The Chicago Blackhawks completely revamped their roster by trading Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators and Kirby Dach to the Montreal Canadiens and letting free agents Dominik Kubalik (Detroit Red Wings) and Dylan Strome (Washington Capitals) walk during the past two weeks. With that, we have to wonder what is going on in the minds of the star Blackhawks players, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Seth Jones. It’s tough to gauge, given they are at different points in their career.
Their agent, Pat Brisson, gave the most insight in a lengthy statement released on July 13, which read: “While they’re not necessarily in agreement with the direction the team is taking, they will let the dust settle first and then patiently make the best decisions for each player as it pertains to their respective careers.” That doesn’t make a promising case for Kane, Toews, and Jones to remain in Chicago. The players were listed as “untouchable” in January, but that might change. As of right now, they are Blackhawks. But what’s next?
Kane, Toews, and Jones Difficult to Move
It seems unlikely that Kane, Toews, or Jones will leave the Blackhawks. All of them have a full no-movement clause and carry big cap hits; Kane and Toews at $10.5 million until the end of next season, while Jones carries a $9.5 million hit until 2030. The NHL’s salary cap only rose by $1 million this season, the first raise since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With very little wiggle room, teams are more hesitant to take on big contracts, even if the players are enticing. If any of the three requests a trade, it seems inevitable that the Blackhawks would have to retain a good portion of their contracts, maybe even half, to get a deal done.
Kane should be the easiest to move, considering at 33 years old, he continues to produce at an elite level. It has been reported that teams like the New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche are interested in his services if he were to become available. The Blackhawks have done everything possible to make Kane bolt. They parted with some of his favorite teammates, including Artemi Panarin and DeBrincat, while not making the playoffs in five seasons. Yet, he has remained loyal to the club that drafted him. Kane loves Chicago, and Chicago loves him, but when will he thinks it’s enough?
Of all the horrid seasons the Blackhawks have endured, 2022-23 could be their worst. Kane may request a trade before the trade deadline if next season becomes too taxing. However, he might just as easily ride out the remainder of his contract because he hasn’t wanted out up to this point. I don’t think fans will ever complain about watching Kane on a nightly basis, especially if next season is painful.
As for Jones, assistant coach Derek King, Kane, and general manager Kyle Davidson sang Jones’ praises last season, which likely means it’s safe to say that other NHL teams feel the same way about the 27-year-old. However, I don’t see him leaving the Blackhawks, either. Given his term and his cap hit is fourth-highest among NHL defensemen, it will be difficult to move him. The Blackhawks value him, and I think they would try to convince him to stay before it gets to that point.
With Toews, his future has become a polarizing topic because he has spoken more candidly about the team’s direction. Last season, he mentioned picturing himself playing for another team and what that would mean amidst the state of the rebuild. Although he noted that Chicago is his home and he loves the Blackhawks, many wondered if he really wants to stick around. But don’t expect the 34-year-old to leave before his contract expires after next season. I think, like Kane, he will wait to see what free agency will bring. There are many unknowns because of his health, but there should be some interest at the deadline, even if a deal doesn’t happen.
To be clear, all these players have leverage. If they want to be traded, they can request it, and the Blackhawks would most certainly do right by them and get a deal done. What makes it interesting is that the team has over $10 million in cap space, so they don’t need to shed salary, especially since Kane and Toews’ contracts will be coming off the books next season. But assets in return for Kane or Toews would help speed up the rebuild.
Kane & Toews Can Redefine Season
If Kane and Toews do stay in Chicago, what will their seasons look like? They have been able to put up elite numbers for the last five seasons, so why would 2022-23 be different. Kane had 26 goals and 92 points in 78 games on a team that finished sixth-worst in the league – continuing his four-year streak of 60-plus assists. Toews had a career-worst season with 12 goals and 37 points in 71 games. Yet, he remained elite in the faceoff dot with a 58% success rate. He also improved towards the end of the season. In March and April, three games were the longest he went without a point.
It’s also possible that next season they might push each other to greater heights. The Blackhawks have lost a lot of depth. Kane won’t have his linemates DeBrincat or Strome. Toews won’t have Kubalik, with whom he has played well. Chicago could reunite Toews and Kane as linemates, which might benefit them both. With Toews yearning for a redemption season, there probably isn’t a better wingman for him, and because Kane lost his dependable passers, putting him back with Toews could help his numbers as well. The roster has holes, and it’s unclear who will produce, but when those two play together, results happen. When Kane and Toews score in the same game, the Blackhawks have a 90-8-5 record in the regular season and 6-1 in the playoffs.
The Blackhawks don’t expect to win many games next season, and their production alone might not be enough to help. However, they can continue racking up points. Toews can build off of the second half of last season, and Kane can try to catch Stan Mikita for most points in franchise history (1,467). He’s only 287 points away. If they play well together next season, it will also help their case at the trade deadline, especially Toews, if one or both decide to leave.
Jones Can Establish Bigger Leadership Role
Jones became a leader on special teams and in the locker room after he joined the team last offseason. With DeBrincat gone, he is a candidate for alternate captain alongside Connor Murphy and Toews. The team needs his leadership now more than ever.
The defense is filled with developing talents like Ian Mitchell, Alec Regula, Alex Vlasic, and even Seth’s brother, Caleb Jones. They need Jones’ guidance to help the Hawks take the next step. Last season, his 46 assists were a career-high, and his 51 points were the second-best of his career, dating back to the 2017-18 season when he had 57 points. He was the Blackhawks’ third-best scoring leader behind Kane and DeBrincat, and he led the league in average ice time at 26:12. No one on the Blackhawks can fill his shoes at the moment. The defense will look up to him to get through the growing pains, and Jones will be the face of the blue line while continuing to boost his resume.
No one knows how the season will end for the Blackhawks, but there is still a lot for their stars to play for, and they bring a lot to the organization, even if the short term looks bleak. We should enjoy them as long as they remain in Chicago since it’s unclear what the 2023 trade deadline will bring.