As we have already discussed, Blackhawks fans need to begin preparing themselves for the departure of forward Alex DeBrincat.
With one year left on his contract and the organization entering a rebuild, he’s clearly their best trade asset. He is an elite scorer in the NHL whose skills may be undersold at a league-wide level, but those in the game know his value. And if/when the Blackhawks decide to move him, they will be able to ask for a premium; he’s a restricted free agent after next season.
But how general manager Kyle Davidson trades him — what the Blackhawks receive back — will tell us a lot about the vision of the new front office for the short, medium and long-term of the club.
One route Davidson could take would be to move DeBrincat for a package that helps the Blackhawks in the short and long term.
The New Jersey Devils have been prominently mentioned as a potential trade partner for DeBrincat. They own the No. 2 overall pick in this summer’s draft and have very good organizational depth, especially at forward — which is a desperate need for Chicago.
In a hypothetical trade with New Jersey, if the Blackhawks got a package that includes a young forward (we would want either Dawson Mercer or Alexander Holtz) and the No. 2 pick, that could accelerate the rebuild tremendously. (Note: the package would not be only one of Mercer/Holtz and the pick. That’s our starting point for the conversation.)
Assume the Devils are a strong no on Mercer (we would understand if they would balk at him plus the pick — he’s a stud). The big pieces in this trade would be Holtz and potentially Finnish forward Juraj Slafkovsky.
Those are two young players who profile like potential top-line wings. Put them on either side of Kirby Dach and we’re talking.
Holtz, who won’t turn 21 until late January, is listed at 6-0 and 192 pounds and scored 26 goals in 52 games with Utica in the AHL last year. He was the seventh overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and has appeared in nine NHL games to date.
Slafkovsky is listed by NHL Central Scouting at 6-4 and 223 pounds and doesn’t turn 19 until March 30. He’s the No. 1 European prospect in this year’s draft and scouts love his game; many have said he might be the most NHL-ready prospect in this year’s class.
If Davidson were to make a deal to bring those two players — or a comparable package — into the fold, they could make an impact in Chicago in the next year or two.
A trade of DeBrincat loaded with draft choices instead of players/prospects would indicate the front office is looking beyond a 2-3 year window for the turnaround to come to fruition. Especially considering the Blackhawks’ brass has spoken about taking its time developing players moving forward instead of rushing them to the NHL.
Like many other teams, the Blackhawks are much more concerned with positioning themselves in the 2023 NHL Draft than this summer. That class is being touted as a potentially all-time group, with 2003 frequently referenced. Chicago already has two picks in the first round next year (including their own and Tampa’s from the Brandon Hagel trade).
If Chicago’s new regime wants to load up for next year, the only other team with multiple first-round picks in ’23 is Montreal; they have their own and Florida’s. And Montreal, like New Jersey, could benefit from adding a significant scoring threat to their offense.
But there are a few teams with multiple first-round picks this summer as well. Buffalo and Arizona each have three picks in this year’s first round. It’s hard to imagine Davidson moving DeBrincat inside the division to the Coyotes, even if Slafkovsky is still available at No. 3 overall (Arizona’s first pick).
Wait and See
The third option to move DeBrincat would be to wait for an in-season trade, either at the trade deadline or earlier. This would support the idea that the Blackhawks are looking longer term and focusing on next year’s draft instead of looking to add prospects and picks beginning with this summer’s draft.
There are some questions about this route. Injuries happen; an injury to DeBrincat would be a worst-case scenario for Chicago. But injuries elsewhere could make the market more likely to pay an even steeper price for the Blackhawks’ sniper.
It would also make for an awkward training camp for the players in Chicago, including DeBrincat. With the strength of the rumor mill right now — before the Stanley Cup Final is done — being in Chicago still in September would make more questions come to the players about coming trades than those that have already happened.
But there is a case to be made for waiting, especially if the Hawks are focused on next year’s draft.
What to Watch
While it is unfortunate that the Blackhawks are apparently open to moving any number of players on the roster to help their rebuild process, we are still learning who Kyle Davidson is as the Blackhawks’ general manager.
The trade of DeBrincat, whenever it happens, will tell us a lot about his plan for the franchise. It will also show us how well the rookie GM negotiates with other front offices in the NHL; he did well on his first significant trade (Hagel to Tampa) and acquired draft assets in the trades of Marc-André Fleury and Ryan Carpenter as well.
As the rumors around DeBrincat become more intense, we should all be keeping an eye on the potential destination and the package the Hawks are targeting to bring back. This is true for other potential deals as well (see: moving bodies off the blue line).
Could Davidson flip the script relatively quickly? Patrick Kane and other players notably said it’s possible late this past season. But does he want to? We’ll learn a lot this summer as transactions start getting processed.