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When the Chicago Blackhawks stayed in-house by making Kyle Davidson the full-time general manager on March 1, much of the fan base was skeptical. Many felt this was the perfect time for the team to look outside the franchise to bring in a set of fresh eyes. Instead, they gave the job to someone who spent the last 12 seasons working under Stan Bowman. This gave the impression that things would remain status quo on Madison Street.
However, after Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline, the league’s youngest general manager showed that he will not be a pushover.
Davidson’s first major move shows that he will be aggressive and listen to any offer that comes his way. He got a tremendous return for Brandon Hagel while his trade value was at an all-time high. Landing two first-round picks and two players already impacting the current roster was quite the haul. Striking while the iron is hot is not something his predecessor was very good at. Stan Bowman was never shy to pull the trigger on a trade, but he rarely got fair value in his deals.
When Bowman needed to trim salary following the 2010 Stanley Cup win, he had a player in Dustin Byfuglien with astronomical trade value. He packaged him with Akim Aliu, Ben Eager, and Brent Sopel in a deal with the Atlanta Thrashers for a first and second-round draft pick, Joey Crabb, Jeremy Morin, and Marty Reasoner. The draft picks were used on Kevin Hayes and Justin Holl, who never played with the Blackhawks. In fact, the net return was eight goals and 16 points in 54 NHL games by Morin.
This was far from the only misstep by Bowman. Before the 2014-15 season, he traded defenseman Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders for T.J. Brennan, Anders Nilsson, and Ville Pokka. Since this trade, Leddy has played 574 games, while the Blackhawks got zero NHL games out of the three players acquired. Giving up Teuvo Tervainen to get the Carolina Hurricanes to take Bryan Bickell’s contract was a giant swing and a miss. Trading Henri Jokiharju for Alex Nylander was another terrible move by Bowman. At least Davidson was able to turn Nylander into Sam Lafferty.
Davidson has already proved that he will be aggressive in getting exactly what he wants. He played hardball with the Minnesota Wild to get what he wanted for goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. According to Michael Russo of The Athletic, Minnesota general manager Bill Guerin called about Fleury two weeks before Monday’s deadline but wasn’t willing to give up a first-round pick. Davidson would not back off his asking price and eventually got a conditional first-round pick. In fact, Davidson wanted the Wild to include young goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen in the trade, but he was already promised to the San Jose Sharks pending the Fleury deal.
The Blackhawks’ young general manager has ruffled some feathers, which is not a bad thing. TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that Davidson offered both Fleury and Hagel to the Toronto Maple Leafs for goaltender Petr Mrazek, top prospect Matthew Knies, and two first-round picks, but it was turned down.
Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas did not appreciate that this information was leaked. “I’m disappointed that that conversation went public,” he told Mark Masters of TSN. “I’ve never had that happen before where the specifics like that have been made public.”
Not sure what evidence Dubas has that the leak came from Davidson or even out of Chicago at all. Maybe he is mad that he is taking heat from his rabid fan base because he didn’t pull the trigger on a trade that could have made them bigger championship contenders. During his post-deadline press conference, Davidson said he was aware of the comments and would address them in private with Dubas. So, not only has he been bullish in negotiations, but he knows when to take the high road.
One of Davidson’s misses at the deadline was failing to move veteran defenseman Calvin de Haan, who will be an unrestricted free agent. He revealed that his asking price was not met, so he didn’t take anything less.
“If the value’s not met, then you value the player more than anyone else,” Davidson said. “If something didn’t happen, we hold more value in that player than the other team. … We’re happy with the players that are here. We value them more than other teams around the league, clearly, so we’re happy they’re still with the Blackhawks.”
On the one hand, it is disappointing not to get an asset for a player who will leave via free agency this summer. But, on the other hand, you have to respect a young general manager who stands his ground. Davidson is showing the rest of the league that he will be a stern negotiator, and you better pack a lunch when heading to the bargaining table.
Davidson is also showing that he has patience in handling his young prospects. Players like Lukas Reichel, Ian Mitchell, Wyatt Kalynuk, and Nicolas Beaudin have all been allowed to develop with the Rockford IceHogs. Bowman struggled mightily when it came to bringing along his draft picks. A lack of patience often led to players being rushed to the NHL, with quite a few being given up on altogether far too early.
The Davidson era has just begun, and there are a lot of tough decisions to be made. As long as he hits on more of those than he misses, the Blackhawks will be in good shape. He has shown that he will not be pushed around by his counterparts and that he understands development takes time. These traits will serve him well behind the general manager’s desk.
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