What Kyle Davidson (And Free Agency) Says About the Blackhawks Immediate Future

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What Kyle Davidson (And Free Agency) Says About the Blackhawks Immediate Future

Chicago Blackhawks

We’ve been breaking down what Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson has said about his plans all summer, and, to his credit, he’s been pretty transparent about the direction in which he’s taking the Blackhawks in the immediate future.

Davidson has said he doesn’t want to throw around cap space for the sake of taking on bad contracts that don’t help the club and that he wants the team to be faster and harder to play against. He wants to add skill and speed with almost every move he makes. And, in his draft selections, those were clearly priorities.

The Blackhawks signed four forwards to NHL contracts on Wednesday and early Thursday morning. They brought back Dylan Sikura Thursday on a one-year deal after announcing one-year deals with Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou and a two-year deal with Colin Blackwell.

“It was bringing in some good NHL talent, because we did move some pretty good players out,” Davidson explained for why he targeted these players. “We had to fill some spots. But also, going with some of the player trades we were looking for with speed, had compete, a combination of all those things. I think it was really important to fill some of the holes that were there on the roster.”

These deals are short-term, the dollars are modest, and the players involved bring specific skill sets to the table for Chicago (and the teams that will likely be able to acquire them at some point in the future).

When asked about his first free agent period as an NHL general manager, Davidson was pointed in noting the skills they targeted and what these players offer the organization.

“With Andreas, [he’s] one of the faster players in our league,” Davidson told the media on Thursday. “[We wanted to] bring up the speed factor on our team. Max can play up in that top-six area where he can bring a good pace of play but also a really high compete level, which we want to bring up in our group. Colin Blackwell is heart and soul, motor never stops, really happy to get him and drive that work rate up a bit higher. In terms of the short-term nature of it, that’s just how it went. It keeps flexibility open for us, but really excited to add the speed and compete level that the three guys bring up top.”

Look at some of the words and phrases he specifically used. “Faster.” “Good pace.” “High compete.” “Motor never stops.” “Work rate.”

These are all in line with what Davidson has been telling us since he was named the permanent general manager. His vision for the Chicago Blackhawks is to be a fast team that works hard and is a pain in the ass to play against. And he feels the players he’s brought in accomplish those goals.

Having cap flexibility has been a big talking point from Davidson as well. And that factored heavily into his decisions to not tender qualifying offers to Dylan Strome or Dominik Kubalik. Davidson told the media on Thursday that both players having arbitration rights would have dragged the process out and could have been costly; he preferred to have cost certainty and the ability to go shopping to fill out his roster without the unknown of their cap implications.

And Kubalik’s deal with Detroit was well below where his qualifying offer would have been had he opted to accept it and stay in Chicago, so that’s already a win for Davidson. And Strome is still looking for work as this piece is being written.

I also think Davidson’s transparency with players is going to serve him well. He was asked about the cap implications of Duncan Keith’s retirement and recapture penalty and the buyouts of Brett Connolly and Henrik Borgström. To Davidson, it was about not wasting the players’ time or cap space on players who didn’t fit the direction of the organization.

“With Borgström and Brett, it was just, when looking at the roster, it was just tough to project them into an everyday role and rather than go down the road of potentially waivers or something like that and them wanting to be moved out midseason,” he said. “We can just cut to the chase right now and be honest with the players and move on and allow them the opportunity to find other chances elsewhere.”

And Davidson isn’t necessarily done. He said if an opportunity presents itself to add a larger cap hit at some point with the right assets attached, he would be open to the conversation. His preference is short term obligations right now, and noted that the player has to bring something to the club on the ice as well. But his phone is on if another organization is looking to make a move.

Finally, Davidson’s frank response to how he feels the team will perform this season was also refreshing. He didn’t pump the tires of the roster he’s building, but also didn’t want to define what he would deem a “successful season” on the 14th of July.

“I think it’s really hard to determine [what ‘success’ this season would be] right now,” he said. “Going into last season, a lot of the preseason projections probably had us doing a lot better than we did. And I’m assuming going into this season, a lot of people will be doubting us, so it’s up to the players that are on the ice to determine where that ends up and the coaching staff to put in place a good game plan and strategy each night. So I think it remains to be seen. When the puck drops, we’ll see how things go, but that’s why you play the game. You don’t determine the standings in September or October, we’ll figure that out in April.”

While many fans might not be on board with trading players like DeBrincat and Dach, or letting Strome and/or Kubalik walk away for nothing, it’s worth stepping back for a moment to appreciate that Davidson is telling us exactly what he’s going to try to do and he’s doing exactly that.



Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab