When the Blackhawks traded away Brandon Hagel at the March 21 deadline, it signaled just how serious GM Kyle Davidson was about a rebuild. But reality probably didn't start sinking in until a little after that.
Despite picking up five out of six points in the three games that followed the trade deadline, the Blackhawks have since won only two of their last 13 games, and in those two wins, they needed overtime or a shootout to close the deal. If we're being brutally honest, this might be a glimpse of what next year will be like for the Blackhawks.
Alex DeBrincat was recently asked whether he's wrapped his head around the rebuild yet, and here was his response:
"This stretch has been pretty tough, but I think we have a lot we can work on and build off of," DeBrincat said on April 15. "Obviously next year, with the rebuild, we might lose more games than we win but that’s obviously never the goal. If we come out hot or doing well, there’s no point to rebuild after that, right?
"I think if we can still just instill a good identity and compete every night, it’s our job to win games whether we have a good team or a bad team. We’ve got to do our best to compete and really come to work every day and work hard, and just be there to try to win."
When Davidson declared a rebuild on March 1, the topic quickly shifted to the futures of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They're both 33 years old — Toews turns 34 on Friday — with one year left on their contracts after this season. Do they want to be around for it? That's the big question.
And then there's DeBrincat, who's 24 years old and just entering the prime of his career. He's about to wrap up a career statistical season in Year 5 at the NHL level, but he hasn't tasted postseason success yet, aside from the 2020 bubble in Edmonton. It might be a while before he does, too.
I asked DeBrincat after Monday's morning skate whether he's talked to or plans to talk to Kane and Toews about what they might be feeling, and he seemed committed to being a part of the Blackhawks' rebuild regardless of what happens with them.
"We'll talk maybe a little in the future, but that's kind of their decision," DeBrincat said. "It doesn't really affect me. I'm still young. I want to help bring this team to the playoffs and win. I'm here to do whatever I can and obviously try to help win games. If that's the rebuild next year, hopefully help some of the young guys come in and feel comfortable and excel that rebuild."
The question now shifts to, will DeBrincat be around for it? It sounds stupid to suggest, but the Blackhawks don't have many tradable assets to kickstart a long-term rebuild other than DeBrincat and Kane, who has a full no-movement clause, and you have to wonder how much attention DeBrincat's name could get from other teams this summer and whether the Blackhawks would be tempted to consider moving him if the potential return swept them off their feet like the Hagel package did.
DeBrincat will be a pending restricted free agent at the end of the 2022-23 season, the same year as Kane and Toews, and he's expected to earn a fairly substantial raise. His negotiating window opens on July 13, and the last time his window opened, he ironed out a three-year, $19.2 million deal ($6.4 million cap hit) pretty quickly.
DeBrincat said he's "open to anything" this time around, but understands the Blackhawks have bigger things to sort out first.
"We'll see what they're thinking," DeBrincat said. "I think they have a lot of things to do probably before me. But I'm open to talking whenever they are, so we'll see where it goes."
Click here to subscribe to the Blackhawks Talk Podcast for free.