It’s been two weeks since the Chicago Blackhawks‘ season ended, and their miserable 28-42-12 record raised questions about where the team would go from here. They missed the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons, and as the years go by, things seem to be getting worse and not better. Now, all eyes are on general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson to see what changes he will make this offseason.
The Blackhawks have many different angles to explore to improve the team, and there will be tough decisions involved. Davidson recently sat down for an interview with The Athletic to answer some burning questions about the team’s state. Here are the takeaways from that interview (from ‘Q&A: Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson on Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Jeff Greenberg and the long road ‘back to the top,” The Athletic, 4/29/22).
Kane & Toews’ Role in the Rebuild
A central question revolves around the futures of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane with the Blackhawks. They both have one year left on their matching eight-year, $84 million deals. They could be hot trade commodities, especially Kane if they choose to go that route. So, that was a topic of discussion for Davidson, who was asked if he wants them to be a part of the rebuild.
He responded, “Look, there’s great value in having them be part of it. The main part of that is informing them how we see their role as part of that and what they can do to help us in this transition, in this phase of the organization’s trajectory. So, we have to have that conversation with them. How we believe they could assist, and how we believe they could be part of it. And then it’s up to them to determine if they’re amenable to that … or if they want to try something new. That’s all up to them.”
What I take from Davidson’s response is that he is staying open-minded regarding Kane and Toews. A couple of years ago, it would have seemed asinine to think that they would ever consider leaving or that the Blackhawks would ever want them to, but I think Davidson has the right idea with this. He knows that there’s no easy fix, and the team might not be the fit both players are looking for; they need to win now as Kane is 33 years old and Toews is 34.
The business side is attractive for the Blackhawks with both players too. Players of their caliber could receive big assets in a trade package if they choose to go that route, which is a thought that has surely crossed Davidson’s mind. But by saying, “It’s up to them to determine if they’re amendable to that (the plan),” makes me think he envisions the team beyond them. He has to do that, but it’s also interesting.
Does Davidson expect them not to agree to the team’s trajectory? I guess we’ll find out.
Strome & DeBrincat’s Future
Besides Kane and Toews, people are also curious about what will happen with Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat. Considering they both had significant success with Kane on the first line this season, there are questions about how that situation will end up. Strome is a restricted free agent this summer, and DeBrincat has one year left on his three-year, $19.2 million deal; however, DeBrincat is eligible for a contract extension when July rolls around. This means more big decisions for Davidson this offseason, and it all comes back to Kane.
Mark Lazerus told Davidson that Kane said he loved playing with Strome and DeBrincat and that if DeBrincat stays, he will want to too. He was asked if – because Kane sells tickets and is a driving force for the team – making him want to stay in Chicago by listening to his statements will be a priority for Davidson?
Davidson responded, “Look, I think, in the end, we have to do what’s right for the Chicago Blackhawks, long-term. We always want to be respectful, and be mindful of the players we’ve had, especially players that have done so much for the organization and the city, like a player like Patrick Kane has. But we also have to be mindful of the future of the team and how we want that to look, and we can’t just keep everybody around just to say we kept them around. Because in the end, we finished where we finished with this team, and we have to make changes. We have to change some of what’s going on and add to our prospect pool and figure out how we get back to that next level, and so everything’s on the table. Everything’s under consideration.
And I think we have to look at the future of the Blackhawks. And not out of any disrespect to Patrick or Jonathan, or who they may want here or not want here or what have you, we just have to do what we think is right, from an asset management standpoint, moving forward. And that’s going to be the focus.”
That statement stood out to me the most in the interview. The immediate reaction might be, “It’s Patrick Kane! Why not listen to what he wants?” It’s a plausible thought, but I think Davidson is willing to play hardball. They can’t keep parading out the same team year after year and expect things to be different; he is right about that. The Blackhawks have to improve around Kane, and it’s going to take more than those three players to do that. To get the team past mediocrity means having to part with fan-favorite players sometimes. It doesn’t mean that Strome and DeBrincat are on the way out. It means that if something comes up that is too good to pass up, anyone is up for grabs.
I do believe Kane will get part of his wish, though. I don’t see DeBrincat going anywhere. I see him getting re-signed, whether it’s over the summer or after his contract expires. Strome is more difficult because of his free-agent status and the mystery revolving around what he could command for his next contract following a career-best season. However, I commend Davidson for committing to making the tough choices, regardless of influence, if he knows he is doing what is best for the Blackhawks. You want to see a GM act with that tenacity, even if you don’t agree with his decisions.
Blackhawks’ Scouting Report
In Davidson’s words, next season, the team will have a very different look. With a rebuild, GMs usually have an idea of the players they want, which is usually centered around specific needs. He was asked if there was anything specific he was looking for in a player from a scouting standpoint.
His response was, “I think in general we want players with high compete, high character, and then the other thing is speed. We really want to enhance the speed element of our team, especially upfront and even more specifically down the middle of the ice. We want to bring in a speed element and really increase the tempo that the team plays at in the future. So those are just some very general things. But high compete and speed, that’s what kind of our new emphasis with scouts is on.”
I think this is something that Blackhawks fans should keep in mind. Whether it comes from the NHL Draft, free agency, or trades, look for management to acquire players with this skillset. Davidson seems to have stuck to that plan, having traded for Sam Lafferty back in January. After he joined the team, he instantly became one of the Blackhawks’ fastest skaters. Of course, a GM will not outright name who they’re eyeing. However, if you’re curious about who could join the Hawks, this description gives us a good starting point. It’s also encouraging, as the club has struggled with speed a lot the last few seasons. Because the game itself is getting younger and faster, that is certainly a need and something they should be able to find through different avenues.
It was a long interview that covered a lot of different topics, including coaching, scouting, the roster, and more. However, these three tidbits clarify what fans should be preparing for when it comes to the Blackhawks this offseason. Davidson made it clear that changes will happen, even if they are tough to swallow. This will make for an exhilarating and nerve-wracking summer. He’s got a plan, and hopefully, it will successfully come together and help Chicago do the very thing that fans are craving – win!
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. I have covered the Chicago Blackhawks since 2020 and am passionate about sharing in-depth analysis within the team and highlighting the fun because, after all, hockey is fun! You can quickly connect with me on Twitter: @brooke_lofo.