We are 12 days away from the NHL Trade Deadline and the Chicago Blackhawks have yet to make any significant changes to their roster. After being named the official new General Manager of the Blackhawks last week, Kyle Davidson has made some moves to changes things in the front office, notably letting go of Mark Kelley and Ryan Stewart last week, but still the lineup on the ice remains unchanged.
It may sound like a broken record, but until the first moves are made in the lead-up to the March 21 deadline, Chicago continues to hold too many assets for a team that will be starting a rebuilding process at any moment … any moment now.
While we await the beginning of the selloff process, here are a few notes from the CHGO Blackhawks Notebook as the team heads out for a quick two-game road trip.
Norm Maciver Rejoining Front Office
Speaking of front-office changes, a familiar face will be returning to Chicago. Earlier this morning, the Blackhawks made it official that Norm Maciver will be Associate GM of the team under Kyle Davidson. Maciver had been with the Blackhawks previously from 2006-2021, notably serving as Assistant GM under Stan Bowman from 2013-2020.
Maciver had been a mentor of sorts to Davidson in his time with the organization, but had fallen out of the “inner circle” of Bowman in the last few years of his time in Chicago before leaving the club in January of 2021.
While Maciver is regarded as a smart and seasoned executive in NHL circles, he is a long-time Blackhawks voice in the front office. For a team that is desperate to have a culture change, bringing back someone who was with the organization for a decade and a half doesn’t fit that narrative of bringing in new, outside perspectives. We shall see how the rest of Davidson’s front office shapes up soon.
Now back with the organization, Maciver will oversee the entire scouting operations for the Blackhawks. He is also said to have an important role in the upcoming head coaching search.
Head Coaching Situation
That search for a new head coach could take one of two paths for the Blackhawks. They could either go the easy route and keep interim Head Coach Derek King around, or they could go the long road and find a new head coach to oversee the rebuild in Chicago.
If the Blackhawks want to search for a new coach beginning this offseason, I have no issues with that as long as they are not looking for a coach that will be expected to win and compete right out of the gate. Names like John Tortorella and Claude Julien are available, but those are coaching candidates who will likely want to win right away, not three, four, or five years down the road.
Derek King is a fine coach for what should be a young and rebuilding team. Obviously he can make connections with young and veteran players, as has been evident this season with the turnaround that came from the coaching change made by the Blackhawks back in November. He’s a guy that players like and want to play for, but he’s not going to be a coach to lead this Blackhawks team back to the pinnacle of the NHL. He’s a fine placeholder.
Marc-André Fleury Trade Rumors
Will he be traded? Does he want to be traded? Is he staying another year in Chicago? What is the deal with Marc-André Fleury?
There have been numerous reports swirling around the 37-year-old goaltender for the better part of three months now. The Blackhawks do not have a solidified future in net, heck they only have one of their current five goaltenders on NHL contracts signed beyond this season. Prospect Drew Commesso is at least another year away from playing professionally and longer still away from being an NHL-caliber goaltender.
Is Fleury really entertaining the idea of another year in Chicago? I highly doubt it. Yes, he doesn’t want to move his family again, but Fleury is a competitor and I can’t imagine he wants to sign-up for a rebuilding team in the final year(s) of his NHL career. He has a ten-team no-trade clause on his deal officially, and unofficially has an agreement with the Blackhawks that they will not trade him anywhere unless he wants to go.
It’s a lose-lose situation for Davidson. If you do no trade Fleury, you miss-out on getting back future assets for you biggest trade piece at this year’s NHL Trade Deadline. If you do trade him, and if it is against his wishes, then you have a show of bad faith to one of the most well-liked players around the NHL.
Ultimately, I believe Fleury gets traded by March 21. Colorado, Pittsburgh, Vegas, and Toronto are teams I’m keeping an eye on.
Patrick Kane’s Historic Night
In an 8-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night, Patrick Kane was named the first-star of the game with a goal and five primary assists, setting a new career-high for Kane with six points in a single-game. Over his last 16 games, Kane has ten goals and 28 points. He has 64 points in 54 games this season and has jumped into a tie for tenth in the NHL in scoring. While Alex DeBrincat has emerged as the new superstar of the Blackhawks, Kane is reminding us constantly that he is still here and he is still one of the best wingers in the NHL today. Another milestone could be reached by Kane as early as Thursday night’s contest against the Boston Bruins as his next point will tie him with Bobby Hull for the second-most points in Blackhawks franchise history.
Dylan Strome Worth Keeping
Coincidentally, Kane’s recent up-tick in play has come along with playing more often with DeBrincat and Dylan Strome. In Tuesday night’s win over the Ducks, Kane had six points, DeBrincat had four, and Strome also had four while recording his second hat-trick of the season. That trio comprised the top-line for the Blackhawks in the game against Anaheim and if that is the top-line for the 2022-23 season, I have no problems with it.
The Blackhawks need to invest in Alex DeBrincat. I think ultimately Patrick Kane is staying-put in Chicago for his career. As for Dylan Strome, I think what we have seen when he is used properly, as he was in 2018-19 and as he has been for the last 2/3 of this season, is what Strome can be for this team. He’s not a dynamic skater and he’s not great defensively, but we are seeing an improvement at the faceoff dot and an undeniable chemistry with Kane and DeBrincat. He’s playing at a level of a player worthy of his $3.6M RFA qualifying offer. He just turned 25, he’s affordable, he’s worth keeping around as a known commodity.
Trading Dominik Kubalík
I don’t know what has happened to Dominik Kubalík. Once a 30-goal scorer, Kubalík has been nearly invisible this season. Maybe the trade rumors surrounding his time in Chicago have gotten the better of him and he is in his head, or maybe the start to his NHL Career was a product of him playing confidently on the wing of Jonathan Toews during what was likely the last days of “the old Jonathan Toews.”
It feels inevitable that Kubalík will be traded, but his value has fallen drastically as the deadline approaches. If he can garner anything more than a mid-round pick from a contender, it’ll be a pleasant surprise.
Kirby Dach’s Confidence
A confident player is a dangerous player. I think we are seeing an increase in confidence from Kirby Dach. While he didn’t get on the scoresheet in Tuesday night’s 8-3 win over the Ducks, Dach played with confidence. He was engaged in every shift, was around the puck a lot, and made smart plays to create some scoring chances. Eventually those scoring chances will turn into goals.
Dach was moved to the wing for Tuesday night’s game, playing on the second-line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Hagel. Both Hagel and Toews are players who can be effective in their very established roles on the team. That’s a perfect spot for the former third-overall pick. It can allow for Dach to only have to worry about his game and making sure he can find his role alongside those two, rather than having to find his role amongst teammates also looking to find their roles in the lineup.
Blackhawks Usage of IceHogs Prospects
After March 21 is when I expect we will see a major up-tick in younger players and prospects getting more NHL ice-time. Chicago needs to use the final tow months of this season to see what they have in a number of young payers, some of which are on expiring deals this summer.
A few of which include nearly every young defenseman on the Rockford IceHogs’ lineup. Alec Regula, Isaak Phillips, Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin, Jakub Galvas, and Wyatt Kalynuk should be rotating through the NHL lineup over the next six-to-seven weeks. I’m intrigued to see more of Galvas and Regula, as well as what a more well-rounded and developed Ian Mitchell can do back in the NHL ranks.
Besides Lukas Reichel, not many forwards have pushed their way into the conversation to get extended NHL looks with the Blackhawks this season, but I wouldn’t rule out seeing Mike Hardman back with the Blackhawks at some point or seeing Michal Teply, Evan Barratt, or Andrei Altybarmakian get a chance in Chicago to close the year.
Chicago’s Overseas Interests
Finally, the situation in Europe regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a major impact on the world outside of sports. The most important thing are the human lives being affected. I want to make that very clear.
Regarding the impact on the hockey world, recently the NHL announced it had severed connections with the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), making the relationship between NHL teams and their European and Russian prospects a bit dicey.
Chicago was reportedly interested in upcoming KHL free agent Andrei Kuzmenko and has former second-round pick Artur Kayumov becoming a free agent as well this offseason and is eligible to sign a professional deal with the Blackhawks. The current state of affairs make me less than optimistic that Russian players will want to be leaving home to come to the NHL, or that they will even be allowed to, but we’ll see how things play out moving forward.