Blackhawks & Sabres Could Orchestrate Offseason’s Biggest Blockbuster

Just because two teams find themselves sharing similar space at the wrong end of the standings, doesn’t mean both are there following the same organizational mandate. Take, for example, the Chicago Blackhawks and Buffalo Sabres. While one is now welcoming the pain that will come alongside their active teardown, the other can’t seem to climb their way out of the basement they’ve unintentionally occupied for too long.

RELATED: Patrick Kane Trade to Sabres Makes Sense for All Involved (Hear Me Out)

As the Blackhawks take inventory of the few valuable assets that remain, the Sabres should be interested in how acquiring such names would improve their outlook.

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If Buffalo is prepared to leverage some future potential to engage Chicago in this type of negotiation, it could result in a mutually beneficial blockbuster that works out for both sides.

Blackhawks Breaking It Down to Rebuild

Kyle Davidson has certainly owned his stance, that this Blackhawks team has entered a true rebuild. The moves he’s made thus far are certainly indicative of that game plan. It’s become quite clear to onlookers that there are no untouchable Blackhawks. Except, of course, for those that have such protection built into their contract.

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That said, even some of Chicago’s biggest stars — those who signed the longest terms, preparing to retire as a Blackhawk — have to be questioning their loyalty at this point. If part of their initial commitment involved playing for a contender, then they’ll no longer have that stipulation fulfilled by remaining in Chicago.

As the Blackhawks continue to shed any semblance of their former self, it’s safe to say that the winning attitudes that helped them achieve such heights are equally as ready to shift their energy to a lineup that will properly utilize those talents.

Jonathan Toews

There’s no denying that Jonathan Toews‘ best days are behind him. After missing the entirety of the 2020-21 campaign, his return in 2021-22 was less than impressive. He hit career lows across a several key categories, including goals, assists, points, plus/minus, and average time on ice. Obviously, moving his contract is a bit of a tougher sell when you consider its $10.5 million cap hit through 2022-23.

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

First and foremost, Toews would have to agree to waive his no-move clause (NMC) for this to even be a discussion. Then, if he did, it’s safe to say that Chicago would have to be willing to retain some of his salary to convince an opponent to take on the rest.

That said, there’s no denying that Toews has been one of the game’s best on-ice leaders during his tenure. Helping the Blackhawks franchise reach dynasty status through the 2010s was no small feat and he was leading the charge the whole way through.

Not only did his influence help the Blackhawks win three Stanley Cups between 2010-2015, but Toews also owns a 2010 Conn Smyth Trophy, 2013 Selke Trophy, and 2015 Mark Messier Leadership Award. His influence is indisputable and those attributes don’t simply fade away.

Even though the 34-year-old’s production is on the decline, his work ethic and passion remain. Both of which would be welcomed in Buffalo, as their leadership group hasn’t done much in the way of navigating toward any meaningful results of late.

Plus, Toews is still proving valuable at the faceoff dot, having bettered his career average with a 59.0 faceoff percentage (FO%) in 2021-22. There’s no doubt that increased possession would benefit a Sabres starving for more offense.

Patrick Kane

With Chicago’s two biggest stars signing identical extensions back in 2014, Kane also owns a $10.5 million cap hit and NMC. Once one of the most dynamic duos throughout the entire league, their collective effort hasn’t been upheld in quite the same manner through recent seasons.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

That’s not Kane’s fault, though. He’s done more than enough to pull his weight, year after year, despite Toews appearing to play past his peak. In fact, throughout Kane’s past four campaigns, he has produced at well over a point per game pace and managed more minutes than his career average.

The 33-year-old is still elite and his highlight reel proves it. That he’s already arguably the greatest US-born NHLer of all time, with years ahead of him to completely re-write the record books, speaks to the fire that he keeps ignited.

Kane’s talent would immediately align him with Buffalo’s all-time best. He’d provide the type of added edge this franchise has been missing in recent decades. The Sabres could then rely on his combination of skill, experience, and accolades, as Kane’s impact propels the organization to new heights.

Putting on a show, no matter who plays alongside him, Kane immediately elevates every line he’s on. Factor in his power-play production and game-breaking capabilities, and it’s clear that he’s the kind of creative winger that any contender would gladly fit into their top-six.

Considering that Buffalo is Kane’s hometown, let alone that he’d also rather be playing for a city that is attempting to win, makes it even easier to assume that he’d overlook his NMC to make this happen. That his captain would be going with him would surely amplify his willingness to re-locate.

Petr Mrázek

Despite not yet having played a single game for the Blackhawks, Petr Mrázek could still help the franchise extract some value as a result of his reputation. Recently acquired via trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, Mrázek might not be best suited for a Chicago squad that isn’t really looking to compete at the moment anyway.

Petr Mrazek, former Toronto Maple Leafs
Petr Mrazek, former Toronto Maple Leaf (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

No, Mrázek didn’t have the best season in 2021-22. His stat line was inflated in all the wrong areas, despite being part of one of the league’s best regular-season teams in Toronto. He also found himself missing even more time, managing added injury trouble. Yet, none of that should override career numbers which help support that he’s a star.

This is a 10-year NHL veteran who has done more winning than losing, setting a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.64 and save percentage (SV%) of .909, while accumulating 24 shutouts along the way. That he’s still only 30 also offers a drastic age upgrade, when compared to Buffalo’s best netminder from 2021-22 — 40-year-old, Craig Anderson.

There is no denying that Anderson performed far better for the Sabres than most would have expected he could have at this point in his career. But, the reality is that his upside isn’t as favourable as Mrázek’s.

Since 2018-19, Mrázek has put up a record of 62-28-8, achieving a 2.50 GAA, .907 SV%, and 10 shutouts. Throughout that same span, Anderson accumulated a 47-57-8 record, 3.08 GAA, .901 SV%, and two shutouts. One may be a fan favourite, but the other will give the Sabres a better chance at winning, night in and night out.

With Mrázek back to full health and prepared to take on his next starter’s crease, a bonus for Buffalo would be that they could spend even less on an inexpensive backup since their duties would, hopefully, be limited.

Sabres Desperate to Turn Competitive

Don’t let Buffalo’s perennial failures fool you. That isn’t a city that sets out to lose. In fact, when reflecting on the moves that they’ve made in recent seasons it becomes clear that they’ve tried to put the proper pieces in place to make the right type of splash. Unfortunately, the resulting waves haven’t been strong enough to guide them to any real success.

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In the meantime, they’ve benefited from some early draft picks that are mostly panning out exactly as one would have expected they would. As a good number of their prospects progress in the right direction, the Sabres are also a team with proven veteran talent that knows how to produce.

Buffalo’s is a recipe that’s not quite ready. Yet, it might simply take replacing some ingredients that they may have once seen as necessary to construct the menu they’ve been craving.

Casey Mittelstadt

Considered one of the most anticipated selections in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, that Casey Mittelstadt slipped to eighth overall should have been considered a steal given where he was ranked leading up to the event.

Mittelstadt has legitimate NHL size at 6 foot 1 and 201 pounds. While he won’t throw his body around like some of the bigger prospects tend to do, Mittelstadt is more than capable of holding is own when skating down the ice with his north-south style of play. With a tremendous passing ability coupled with his ability to score goals, Mittelstadt has the makings of a top playmaking center at the next level.

Unfortunately, Mittelstadt’s hype hasn’t quite blossomed into much more than that to this point in his career. He’s only accumulated 80 points through 195 games and has yet to end a campaign with a winning FO%.

However, a failure to have formed chemistry in one city shouldn’t negate the 23-year-old’s potential to do so in another. Sometimes, a change of scenery is all that’s needed. With the Blackhawks trading Kirby Dach to the Montreal Canadiens, offering up that very opportunity to the former third-overall pick, it leaves them with a void at centre.

Casey Mittelstadt, Buffalo Sabres
Casey Mittelstadt, Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Because one early draft pick didn’t pan out for the Blackhawks doesn’t mean another can’t. In this case, Chicago bringing in Mittelstadt to ride through their rebuild could be the best thing for both parties. The centreman is granted a much-needed chance to reclaim his reputation, as the organization works to build theirs back to where it once was.

The two sides can grow together, without a need for immediacy interfering with progress, with the hope that the Blackhawks are ready to compete by the time Mittelstadt is playing through his prime.

Craig Anderson

Far from making it seem as though re-signing Anderson at $1.5 million through 2022-23 isn’t a worthy spend for the Sabres, this is more about aligning athletes within the appropriate scenario. Simply stated, for Buffalo to enhance their goaltending, they need someone younger and more capable than Anderson.

Craig Anderson Buffalo Sabres
Craig Anderson, Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Ben Green/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, already have their goalie of the future in Kevin Lankinen. Lankinen earned his keep after an impressive rookie showing through 2020-21, wherein he led the underwhelming Blackhawks lineup into a playoff discussion that they had no place being part of.

Assuming the Blackhawks re-sign Lankinen, and if they trade Mrázek as part of this deal, he will then be their only committed goalie heading into 2022-23. Who better to round out Chicago’s roster than a former draft pick?

Anderson was selected 77th overall by the Blackhawks in 1999. He spent a few seasons in Chicago, but none were overly successful. It wouldn’t be until he moved on that he would find his form and turn into the now 300-game winner that he’s become.

His longevity in this league is beyond admirable. Incorporate the impressive numbers he’s accumulated throughout his career and it’s clear that Anderson can easily take on a mentor role. One that could be invaluable to Lankinen’s development.

Unlike what Lankinen had to endure with Marc-André Fleury in town, knowing he would never see starter-type playing time, this would be a setup that would work to his advantage in that respect. With Lankinen situated as Chicago’s undisputed No. 1, Anderson would slot into the No. 2 role and remain ready whenever called upon.

First-Round Draft Picks

Organizations looking to win now are far less concerned with what any upcoming draft might bring. If the Sabres hope to take the next step in their progress, they have to allow themselves to get to that point. Besides, this is a franchise that’s drafted in the top 10 for the past 10 years, including two first-overall and two second-overall picks throughout that span. Teams working to contend aren’t hoping to select that high, let alone that often.

Owen Power, Buffalo Sabres
Owen Power, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

The reality is, that franchises strategizing for more immediate gains have to be willing to risk their future as a result. Rarely can a club can simultaneously accomplish both current and future progress, since they have to prioritize one over the other.

As such, Buffalo has to be open and willing to offer a rebuilding team a more fruitful future if it means the Sabres can extract immediate value from the return. Superstars like Kane and Toews don’t come cheap, regardless of where they find themselves relative to their career trajectory. They’ve accomplished too much for their impact to be considered a fluke and gaining the benefit they collectively offer comes with a cost.

Chicago is currently fixated on stockpiling draft picks, as evidenced by the recent returns from trading away marquee players like Brandon Hagel, Alex DeBrincat, and Dach. Seeing them part ways with the likes of Kane and Toews, two of the franchise’s most popular and accomplished players in its history, would have to include some coveted picks.

Buffalo currently has their first-round selections intact for 2023 and 2024. Both of which would be needed to make this deal a reality, but only if the Blackhawks are willing to retain some salary in the process.

Like Kane’s capabilities on the ice, his contract has aged rather nicely. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Toews. As such, especially given the first-rounders that Buffalo would be giving up, Chicago would have to assume that they’d maintain paying a good portion of the $21 million due to Toews and Kane collectively through 2022-23.

Perhaps a $5.5 million savings, accounting for over half of Toews’ remaining cap hit, would help the Sabres justify the draft picks they’d be losing to profit from this gain.

How the Blackhawks Benefit

If Chicago’s goal is to break it all down before they build it back up again, Toews and Kane have to go. To even make that possible, both would have to waive their respective NMC. Given the current direction of the franchise, it seems more and more plausible that each will be ready and willing to do just that. If the situation seems suitable, that is.

That both would get to take their talents to a place that would value their influence in a way that the Blackhawks’ current approach makes less likely, could be the selling feature necessary to get their go-ahead.

Kyle Davidson, Chicago Blackhawks
Kyle Davidson, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

Mrázek, on the other hand, wouldn’t have a say in the matter. But it’s easy to assume he’d welcome a chance to play for a team that wants to compete over whatever it is that Chicago has planned for the near future. Plus, as a bonus, playing in the Atlantic Division would then mean he’d have more opportunity to show Toronto why they were wrong to give up on him.

All in all, the Blackhawks would free up some financials, provide a second chance to a top-10 pick, and benefit from a mentor where they need one most. Plus, upcoming drafts would be far more eventful for the franchise.

Sabres Grow Closer to Success

For the Sabres, they’re at a point where shifting back into a rebuild will do little for their fanbase. Frankly, it could jeopardize it. This team has made strides in recent years, but they haven’t been long enough.

That Mittelstadt was once one of their most anticipated prospects and that Anderson is a fan favourite can’t cloud the clarity that would come from adding some of the game’s biggest names. At the very least, if successful in such a negotiation, Kevyn Adams should enjoy added support from Buffalo’s most faithful.

Kevyn Adams, Buffalo Sabres
Kevyn Adams, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

This is the type of move that proves a team is trying to contend in the present. A stance that should also help make it easier for onlookers to accept that a couple of first-round picks are merely the cost of doing business.

Adding players like Kane and Toews not only instantly improves most lineups, but also creates a buzz that few others around the league can. That Mrázek would be included is a major upgrade in one of the most important positions, too. While winning would be their priority, increased ticket and merchandise sales would certainly be a welcomed bonus for Buffalo.

Summarizing This NHL Blockbuster

Reviewing what this would look like when it’s all said and done, there would be quite a number of pieces heading in either direction. Including players, money, and picks. All the necessary components of a blockbuster.

Buffalo would acquire Toews ($5.5 million retained), Kane, and Mrázek, while Chicago would gain Mittelstadt, Anderson, a 2023 first-round pick, and a 2024 first-round pick.

RELATED: Blackhawks’ 3 Biggest Trade Chips (Not Named Toews, Kane, or Jones)

Needless to say, if these organizations were to pull off this type of negotiation it would undoubtedly be the biggest deal of the offseason. What’s more, any trade scenario that sees Kane and Toews depart Chicago would be right up there with the NHL’s biggest headlines of all time.

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