When Kyle Davidson delivered his preseason comments before last year — his first as the permanent GM of the team — the Chicago Blackhawks were a hot mess. Let’s be real for a minute: after trading away Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach at the draft, the preseason began with seemingly every other question being about who was getting traded out of town next — and when.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were asked questions about their respective futures almost every day. Whenever road media got a chance, questions came about their futures. And, as the season progressed, other players were asked about their individual futures in Chicago and the potential trades of two franchise icons.
Davidson had to answer those questions, too. And it wasn’t just about the futures of 19 and 88. Max Domi signed a one-year deal and played well enough that he was clearly labeled trade bait in the court of public opinion. And pretty much every other skater had a rumor tied to them at some point.
When the trades came, they came fast. Jake McCabe, Sam Lafferty, Kane and Domi departed in the span of less than one week, gutting a locker room that was already without its ailing captain. And, with each departure, Davidson had to reinforce that his vision for the organization was a rebuild through the draft.
Well, his plan worked. The Blackhawks won the Connor Bedard lottery, had Oliver Moore fall into their lap later in the first round, and made other selections in the draft that many view as great value.
So 12 months after being asked questions that felt more like doom and gloom and the pending departures of fan favorites and heroes, Davidson now got to talk about things like hope and opportunity and the future being a lot brighter with Bedard in the fold.
“There’s a lot more feel of excitement for the games this year, whereas last year, there were a lot of questions around what could happen and might happen to the roster and a lot of discussion around what we did around the roster,” Davidson said Tuesday. “This year is much more focused on the players that are here and not the surrounding storylines.
“It’s different for me just coming up here and talking, preparing for potential questions. But every year brings a different set of challenges and opportunities, and so you’re always busy, you’re always dealing with a bunch of different things. But it feels a little more settled this year, to be honest, walking into training camp. Which, in itself, is nice. To be one year further into the rebuild, you start to give players more responsibility and opportunity, and with that brings excitement. You also want them to make those steps, so there’s some nervousness there. But it’s all good because as we walk into training camp, it’s all positive progress. We’ve seen some progress from the young players and that’s what we want at the stage we’re in.”
As training camp opens with players on the ice Thursday, the room itself will likely look and feel more settled just as Davidson described his role an the front office’s feelings heading into the 2023-24 campaign. The For Sale sign is no longer planted outside the United Center. Now, the bright lights are selling the future in Chicago to fans instead of veterans to opposing teams. And that’s exciting for everyone involved.