The Chicago Blackhawks did it. After weeks of speculation that star forward Alex DeBrincat would be traded, the Blackhawks dealt him to the Ottawa Senators for three draft picks: the seventh-overall pick and a second-round pick (39th overall) in the 2022 NHL Draft, and a third-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft. The move came together hours before the NHL Draft was expected to start on July 7. There is no sense in mincing words about this trade other than it was an epic fail by general manager Kyle Davidson. Here’s how the trade breaks down for Chicago.
How the Blackhawks Got Here
The Blackhawks are a rebuilding team who did not have a first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, as they lost it to the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of the Seth Jones trade back in July 2021. Davidson talked about his interest in acquiring a first-round draft pick back in May, stating, “Being where we’re at in our trajectory, that’s where talent is found. That’s where we need to bring players in at. So, it’s definitely something we’ll look at. Whether it’s a possibility is a different question, but it’s something I’m definitely interested in.”
DeBrincat was the only player on the team that could garner that pick and even more, as he has hit 41 goals twice in his five years with Chicago. The only time he was under 20 in a season was back in 2019-20, when he had 18. Blackhawks insider Charlie Roumeliotis shared a fun fact: since the start of the 2020-21 season, DeBrincat has had 55 goals in 91 games. Only two players have scored more over that span: Leon Draisaitl (57) and Auston Matthews (66). After that, it’s Connor McDavid (52) and Alex Ovechkin (51). He’s an electrifying goal scorer in the league who also came in third place for the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2020-21, the trophy that is annually awarded to the leading goal-scorer in the NHL. Matthews won the award with 41 goals, second-place was McDavid with 33 goals, then DeBrincat at 32 goals. His name is consistently discussed with the elite, and that’s what makes him so valuable.
The Blackhawks’ Big Trade
If you’re considering moving on from a player of DeBrincat’s caliber, you have to ensure you get a major package, a king’s ransom as some would say. When Chicago traded forward Brandon Hagel to the Tampa Bay Lightning in March, they were able to muster two first-round picks and two NHL-ready players in Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk. Because the Lightning set the bar with Hagel, this gave the Blackhawks the leverage to demand more. It seemed that was the original plan as trade rumors started swirling, Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic stated that the Blackhawks were seeking future assets with a type of return that included a young player, high draft picks, and a top prospect. (from ‘Barry Trotz’s next move coming soon, Jeff Petry trade in the works: LeBrun rumblings, The Athletic, 06/17/2022).
You can assume Chicago wanted to fleece another team, as they should have. Yet, they deviated far off course as they acquired no top prospects or a young player in return, just draft picks. At first glance, the Blackhawks and the Senators could have been perfect trade partners because the Sens could meet all of those demands. They had a top-10 pick and a roster filled with young players like Tim Stützle (20 years old), Josh Norris (23 years old), and Brady Tkachuk (23 years old). Their pipeline also included dynamic prospects like Jake Sanderson, Erik Brannstrom, and Jacob Bernard-Docker. Davidson explained the reasoning behind the trade:
Draft picks are fine, but they’re unpredictable. Sometimes it’s a hit, and sometimes it’s a miss. First-rounders usually hit, especially in the top-10. So, the seventh-overall pick is dandy, and the Blackhawks used it to draft 18-year-old defenseman Kevin Korchinski. Davidson is correct, but the statement presents issues. Their draft picks will likely not be difference makers for a few years, if they pan out at all. Therefore, with DeBrincat, you must demand talent that can make a difference immediately and is already established in some way. The Blackhawks do not have a deep prospect pool that can make a difference on their team next season except for Lukas Reichel. The team can’t expect to improve in the long haul without talent, and they let a good opportunity go to waste with the Senators by not getting any substance in return.
Blackhawks Keep Repeating Past Mistakes
Trading DeBrincat was an interesting scenario because it wasn’t something the team had to do. He didn’t ask for a trade, and their hands weren’t tied. Even though a top pick is crucial for a rebuild, the Blackhawks still didn’t have to trade him. Davidson was in a win-win scenario with him, as they could have kept the 24-year-old to build around or trade him for a tremendous haul. Either scenario would have helped their rebuild, and neither happened. Losing DeBrincat would have been easier to justify if the trade included the seventh-overall pick and someone like Sanderson, as he signed his entry-level contract in March and will play in the NHL next season. Being able to watch a young, budding prospect could have brought some excitement to a season that is expected to be lost.
The other thing that stands out about this trade is that the Blackhawks continue to miss on deals involving their star players. When Artemi Panarin was traded in 2017 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, they received Brandon Saad. When they moved Brandon Saad again to the Colorado Avalanche in Oct. 2020, they received Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm. When they traded Robin Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights in Feb. 2020, they received Malcolm Subban, Slava Demin, and a second-round pick (which turned into goaltender Drew Commesso). The list goes on. None of the NHL players acquired are with Chicago, and besides Commesso, who could be a good goaltender for them down the road, they have no future assets to show for it. Now DeBrincat can be added to that group. By failing to capitalize on their big trade chips, they barely have anyone to build around, which extends the timeline of the rebuild.
This was Davidson’s moment to shine as a first-time general manager. He did exceptionally well with the Hagel trade making the sky the limit with DeBrincat, and I don’t think he lived up to expectations. There is a chance that the Hawks could hit on all their picks, which would be great for the long term, but that won’t be known for several years. Overall, this deal benefitted Ottawa more than the Blackhawks, as they didn’t have to mortgage much of their future, which can’t happen. Losing DeBrincat is tough in itself, and knowing they parted with him for less value is even harder to grasp. Chicago is entering the darkest years of the rebuild, and this trade may have made it worse.