Almost exactly a year ago, the Chicago Blackhawks signed Jake McCabe to a four-year deal with the hopes that he’d solve some of the team’s defensive issues. However, that wasn’t exactly the case last season for the 28-year-old Wisconsin native. Despite playing better hockey during the season’s final few months, McCabe struggled to live up to his reputation as a reliable shutdown defenseman. He ended 2021-22 with 22 points and a minus-27 rating in 75 games.
McCabe’s contract, in which he carries an annual average value (AAV) of $4 million until he becomes an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in 2025, along with his performance, could make it tough for general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson to trade him as the Blackhawks continue their rebuild. Although he isn’t the most attractive of Chicago’s current veterans, McCabe’s still capable of providing solid defensive depth, and a bounce back this season could have teams calling. Here are three potential landing spots should the Blackhawks look to move McCabe.
Aside from signing veteran forwards Ryan Strome and Frank Vatrano, it’s been a quiet offseason for the Anaheim Ducks. The team is nowhere near out of its rebuild, but they have some good young pieces to build around, such as Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale, and Mason McTavish. With over $25 million worth of cap space, the Ducks certainly have the flexibility to trade for or sign a few more veterans to supplement their young core, even with Zegras, Drysdale, and others set to become restricted free agents (RFA) next offseason.
Given Anaheim’s back end isn’t the strongest, trading for McCabe could be a viable route for the Ducks. He’d slot in nicely on their second or third pairing, and with Kevin Shattenkirk set to become a UFA next offseason, he’d add some depth to what is a young club. Even though the Ducks, like the Blackhawks, are rebuilding, they’re much further along in their process. Since he’s not set to hit the open market for another three years, McCabe could serve as a solid piece for the Ducks if they look to become more competitive.
Time will tell when the Ottawa Senators are a true contender, but their recent moves suggest their rebuild is pretty much over. After acquiring Alex DeBrincat, the Senators signed seven-time All-Star forward Claude Giroux to a three-year deal while also trading for veteran goaltender Cam Talbot. However, aside from signing Jacob Larsson to a one-year contract, the Senators haven’t done much to address their defense this offseason. Despite having pieces such as Thomas Chabot and Erik Brännström, as well as top prospect Jake Sanderson, Ottawa could use some help on its back end, especially if playoffs are the goal in Canada’s capital.
Adding McCabe could be a realistic solution for Ottawa, even if he provides a minimal upgrade to their current defensive core. Even after their additions this summer, the Senators still have approximately $10.9 million in cap space and would be able to afford his contract. While this is a situation in which I could see the Blackhawks retaining some of McCabe’s salary to sweeten the deal for Ottawa, I don’t think that would be much of an issue for Chicago.
The Senators seem to want to contend, just like the Blackhawks were last offseason. Yet, another trade between the two clubs could make sense as they head in opposite directions.
New Jersey Devils
Similar to the Senators, the New Jersey Devils have an exciting young core taking shape and could be entering the final stages of their rebuild. Despite missing out on Johnny Gaudreau after weeks of speculation, the Devils have still had a good offseason, signing Ondrej Palat to a five-year deal and acquiring 26-year-old goaltender Vitek Vanecek from the Washington Capitals.
While New Jersey also signed 33-year-old defenseman Brendan Smith to a two-year contract, adding McCabe could make sense for the Devils if they want extra insurance on their back end and/or if they feel 2022 second-overall pick Simon Nemec isn’t yet ready to make the leap to the NHL. Furthermore, while he wouldn’t necessarily be an upgrade, both Damon Severson and Ryan Graves are set to become UFAs in 2023. If one or both players decide to walk next summer, McCabe could fill one of those holes.
The Devils have approximately $8.7 million worth of cap space, though they have yet to re-sign RFA Jesper Bratt. While they aren’t cap-crunched, this is also a situation in which I could see the Blackhawks retaining some salary, given New Jersey probably wouldn’t look to McCabe as more than a depth piece. Playing in a competitive Metropolitan Division, playoffs might be a long shot next year for the Devils, but McCabe would give the team some solid depth.
Blackhawks Could Very Well Keep McCabe
With DeBrincat and Kirby Dach gone, it seems likely that Davidson will now prioritize moving some of his club’s veterans. Even though their current contracts might not be too appealing, McCabe, along with Tyler Johnson and Connor Murphy, are three players Davidson could move for assets as the team gets younger and builds for the future. However, because of his poor play last year, the Blackhawks shouldn’t focus on a trade this offseason. Waiting until next season to see whether his value improves, as well as what his market could look like, would probably be the best step for Chicago at this point in their rebuild.
Having said that, it’s also possible McCabe’s current contract could simply make it too tough to find any realistic suitors. At best, he’s a second or above-average third-pairing defenseman. For the Blackhawks, though, this might not be a bad thing. Not only can they afford his contract, especially with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ deals coming off the books next offseason, but McCabe’s still capable of giving the team depth even when he isn’t playing to his full potential.
McCabe could use a fresh start after a rough 2021-22 campaign, and I do think it would be best for the Blackhawks to try to move him. If they can’t or decide to keep him, though, that wouldn’t hurt Chicago either. Even as they begin their rebuild, some veteran depth would be useful for the Blackhawks, which McCabe provides.
Connor Smith covers the Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers. He is from Naperville, Illinois, and recently graduated from Ball State University in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, earning summa cum laude honors. This fall, he plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago to further his studies and earn his master’s. Along with The Hockey Writers, he’s written and edited for The Ball State Daily News, Ball State’s on-campus student newspaper, and has interned for Best Version Media (BVM) Sports and Jersey Column, a Georgia-based sports blog. You can find more info about Smith and his work through his online portfolio, connornsmith0719.wordpress.com.