The futures of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will be the stories of the season until the NHL Trade Deadline comes and goes on March 3. Both are due to be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season, and have full no-movement clauses in their contracts. Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson has said he will not approach either player about a trade, so the two Blackhawks icons hold all the cards as they pertain to their futures. Both players have said they’re taking a “wait and see” approach to the season, so 12 games in, where do we think Kane and Toews stand?
Surprisingly, this hasn’t been a postgame question after every game, which speaks to how clearly both players stated their positions before the season.
“To be honest with you, there really hasn’t been like much discussion about anything, even with my agent or my family,” Kane said on September 22 ahead of the season. “It’s not anything we’ve really discussed.”
“I don’t think anything’s gotten to that point, or even close to it,” Toews said. “I don’t think it will for quite some time this season. The thought for myself personally has always been to keep trudging forward and getting better.”
Toews has experienced quite the resurgence. He leads the team with seven goals in 12 games and has nine points overall. He’s been excellent at the faceoff dot, winning nearly 60 percent of his draws. He’s always been tough to read on the ice, but considering his return to form, coupled with the team’s better-than-expected start, it’s safe to assume he doesn’t have a foot out the door quite yet.
As for Kane, it feels odd to say he’s off to a “slow” start. He leads the team in scoring, as usual, with 10 points in 12 games. He only has two goals but leads the team with 31 shots. His shooting percentage is an unsustainably low 6.5 percent, compared to 11.6 percent for his career.
As you can see in the highlight above, there have been a few moments of frustration from Kane. However, if you’re in the “I want Patrick Kane to stay” camp, I think that’s good news. He’s upset he’s not pulling his weight. He’s frustrated the puck isn’t going in like it usually does for him. It’s not frustration with the team or its direction, it’s frustration with himself. In fact, this season I saw Patrick Kane do something I’ve never seen him do before. He went to the penalty box to fist-bump a teammate for sticking up for him.
Both of the Blackhawks leaders seem to be pretty on board with what’s going on with this version of the team.
Which leads to the question…
What if Kane and Toews stay?
If Kane, Toews, or both decide to stay, does that mean the rebuild is shot? Not necessarily, for several reasons. Even with Kane and Toews, the Blackhawks are not a great team, despite their unexpected 5-5-2 start. Even with Kane and Toews, the Blackhawks are expected to make several deadline moves, which will almost certainly include trading Andrea Athanasiou and Max Domi. Whether or not 19 and 88 are there on March 4 or not, the team will be markedly worse at that point. Davidson is not straying from his plan, despite the team not completely sucking.
The other factor to consider, which we discussed on Monday’s CHGO Blackhawks Podcast, is the ability to trade negotiating rights. Kane and Toews remain Blackhawks until free agency begins on July 1, so from the NHL Draft on June 28 until free agency begins on July 1, the Blackhawks can trade either players’ rights to a team wanting the first crack at working out a deal. For instance, if the New York Rangers want to guarantee their shot at Kane before he reaches the open market, they can negotiate a trade with the Hawks to secure those rights. The Blackhawks did this way back in 2011, trading a conditional seventh-round pick to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Steve Montador. Obviously, the trade return would look nothing like it would look ahead of the deadline, but it’s an opportunity for the Hawks to pick up an asset instead of losing either player for nothing.
What if the Blackhawks are too good to land Bedard?
The Hawks currently hold the twelfth-worst record in the NHL. That will NOT land them a top-three pick. Connor Bedard is absolutely lighting it up, with 31 points in 16 games for the Regina Pats this season. He is a generational, franchise-altering player. Whichever team lands the No. 1 pick will be selecting Bedard, barring some major catastrophe. However, players like Michigan’s Adam Fantilli, Russian superstar Matvei Michkov and others who are expected to go in the top of the draft, might be a notch behind Bedard. If Davidson sees one of those players as the “must-have” target, he has already acquired the draft capital to make it happen.
The Blackhawks have 12 picks in the first three rounds of the next two drafts, and that’s before they sell off more pieces at this year’s deadline. They also have a strong group of defensive prospects they can package to sweeten a deal. Davidson is constantly looking for ways to pick up assets, and it’s not just to have several lottery tickets in his pocket. Don’t rule out some aggressive moves come draft day should the Blackhawks prove “too competitive.”