MONTREAL — The Blackhawks sent shockwaves across the NHL on Thursday after moving former No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach and All-Star sniper Alex DeBrincat in separate deals, and acquiring three first-round picks in the 2022 NHL Draft after entering the day with zero.
The message was loud and clear in Chicago: The rebuild is officially on, and this is about as full-scale as it gets.
"It was a pretty monumental day and huge land shift for the Blackhawks organization," GM Kyle Davidson said after the draft. "But it's almost the unofficial start of where we're headed and our ascension there."
The Blackhawks were looking to jumpstart the process by accumulating future assets and were clearly motivated to get into the first round after trading away their own pick to Columbus last offseason as part of the Seth Jones package. Obviously, not having a first-rounder isn't an ideal way to start a rebuild.
The first and biggest domino to fall was Alex DeBrincat, who was shipped to Ottawa in exchange for the No. 7 overall pick, an early second-rounder and a third-round pick in 2024. It probably wasn't the return they were originally hoping for, but it was always going to be a challenge for the Blackhawks to get 100 cents on the dollar if the team acquiring DeBrincat didn't have an immediate extension in place. Ottawa is taking a bit of a gamble here by trading for DeBrincat without having some reassurance that he'll be with the organization long term.
"It just didn’t materialize," Davidson said of a potential DeBrincat extension with an interested team. "It’s interesting. It’s hard to handicap where teams are going to have high interest. Not that there wasn’t interest in Alex, but it’s a little harder of a deal to make given the uncertainty moving forward. Even great players have to fit under the cap and upper limits, so that made it a little tough on some teams. And most of the league is in a cap crunch.
"There’s a very select number of teams that 1) want to add a player and 2) if they want to add a player, they want to give you some high-value assets up the draft board. I’m sure it would have been something we could have done to pursue draft picks later in the first round, but that just wasn’t of interest to us. It’s our opinion that it would have taken probably more than two first-round picks to equal the value of a seven. It’s more of a draft value thing that we’ve calculated more than anything, in targeting the teams that we did and then trying to pursue something."
While the 24-year-old DeBrincat is a building-block kind of player, he was the only one without full no-trade protection on Chicago's roster that had significant value and could fetch a larger return. He's also due a substantial raise, and it doesn't make sense to begin a tear-down by handing out long-term contracts with big cap hits.
Yes, DeBrincat will probably be one of the premier NHL goal scorers for the next decade. There's no denying that. But it was difficult to see a path for the Blackhawks to get back to contention sooner than later without stockpiling draft capital when you look at the current state of the pipeline.
The Blackhawks, objectively, have one of the shallowest farm systems in the league, which is pretty inexcusable for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in a normal season since 2017 and Davidson obviously recognizes this. Beyond forward Lukas Reichel and maybe goaltender Drew Commesso, there aren't many foundational-type pieces, and there aren't enough promising prospects that could grow into legitimate supporting cast roles, either.
Consider this: Chicago drafted Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006 and Patrick Kane first overall in 2007, but the management group at the time began laying the groundwork well before that. Look at which years some other notable franchise icons and key contributors were drafted in, and then think about how long it took for them to actually reach their full potential in the NHL:
- 2002: Duncan Keith (second round, No. 54 overall)
- 2003: Brent Seabrook (first round, No. 14 overall); Corey Crawford (second round, No. 52 overall); Dustin Byfuglien (eighth round, No. 245 overall)
- 2004: Dave Bolland (second round, No. 32 overall); Bryan Bickell (second round, No. 41 overall); Troy Brouwer (seventh round, No. 214 overall)
- 2005: Niklas Hjalmarsson (fourth round, No. 108 overall)
In summary, the Blackhawks didn't win their first Stanley Cup until 2010, which is eight years after Keith was drafted, seven years after Byfuglien, Crawford and Seabrook were drafted, six years after Bickell, Bolland and Brouwer were drafted, and five years after Hjalmarsson was drafted. It took time for those players to blossom, which only validates Chicago's need to start collecting draft picks and beginning that developmental process as soon as possible.
So while the Blackhawks could very well be in contention for a Top 3 pick next year and draft a potential franchise-changing player in Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli or Matvei Michkov — all three of whom would have easily gone No. 1 in this year's draft, according to a source — it's going to take more than that to put together a perennial Stanley Cup contender again, with or without DeBrincat.
The Blackhawks continued their future asset collection hours later by trading Dach to Montreal for the No. 13 overall pick and acquiring goaltender Petr Mrazek and the No. 25 overall pick from Toronto in exchange for the No. 38 overall selection. They used their three first-round selections on puck-moving defenseman Kevin Korchinski, two-way center Frank Nazar and all-around defenseman Sam Rinzel. Speed was the theme.
The Blackhawks also have nine picks on Day 2, including six in the second and third rounds combined. That's a good start as they look to restock their farm system, but now the hard part begins.
"Today was a day that I’m not sure any people saw coming, necessarily," Davidson said. "Maybe they did. But it’s hard to accept nonetheless, which I get. But it’s a necessary step that we had to take to get this on a track to where we want to be and not try and just make small tweaks along the way. We had to make a big shift. We had to change things."