The Chicago Blackhawks rebuild is in full-swing, but will the new acquisitions be around to see it through and beyond?
From the minute Kyle Davidson assumed the role as General Manager of the Chicago Blackhawks, he’s been anything but shy about enacting a rebuild. Even as the interim GM, he immediately dropped the hammer, relieving three-fourths of the coaching staff in Jeremy Colliton, Sheldon Brookbank, and Tomas Mittell.
Heads have only continued to roll, including former third-overall pick Kirby Dach and rising superstar Alex Debrincat, who were both jettisoned this off-season; in addition to Brandon Hagel, who was jettisoned at the trade deadline. Davidson is not only rebuilding the Chicago Blackhawks – he is completely stripping the team down to the studs with a ruthless and methodical precision.
If young players like Debrincat, Dach, and Hagel were expendable, will any of the new acquisitions actually survive the Chicago Blackhawks’ rebuild?
Davidson has been lightning-quick to erase the moves of his predecessor Stan Bowman, but the acquisition of Seth Jones is one he will have to accept for the foreseeable future. Jones’ eight-year, 9.5 million dollar per year contract will begin this season, posing a huge roadblock in moving him anytime soon.
Although Jones had an up-and-down inaugural season as a Blackhawk, he still managed 51 points in 78 games on an extremely bad hockey club. His defense overall was suspect, but between his first year with a new team, a scandal-rocking accusation by Kyle Beach that rattled the entire organization, a GM and a coaching change early in the season, and the subsequent unraveling of the entire team around him, it’s understandable for any player to struggle as Jones did.
Regardless, Jones is a number-one defenseman who is only in his late-twenties. He can defend against an opponent’s top players, run a first-unit power play, kill penalties, and absorb close to thirty minutes per game. Assuming the Blackhawks rebuild takes no longer than 5 years, he is definitely a piece that should still be here when the Hawks return to relevance.
The acquisition of Max Domi not only ruffled some feathers, but it was also puzzling, at least initially. Domi has a history of controversies, both on and off the ice. He’s an energy player that feeds off emotion and crosses the line at times. Gritty players are always nice to have on any team, but his 3-million price tag seemed a bit steep, even on a rebuilding team. It was also curious why a team like the Blackhawks would want a player like Domi, who seems better suited for a role on a playoff contending team.
Evidently, it was Domi who immediately requested that his agent contact the Blackhawks. After Luke Richardson was announced as the head coach, Domi jumped at the opportunity of a reunion, having spent time with him previously with the Montreal Canadiens. Domi had two of the best seasons of his career under Richardson, including his highest-point and goal-total season in 2019 (72 points, 28 goals).
Although Domi does have the potential to put up respectable numbers season by season, he will most likely be moved before the Blackhawks rebuild is completed, if not sooner. Davidson may very well try to flip him at the trade deadline this year. Domi will be a nice player to have on a rebuilding team for one year, but signing him long-term doesn’t make much sense, as his on-ice worth can only be maximized on a deep team.
Andreas Athanasiou has had a 30-goal/50+ point season in his career, but has been on downslide the last three seasons. At 28 years of age, he’s young, has decent size (6’2, 190 lbs.) and speed, plays center, and can score. Although he isn’t exactly “old,” he’s at that age where, in developmental terms, he is what he is at this point.
Athanasiou makes sense for the Hawks in the very short-term, especially in the wake of Dylan Strome’s departure. Strome is arguably the better player, but Athanasiou will serve as his replacement next year. He is a player who is serviceable in the top-six/third-line center role on a shallow team and has enough skill to at least have the potential for success with the right line-mates; but like Domi, he doesn’t make sense beyond this year, let alone beyond three to five years of a rebuild.
Peter Mrazek and Alex Stalock
The current goalie situation has never looked as bleak as it does for the Blackhawks. Kevin Lankinen and Malcolm Subban both failed to solidify themselves as viable NHL goalies; as did Anton Forsberg and Colin Delia. The position has not only been overlooked for so long, but horribly mismanaged by ex-GM Stan Bowman. Davidson will have to address the position from scratch, but in the meantime, Peter Mrazek and Alex Stalock will have to do.
At 35 and 30 respectively, it’s impossible to see either goalie in the Hawks’ future outside of the next couple years. They are both placeholders, which is fine. Even on a rebuilding team, competent goaltending is a must, which Mrazek provides. He’s a veteran who can serve as a mentor for young goalie prospects in the system who may see time this year, such as Drew Commesso and Arvid Soderblom.
Out of all the new acquisitions, Seth Jones is the only player who has a shot of surviving this rebuild, based on both his albatross contract and his playing ability. He deserves the benefit of the doubt after just one bad season in his inaugural year, where everything that could go wrong did within the organization.
Even if Max Domi has a productive season, it’s logical to assume that Davidson would rather flip him at the deadline than retain him beyond this year. His physicality and grit will come in handy on a young rebuilding team, but he doesn’t make much sense beyond the short-term. Athanasiou, Mrazek, and Stalock will also be long-gone before the rebuild is ever completed, even in a best-case scenario of a three-year rebuild.
If these new acquisitions tell us anything, it’s that this year will truly be a throw-away year for the Blackhawks. There will be a time when new acquisitions actually serve to improve the team, but with the exception of Jones, these acquisitions will only serve to ice a competent-at-best NHL team next season.
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