Orchestrating a rebuild in the NHL today can be challenging. No hockey fan likes to see their team lose, especially not for an extended period of time. That much is obvious. Losing teams don’t bring as much revenue or excitement to their owners and fans. With this much duress, general managers can often feel pressured into trying to rush the rebuild.
Not Kyle Davidson. The Blackhawks’ GM, even at 34 years old, knows better. After the recent trade of franchise icon Patrick Kane before the trade deadline, he spoke on the current state of the rebuild Chicago finds itself in, and the importance of timing.
“You can’t rush that because the last thing you want to do is … short-circuit it and then we’re right back to the messy middle.”-GM Kyle Davidson
While under the management of Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks were doing just that for years. After a Stanley Cup victory in 2015, the team hovered near the bottom, but not completely in the cellar, until Bowman stepped down in 2021. Davidson took over and elected to embark on a full rebuild.
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At least for now, the rebuild is setting up better than expected. This season has been painful to watch for fans in Chicago, as their team is 22-37-5 and in last place in the Central Division. However, starting with a big tank job was all part of Davidson’s plan. With every loss this year, his franchise gains more and more assets. These assets could lead some to suggest that the “dark age” in Chicago may be nearing an end.
It’s no secret that good teams are built through the draft. Sure, short-term winners can be bought in free agency, but those rosters are usually built via “rentals” when teams are on a quick run to a championship.
That’s not what Davidson has in mind. He recognizes that building through free agency is usually very expensive. Players’ salaries grow exponentially when they re-sign as veterans, but draft picks and young players don’t hurt the salary cap too much. Thus, Chicago is looking toward the draft. And when it comes to the draft, the Blackhawks are doing it better than anyone else. They currently have six first-round picks in the next three years and a barrage of second and third-round picks. At least one of those picks will likely be in the top three in this upcoming draft, and Blackhawks fans everywhere are hoping it results in Connor Bedard, the consensus projected first-overall pick.
One side effect of tanking/rebuilding a roster is an abundance of cap space. While Chicago took on a few cap dumps like Nikita Zaitsev at the trade deadline this year, those contracts will be up by the time the team is ready to contend again. In fact, next year, Chicago is projected to have $42.169 million in cap space next year, according to Cap Friendly. Because of the flexibility that creates, the Blackhawks will likely splurge on a few high-dollar free agents either this offseason or next, and can still be under the cap.
Not all of the pieces of Chicago’s rebuild have yet to be drafted. A vital part of the Blackhawks’ return to glory will be its pool of prospects. Their group, which ranks in the top-5 of the league, features future stars like Lukas Reichel, Frank Nazar, and Kevin Korchinski. Reichel is a 20-year-old left winger that has already shown flashes handling the puck and logged eight games so far for the Blackhawks, along with 51 for the IceHogs. Nazar is an undersized 19-year-old C/RW who has been with the University of Michigan this season due to a lower-body injury. Finally, Korchinski will likely soon join Seth Jones on the blueline at the professional level, and will hopefully take over for him when Jones’ contract is finally up. While it’s important to not rush these prospects to the highest level, it seems all of them are close to making big impacts in Chicago. Perhaps most importantly, they will do so on cheap contracts.
At least on the surface, it appears that Kyle Davidson has done a masterful job in setting up the Blackhawks’ rebuild. With a high draft pick being nearly a certainty, he also has more than his fair share of draft picks at his disposal. Couple that with a huge amount of cap space and a number of talented prospects, and the Blackhawks are armed with plenty of weapons, and will be using them very soon to fight for another Stanley Cup.