Blackhawks Smart to Sign Athanasiou & Domi as Rebuild Begins

At this point in the offseason, it’s pretty clear the Chicago Blackhawks are not just rebuilding but blowing things up and starting from scratch. However, while winning might not be a priority, the team had significant holes to fill entering free agency. On Wednesday, Blackhawks general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson addressed some of those needs by signing veteran forwards Andreas Athanasiou and Max Domi to identical one-year, $3 million deals.

Now, at first, these moves may seem like the complete antithesis of a rebuild. Both players are in their late 20s, have battled inconsistencies over the last few years, and are far removed from their career seasons. Yet, these two signings make total sense for Chicago and are the type Davidson should make until the club shows signs of contending again.

Athanasiou & Domi Bring Speed, Work Ethic & Some Upside

Though Domi, the 13th overall pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, has arguably had the better career thus far of both players, each have had similar paths. Athanasiou, a 2012 fourth-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings, made his NHL debut in 2015-16 and gradually took on a larger role with the team before posting a career-high 54 points in 76 games in 2018-19. The following season, he posted 24 points in 46 games before Detroit traded him to the Edmonton Oilers in February 2020.

After appearing in just nine regular season games as an Oiler, Athanasiou signed with the Los Angeles Kings; however, he appeared in just 75 games over two seasons with the club, primarily due to injuries. While his production has declined as a result, he remains a decent middle-six forward, and man, does he bring speed: a trait Davidson has said he wants to be a focal point of the rebuild. Of course, as I will explain later, he almost definitely won’t stay as a long-term piece, but his playing style fits what the Blackhawks are looking for moving forward.

Andreas Athanasiou LA Kings
Andreas Athanasiou, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),

Domi also made his NHL debut in 2015-16 with the Arizona Coyotes before the club traded him to the Montreal Canadiens in June 2018. In 2018-19, he posted a career-high 72 points (28 goals, 44 assists) with Montreal before recording 44 points in the COVID-shortened 2019-20 regular season. In October 2020, he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets before heading to the Carolina Hurricanes at last season’s deadline.

Since his career year, Domi hasn’t been the same player, but he brings experience and a little bit of versatility. Like Athanasiou, he gives the Blackhawks some speed and skill but is more known for his grit and abrasiveness, which could benefit a flawed Chicago roster even in the short term.

Related: Blackhawks Roundtable: DeBrincat, Dach, Toews, Kane & More

While both players, especially Athanasiou, have battled adversity these last few years, they still bring decent upside when healthy. They are also proven commodities and bring some sense of name value to Chicago, which is important for an otherwise relatively inexperienced club. More importantly, if the Blackhawks keep blowing things up, having these two players around could benefit Davidson and his objective moving forward.

Adding Athanasiou & Domi Could Help with Rebuild

Unlike Patrick Kane and Seth Jones, Athanasiou and Domi aren’t stars. They also don’t have much left to prove either, and we have a pretty good idea of the players they are. Simply put, Davidson’s intention with these two signings isn’t about making the Blackhawks better, but rather hoping they can contribute to Chicago’s rebuilding plan as opposed to being part of it.

If the Blackhawks want to keep blowing things up, there are only so many more players the team can trade as they get younger. While Kane, Jones, and Jonathan Toews might be another story — at least for now — Davidson has made it clear from the beginning that just about anyone is on the table for the Blackhawks. Yet, that doesn’t mean there aren’t loopholes with other veterans, as Davidson still has to work around the previous regime and their mismanagement of the team.

Tyler Johnson and Jake McCabe, for example, may seem like great depth pieces for a contending club, but you could argue both are overpaid with average annual values (AAV) of $5 and $4 million, respectively. Connor Murphy, who isn’t set to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) until 2026, carries a cap hit of $4.4 million. Should the Blackhawks look to move all three of these veterans, they definitely still have the cap space to retain some of their salary, but you can’t argue their current contracts only make a potential deal tougher. This is where Athanasiou and Domi come into play.

Kyle Davidson Chicago Blackhawks
Kyle Davidson Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

With identical deals, Davidson made a smart decision to sign these players if the idea is to trade one or both come next year’s deadline. While the experience they bring to Chicago is one thing, what’s more important is it shouldn’t be hard for the Blackhawks to move either and thus add more assets next season.

Injuries and poor production could happen, sure, but the risk here is relatively low. If these deals are flops, so be it. Chicago is in no rush to contend, and they’ll have more opportunities to execute the same strategy next offseason: sign a couple of veterans and trade them later on for assets.

Blackhawks Should Hope for the Best of Both Players

Adding these two players, plus Colin Blackwell, Petr Mrázek, and Alex Stalock, certainly gives the Blackhawks more experience than what they had following the trades of Kirby Dach and Alex DeBrincat. However, there’s no sugarcoating it, Chicago is going to be a very, very bad team next season.

With that said, the Blackhawks should still hope to get the best out of Athanasiou and Domi, not necessarily to make the team better, but to maximize a potential return should they move both players. Though it may seem like a stretch to say they could fetch first-round picks, they are only three seasons removed from putting up 50- and 70-plus-point seasons, respectively. Should either player show some semblance of that production, it would surely get more teams calling, thus opening up more opportunities for Davidson.

Related: 5 Former Blackhawks Most Likely to Have Their Number Retired

Last season, when the Blue Jackets dealt Domi, they received defensive prospect Aidan Hreschuk, Carolina’s 2021 third-round pick. When Detroit traded Athanasiou to Edmonton in 2020 as part of their rebuild, they received second-round selections in both 2020 and 2021. Generally speaking, those were solid returns relative to both players’ production and are the type the Blackhawks should hope to receive if they plan to deal one or both down the stretch. Prospects aren’t sure things, nor are draft picks. But, for Chicago, the more assets, the better.

These were two good, low-risk signings by Davidson. When it comes to projecting both players’ production, Chicago fans should remain somewhat conservative, given the inconsistencies both have recently faced. Having said that, they still bring decent upside which could maximize their value. Though adding these types of players may seem counterintuitive to building from the ground up and getting younger, the Blackhawks need assets to get assets, and that’s exactly how fans should view Athanasiou and Domi entering the 2022-23 season.

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