Kyle Davidson Discussed the Past, Present and Future of the Blackhawks
Before the Blackhawks play their final game of the 2022-23 regular season on Thursday night, general manager Kyle Davidson held his end-of-season press conference. It was a little odd that he would do it before the game… until he closed his opening statements by telling us that the organization will not offer another contract to captain Jonathan Toews, ending his time as the longest tenured and most successful captain in franchise history.
There were a few other things Davidson discussed with us this morning, however. Some of them potentially more significant than others — none as important as the Toews news.
Davidson on Luke Richardson
If you’ve been here before, you’ve seen me heap praise on Davidson for making Luke Richardson his first hire as a head coach. If you have confidence in anything about this organization right now, it should be Richardson and his coaching staff.
Over the past half decade, many of us have begged for a couple things on a regular basis: a front office aligned with the coaching staff about the types of players/style of game they want played, and a coaching group that puts players in positions to succeed. We have that right now.
“I couldn’t be happier with the job that Luke’s done,” Davidson said. “Him and his staff have created a positive culture in the locker room, cultivated a team identity that I think the fans in the city can be proud of. Communication with players, with myself, with everyone – second to none. So we’re really excited to have him as well as his whole staff returning next year and then beyond because they’re big parts of where we want to go and the build we’re undertaking here.”
Davidson on outlook for next season
So the dumpster fire (on paper) that has been the 2022-23 season comes to a close tonight. After the game, we have until May 8 to let the emotions of Toews’ leaving wear off; then we turn the page to the draft lottery and the next steps in the rebuild.
The organization is taking steps forward as well. Young players have shown they’re ready to move up to the NHL, and a wave of younger prospects are going to be ready to join the AHL (and possibly NHL) rosters next year as well.
“What I see [next year] is the infusion of some more of the young talent you’ve seen on an up-down basis from Rockford, more full-time,” Davidson said. “And then supporting those young players with maybe some new players in the organization, whether it be free agency trade … This is a rebuild; they take time. You can’t take any shortcuts and we’re just going to let that develop over time and see where it goes. But, I think the exciting thing for next year is we’re going to have some of these young players up on the squad full time.”
I would specifically look at Lukas Reichel, Alex Vlasic, Isaak Phillips and possibly Wyatt Kaiser and/or Kevin Korchinski being in the mix to move up to the NHL full-time next year.
Davidson on leadership group
Obviously in the wake of the Toews news questions about leadership came up. He was not asked if the Blackhawks will absolutely name a new captain for the first time nearly two decades, but he was asked about how they fill the void left by Toews’ departure.
“I think that’s for the group in the room to decide. I think we’ve got some great veterans within the room. It’s something that we will also look likely to add to, a leadership group. But it’s just that. It’s a group. And it’ll allow current players here, current players that come in to step into those roles and just allow that to work itself out naturally. It’s not something that we’re going to point to one person and say that’s the guy. We’ll let them figure that out and let them manage how the leadership in the room develops.”
Davidson on free agency
So… no Kane and no Toews. But the Blackhawks still have to spend a pretty good amount of money to get to the salary floor next year. What’s the plan?
Davidson is looking at an incredibly weak free agent class, which doesn’t help him spend money wisely on players that are available. Davidson also — wisely, which I appreciate — said he doesn’t want to sign players to long-term deals that might somehow block roster spots/ice time from young players who are ready to make the jump to the NHL.
“I think the flexibility aspect is really key for us because we don’t want to block any of our young prospects out, should they show us that they’re ready to play full-time NHL minutes. And if you have long-term contracts, then they could block players out. I’m not saying any of the players we potentially could bring in in the summer aren’t players who couldn’t be here beyond whatever we sign them for, whatever their contract dictates but we’re going to remain flexible on that one. But the flexibility of going with shorter-term deals is something we’re going to look at because of the need to keep options open for our younger players.”
The trend is going to continue to be short-term deals on players who fit the mold the Blackhawks want to play around. There are some internal free agents they need to speak with — he didn’t say much but did briefly mention Arvid Söderblom, Caleb Jones and Ian Mitchell — but the likelihood is that the organization looks for more rentals as they build for a home-grown roster.
He also spoke about bringing back Jarred Tinordi. Davidson, like Richardson, has raved about what Tinordi has been this season (when healthy). And the attributes he specifically called out — leadership, working well with younger players, acceptance of roles — are going to be things they look for when they go shopping on the free agent and trade market this summer.