A few weeks ago, when Kyle Davidson was officially retained as the permanent GM of the Chicago Blackhawks, the reception by the fan base was lukewarm (and even that might be generous). Many called Davidson a retread, a product of the Stan Bowman era of Blackhawks hockey and more of the same. It was an understandable sentiment. After all, he did spend his entire hockey executive career in Bowman’s front office. But Kyle Davidson proved on Friday that he’s no Stan Bowman, when he traded fan favorite Brandon Hagel to Tampa Bay, lighting the fuse on the detonator to the Blackhawks as we know them.
The Brandon Hagel trade was a necessary evil given the current state of the Blackhawks and a reminder that Kyle Davidson intends to rebuild this team from the ground up. Something that Stan Bowman never could do, a move that has placed the Blackhawks in hockey limbo for the past five years.
“I said a few weeks ago that we are rebuilding, and this is clearly the start of that,” Davidson said in a statement. “Getting two first-round draft picks as well as two young NHL players helps us kick-start that process in a major way.
“We know that Brandon Hagel was a fan favorite — our fans loved him for all the reasons we loved him — and we know he will be successful with the Lightning.”
Hagel, one time an unsigned CHL UFA made his way to the Blackhawks, and he proved himself quickly last season when he got his first crack at the NHL, producing 24 points in 52 games and 37 points (including 21 goals) in 55 games this season. Davidson saw an opportunity to sell high and kickstart the Blackhawks’ rebuild with a massive return from Tampa Bay, a team gearing up for a run at a third consecutive Stanley Cup Championship.
In the 45 minutes between the initial Frank Seravalli report that Hagel was being traded and when we got the total return, many on social media proclaimed that the Tampa Bay return would be a significant measuring stick in Davidson’s young career. Well, he’s looking pretty good right now. As of this morning, the Blackhawks are with two first-rounders and two second-rounders in 2023 and two first-rounders in 2024. Those who were going to use this initial trade/return to grade Davidson probably owe him a pretty high mark.
Not everyone sees it that way, though.
“Yeah, if Hags is the guy to get traded, if he’s not a guy that’s a part of a rebuild, then I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone feels safe at this point, with the way he’s been playing and what he’s meant to our team. I had a hard time thinking in my mind that he would be one of the guys to get shipped off, considering what he brought in. Yeah, that was a tough one to see. I’m pretty shocked, for sure.”
The Captain went on to tell Mark Lazerus that he’s not sure if he wants to be a part of the rebuild that is now underway in Chicago.
“It’s a good question, honestly. I don’t know if I can answer that right now. I feel like these last three to four years, that’s what it’s felt like, constantly trying to work on your own game and improve and adapt to how good the game’s gotten, but also, part-time, here and there trying to bring young guys along in some way, as best as you can. Obviously, there’s always room for improvement there. Of course, you invest a ton of energy and emotion, and care with your teammates because you’re all working toward that common goal. Now all of a sudden, you realize no one on our team is safe, and we could all be going in different directions in the near future — it’s pretty discouraging. I’ll leave it at that for now.”
Suppose Jonathan Toews decides that he doesn’t want to be a part of the rebuild in Chicago. In that case, as a fan, I’ll thank him for his plethora of contributions to the greatest (on-ice) era of Blackhawks hockey and wish him well in his future endeavors, whatever they may be. But I won’t lose any sleep over it. Moreover, I think that Toews is wrong in his assessment of Davidson’s decision to rebuild and the decision to trade Hagel. (Though I do understand that we differ in our priorities and timelines).
Jonathan Toews will likely be in Chicago for one more season because there’s very little chance anyone will take on his massive cap hit, one he hasn’t lived up to in years, even if the Blackhawks retain half of his $10.5 million cap hit next year. At the end of the 2022-23 season, Toews will be a UFA. Maybe he hangs them up. Perhaps he plays elsewhere. It’ll hurt to see Toews leave Chicago, but all good things must end.
The bottom line here is that the Blackhawks, as constructed, are not good enough to win. They haven’t been in a long time. In fact, the Toews-led Blackhawks haven’t won a playoff series in seven years. And before this rebuild is said and done, that streak will likely reach the decade mark. Getting two first-round draft choices and two young forwards that have two years of contract control left at roughly $3 million per season is a good thing.
This organization needed change and Davidson is in the infancy of delivering on that promise, and if Jonathan Toews doesn’t want to be a part of that future, then so be it. One day, Jonathan Toews will return to the United Center to have his No. 19 retired, and we’ll all remember him for the glory years at the Madhouse, but that time is not now. The time now is to rebuild this franchise and set forth on a path to the next era of championship hockey in Chicago. Like it or not, Davidson made it loud and clear on Friday that he’s driving the train, so get on board or get left behind.