow your dreams, and good things will happen.” Wait, maybe it’s “Good things happen when you shoot the puck!” You get the idea.
Follow Gail for her unique commentary about this storied franchise. And be sure to catch her and the rest of the Blackhawks’ crew on their weekly Blackhawks Banter show, as well as follow her on Twitter.