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2 Truths and a Lie

Blackhawks 2 Truths and a Lie: The Kyle Davidson Offseason Edition

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The Chicago Blackhawks sit at home while five of their divisional foes fight through what may very well be one the toughest opening round in all of sports. No lead is safe, players sacrifice their physical well being to create a chance for their team, and little coaching adjustments mean all the world. Kyle Davidson, the front office, and the fans would love nothing more than to see Chicago there sooner rather than later.

The Blackhawks past season was trying to tighten all of these things–despite the fact they lost 53 regular season games. Philipp Kurashev diving to block shots on empty nets. Nick Foligno going after Brendan Smith when he sent Connor Bedard to the Injured Reserve. How about Luke Richardson blowing up at the team as they chased a 4-0 deficit to San Jose? The one absolute truth is that the Blackhawks enter the most important offseason since the 2016-17 season ended with a resounding thud–a sweep at the hands of the eighth seeded Nashville Predators. That offseason failed miserably–so it stands as the cautionary tale.

But this is the first of likely three absolutely critical offseasons that will either get the Blackhawks in the right spot for Stanley Cup contention or possibly in a neutral state that some teams never seem to overcome.

This edition focuses on the offseason priorities and the importance of the first of those three. In short, if I was Kyle Davidson or if he for whatever bizarre reason asked for my input, here’s a look at what I’d advise.

Truth: Kyle Davidson Can Improve This Team By Trade More Than Drafting Now

This is where it has to start because he’s already proven this multiple times. Davidson has won several trades so favorably, it’s provided added bonuses teams likely didn’t anticipate. Petr Mrazek, Jason Dickinson, and Nick Foligno all produced value that far exceeded what the initial return promised. If Taylor Hall can stay healthy next season, he too could provide value that could either garner something back at the trade deadline or even another year’s worth of a contract–if indeed he’s healthy.

So with that in mind, not to mention the other trades he’s made that have netted draft picks, Davidson needs to find a way to bring in a contributor who can help immediately. The names on the market won’t really crystallize until playoff outcomes are known and free agents are locked up. This team, which Davidson admitted, cannot afford to have another lousy season. I’ll go even further–they need at least an eight-game win improvement. That’s why making the right and prudent trade is so vital. The name that certainly is hot now is Mitch Marner–but that of course is dependent on vantage point. If indeed the Maple Leafs fall to Boston in five games, something’s gotta give, right?

The ask would be tall, but Davidson has already shown his knack to win deals. Adding a Marner like talent to bulk out the top line skill wise would be one way to start charging things up.

Truth: The Blackhawks Winning The Lottery Shouldn’t Supercharge the Rebuild

This is the second part of it–should Kyle Davidson and the Blackhawks win the lottery again, it’s not a sudden throw-it-all-into-the-pot and start for contention or bust now. Davidson hit it right on the nose when he told the media on clean out day that once that cap money is gone, it’s gone. Correct–and the Blackhawks were burned terribly by Cap Hell following the 2015 Cup run. Little errors here and there by then GM Stan Bowman (who actually had some damn good drafts later on), caused some major headaches the rest of that decade and then into the current one.

The Hawks are in a great spot knowing that young players like Kurashev, Bedard, and Alex Vlasic are  foundational and “identity” pieces. Frank Nazar sure as heck looks like one–but he’ll need some time to bear that out. Landon Slaggert played well in his small sample with the Blackhawks. Kevin Korchinski had some up and downs but certainly can be counted on as well. Ethan Del Mastro very likely is a huge piece of the blue line going forward. That’s seven names right there–not counting Lukas Reichel–who showed strides forward following his call up–that have their spots already. So adding in a Macklin Celebrini provides all sorts of different looks down the middle or even on the wing for Chicago in its top six. But winning that lottery doesn’t mean going out and selling off prospects and picks to get into win now mode. The excitement is understandable but it has to remain reasonable.

Over the course of the next two seasons, short term deals should rule the roost on the Cap. The most term handed out should not exceed four years–with more money as the incentive to keep that term reasonable. The Hawks can afford to see after two seasons–and potentially buy out the contract after those two–if it just doesn’t work out.

But this offseason is dipping a toe into the contention waters–seeing what is out there, what makes sense, but not picking up band aids along the way. It’s a talent scaffold that brings in guys capable of scoring 20 goals and making it where the team has to sacrifice offense to keep games close.

Lie: The Blackhawks Should Not Trade Acquired First Round Picks

This is where opinions diverge on the road to contention. Should the acquired first-round picks from Tampa Bay and Toronto (2025) be in play or should they still be used? Is there a middle ground?

Oliver Moore fell into the Blackhawks lap last season where Davidson considered trading up to snag him if he was in danger of being selected. So there is that concern–that another player like that could be waiting for the Hawks with Tampa’s pick and potentially Toronto’s pick next season–which is top-10 protected.

But what’s the end goal? How many of those post-17th overall picks will be ready in a time frame that can help the Blackhawks immediately–because in order to jump back to contention, they need that help no longer than two seasons. A look at draft picks from 17th to the end of the first round in the last eight years who have more than 82 games played.  I’m excluding the 2023 Draft because it’s too recent.

Reichel is in the 2020 Draft–and with 99 games–they’re still developing him into what they’re hoping he can be. Further, if one really dug into how many of those players are still with the team that drafted them, the numbers fall drastically.

The point? It’s a calculated risk to listen in offers for those later first-round picks to acquire an NHL-ready, proven quantity to improve things faster. The Blackhawks will pick either second, third, or fourth, providing another chance at a top notch prospect. That isn’t to say critical pieces are in that range. But it’s another that they might not be ready as fast as the Blackhawks will need them to escape the rebuild at a reasonable rate.

Again, Kyle Davidson has proven talented in finding talent that sticks via trade. If the right, NHL proven player is made available, those later first-round picks should absolutely be in play.

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