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NHL Hot Seat Radar: Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks have committed fully to a rebuild, and it's up to GM Kyle Davidson to turn it into something tangible.
Kyle Davidson

Welcome to the newest edition of The THN Hot Seat, an ongoing series of THN.com columns where we zero in on one member of each NHL team who has major pressure on him in the 2022-23 season. The Hot Seat subject could be an NHL player, GM, coach, or franchise owner. In this file, we’re looking at the Chicago Blackhawks.

BLACKHAWKS HOT SEAT: KYLE DAVIDSON, GM

WHY: The Blackhawks, under Davidson, are tanking like there’s no tomorrow and putting on a basement-to-penthouse rebuild, and as a result, it’s likely to get exceptionally ugly this coming season. Davidson, who will be running things in his first full season as GM, has already made it clear they’re prepared to go through the agony that accompanies a rebuild, trading away high-quality young players, including sniper Alex DeBrincat (dealt to Ottawa for a first, second and third-round draft picks) and center Kirby Dach (traded to Montreal for a first and second-round picks).

Davidson has stocked up heavily in the draft pick department: he’s got two first-rounders, two second-rounders and two third-rounders in the 2023 draft, and in the following draft, he’s got a pair of first-rounders, two third-rounders, and two fifth-rounders. And by the time he’s finished stripping down the roster this season, he’s very likely to add to that draft pick stockpile.

That is the good news for Davidson. He has a clear plan to make the Hawks younger, and if his scouts and development team do their jobs well, he will have a lineup that can contend for a Stanley Cup down the road. Unfortunately for Chicago fans, the first part of the road will be rough in the extreme. Their current lineup is a dog’s breakfast of accomplished veterans – most notably, superstar winger Patrick Kane and captain Jonathan Toews – and new acquisitions Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou, and youngsters at or near the start of their NHL careers. The third and fourth lines have the potential to be a real disaster, and their goaltending duo of Petr Mrazek and Alex Stalock may be the worst in the game. In Davidson’s plan, if that sinks them further in the standings – and closer to picking up higher draft picks – so be it.

Toews has already spoken out about his feelings on the rebuild, and it doesn’t appear the 34-year-old is thrilled about another long year of losses, disappointment, and no playoff games for the third consecutive season and for the fifth time in the past six years. Trading him and Toews no longer is just a possibility but a probability. The crossroads are here for them. It’s difficult to envision Toews and Kane wearing another team’s jersey, but Davidson doesn’t look like he wants to keep them around when their contracts expire next summer. It likely will still be their choice – they both have no-movement clauses – but the haul Davidson will get for trading Kane in particular and Toews to a contending team, will set them up for the future. Still, Hawks fans have grown weary in the past few years, and saying goodbye to their championship core will hurt.

Davidson will bear the brunt of that frustration, and the 34-year-old understands that. He’s hired a new coach – longtime assistant coach and former NHL defenseman Luke Richardson – and he’s got the backing of ownership. His footprint on the franchise already is deep, and he’s comfortable with the fact he’ll be known as the man who boldly ended a glorious (and, in the end, a terrible off-ice legacy due to a sexual abuse scandal) era of hockey in Chicago. Blackhawks fans have grown accustomed to winning, and to be frank, they’re now looking at arguably the worst lineup in the league. The Arizona Coyotes will be brutal as well, but you can make the argument that they’re further along in their long and agonizing rebuild than the Hawks are.

Ultimately, Davidson’s plan will come into full view once Toews and Kane move on, and he’ll be judged on the results of the widespread change two or three years from now. But that doesn’t take the pressure off him this season. Indeed, he’ll be under a microscope with every move he makes. He believes he can do great things, but they won’t come easy, and they won’t come soon.

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