On Thursday, The Athletic published the results of their fan poll that focused on confidence in current NHL front offices. They asked fans to rank every team’s front office in a number of categories, and then asked fans to specifically weight in on their favorite team’s management.
As you might guess, the Blackhawks did not rank well. In fact, they came in at No. 30 out of 32 teams with a D- on the overall report card. Without making any jokes about my own GPA in college, this isn’t ideal for a handful of reasons.
Here’s their Blackhawks’ report card:
And here’s what they had to say about the Blackhawks’ current state of affairs:
One year after the Blackhawks went all in on a misguided path back to the playoffs, they find themselves doing a complete teardown instead. Funny how that works, but it makes sense that confidence would collectively dwindle after a plan like that backfires. It’s a bit of poetic justice after the revelations of the franchise’s moral bankruptcy, which perhaps warrants a new category for off-ice confidence — one that this team would fail. On ice, off ice — the Blackhawks are a disaster either way.
But the team’s fan base is slightly higher on them than the public and that’s thanks mostly to what at least appears to be some kind of vision for the future. The complete teardown was long overdue, but the new regime seems committed to it and that’s at the very least a step in the right direction. The DeBrincat trade felt like a misstep to many, but if it lands the Blackhawks in Connor Bedard territory then it would’ve been worth it. That’s the team’s clear-cut goal and their commitment to it is admirable. Everything else isn’t.
A few thoughts, first about the rankings and their comments.
The first area that caught my interest was the change in year-over-year confidence. The overwhelming majority of the league-wide fans (84 percent) are less confident in the Blackhawks’ front office today than they were one year ago. But more fans in Chicago (47 percent) are actually more confident in them than are less confident (37 percent).
The league-wide perception being trash isn’t a shocking revelation. One year ago, Stan Bowman went out and added Marc-André Fleury, Seth Jones, Jake McCabe and a few other pieces in a desperate attempt to jump-start the team back into playoff contention. Many saw his moves as good ones; Fleury is one of the best goaltenders in league history and the bold move to add Jones (and give him a king’s ransom) gave the Blackhawks a new No. 1 defenseman with Duncan Keith moving on to Edmonton.
So the fact that the team went straight into the can and had a season filled with turbulence from the top of the organization to the lowest levels of employment obviously has impacted how fans outside of Chicago feel about the Blackhawks.
If you read a few of the comments included in the write-up about the grades in this story — and comments on every story on this site and elsewhere — the sentiment surrounding the Blackhawks’ front office is incredibly jaded.
And fans have every right to be pessimistic. We’ve written at length about the dumpster fire the Blackhawks’ draft classes have been in recent years just this week. The cupboard was nearly empty one year ago, which necessitated Bowman throwing out his alleged rebuild “plan” and throw money at the problem in free agency and trades in the first summer he had cap flexibility in a decade.
But here’s my problem with the evaluation in the story at The Athletic and many of the comments we receive here.
This is a new front office. Kyle Davidson was named the interim general manager on Oct. 27 and assumed the permanent role on March 1. He has been in charge of a single draft, navigated a single trade deadline, and dealt with free agency once.
To me, giving the current Blackhawks a D- — or a grade at all — in a Draft and Develop category isn’t possible. In fact, starting the day of the draft without a first-round pick (not his fault) and finishing the day with three picks feels like it’s at least worth a C on face value. But the second part of the category — Develop — isn’t even something we can evaluate yet. How can we grade a general manager’s development plan when he hasn’t run the system for a full calendar year?
Similarly, how are we giving Davidson a C- for vision when he’s only just started to roll out his plan for the rebuild. To his credit, Davidson has been incredibly transparent with what he’s going to do. He told us this was going to be a long and, at times, painful process of turning the roster over into a younger, stronger, faster lineup and organization that is built to not only succeed, but sustain excellence.
If you’re going to tell me his vision sucks, you probably never read a book beyond the first chapter. This is absolutely a work in progress right now at the United Center. Davidson needs time to act on what he’s told us he’s going to do — his vision — and needs time for his picks and acquisitions to play out to see how his direction moves the needle for the franchise.
But there’s one more critical component that it seems everyone is either forgetting or ignoring.
Kyle Davidson is not Stan Bowman.
Did he work in the organization while Bowman was the general manager and president of hockey ops? Sure. But every indication is that he was a dissenting voice in the room. And he expressed his differences of opinion and philosophy to the group that ownership put together to evaluate candidates for the permanent job during the interview process.
For future reference, we now have a page here on Bleacher Nation where we track every move made by Davidson as the general manager of the Blackhawks. So when you’re considering his job in signing, trading, waiving and drafting players, you can click there and look at his complete record. Our hope is that can be a useful tool in conversations like this one in the future.
Davidson had — and still has — a lot of cap space to play with. He could have easily taken on bad contracts to add assets, but hasn’t for the most part (Petr Mrazek is the most glaring exception — he’s terrible). He could have tried to make a big splash signing in free agency to put butts in the seats, but instead made strategic adds in players like Max Domi as rentals who could benefit both the player and the organization with an opportunity to improve his role and production and then get moved to a contender.
Perhaps the most significant change Davidson has made is behind the bench. He fired Jeremy Colliton and replaced him with Derek King, who was admittedly put into an impossible situation. But hiring Luke Richardson as the head coach moving forward has been received incredibly well by those in the game — especially some of the Blackhawks’ remaining veteran leaders.
I understand and appreciate the frustration with the trade of Alex DeBrincat crushing the grade in trading. But we won’t know how that plays out long-term until Kevin Korchinski is established as a professional in a few years. We wrote about how a significant part of Davidson’s legacy will be tied to Korchinski.
If you’ve read me for years, I try to be a voice of reason — but I also call it as I see it. Should the Blackhawks have done better in the Mrazek trade? Absolutely. Could they have brought back more for DeBrincat? That’s up to the decision makers to decide and Korchinski to back up their faith in his potential. Should they have bailed on Kirby Dach already? We’ll know if they were right based on how Dach plays in Montreal and what the future holds for Frank Nazar.
But we need to at least afford Davidson the ability to put his plan in action and do what he’s told us he’s going to do.
Bowman told us he was rebuilding and then spent like a drunk sailor a year later the first chance he had to throw money around. Davidson told us he was going to tear it down and start over intentionally take time developing young players while building assets to help the future and, thus far, he’s done precisely that.
As they said in the write-up at The Athletic, “if it lands the Blackhawks in Connor Bedard territory then it would’ve been worth it.” And, in two years when the NHL’s salary cap ceiling goes up, Davidson will have to spend about $55-60 million to reach the floor alone.
We’re still learning who Kyle Davidson is as the Blackhawks general manager. And we’re just starting to see what his vision is for an honest, earnest rebuild. I encourage fans to hold him and the rest of the organization accountable for what they do, but also give them an ounce of grace to try their best to fix the mess they inherited from Bowman’s regime.