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Blackhawks notebook: The curious case of trading Marc-André Fleury, Patrick Kane's legacy, IceHogs fighting for the postseason and more!
We are just about five days from the NHL Trade Deadline. There has been little movement in the league and the Chicago Blackhawks are sitting here with a bunch of moveable players and a rebuild to start.
So what are we waiting for?
While Chicago GM Kyle Davidson said the team doesn’t get to set the market on trades, they cannot afford to wait too long before making moves to get the rebuild off on the right foot. Davidson is sort of right, but more wrong in the sense that the Blackhawks could set the trade market, at least for goaltenders, with one player: Marc-André Fleury.
Marc-André Fleury moving on or staying put?
I feel like every day for the past two months, I’ve had to think about all the angles, consequences, and considerations to the Blackhawks either keeping or trading goaltender Marc-André Fleury. He holds a 10-team no-trade list and a handshake agreement with former GM Stan Bowman to not be traded this season. New GM Kyle Davidson is going to honor that agreement to not move Fleury unless he truly feels alright about leaving his family in Chicago, or outright moving them along with him to a new city.
The topic has been talked to death at this point. There are clearly teams that need goaltending help, Fleury is clearly playing at a high level where he could be a goaltender to lead a postseason run, and the Blackhawks need as much future draft capital and high-end prospects as possible. It comes down to what Fleury wants to do and as we are five days from the trade deadline, my sense tells me that as much as Chicago needs to move him, they ultimately won’t.
Derek King coaching for his job?
We do know the Blackhawks will be searching for a new head coach this summer. Potentially, unlike with their GM search, Chicago could look outside of the organization to find a coach to lead a rebuilding team.
But their in-house option of Derek King kinda already fits the bill.
He’s good with young players and seems to command more respect from the locker room than Jeremy Colliton was getting or maybe ever did. Chicago has been better, but not good enough under him this season to have saved the season. From all accounts, King appears to already have some sort of role with the coaching staff for next season, whether it’s head coach or not. But at a time in the year where wins and losses no longer matter to the Blackhawks, they appear to be mattering to King.
His lineup construction and deployment have screamed “trying to win no matter what” to me for the past few games. The top line of Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Patrick Kane has been clicking at an incredible rate in the past two weeks and King is giving them close to or over 20-minutes of ice time every night. Things will likely change by this time next week. But for the next two games, probably expect more of the same and trying to squeeze every last point out of this pre-trade deadline roster from King.
Dominik Kubalík’s disappearing act
When it comes to ice time and trying to showcase the trade pieces on the roster, one player getting less and less run is Dominik Kubalík. But it’s warranted. He’s done nothing of consequence for the club for nearly two months. Since January 21, Kubalík has two goals and five points in 22 games. One of those two goals was essentially an empty-net goal on March 3 against the Oilers. He’s subsequently seen his ice-time decrease, having less than 14 minutes in 14 of those 22 games, including 9:34 minutes on February 25 against New Jersey, 7:23 minutes and 8:46 minutes on March 10 and 15 against the Bruins.
A confident player is a dangerous player. Kubalík is not playing confidently. Even in practice, hitting the net and getting good shots off seems to be a chore for him. His body language is not good and I don’t know what he could bring the Blackhawks of high value in a trade. Reports from Mark Lazerus and Scott Powers of The Athletic say that Chicago is looking for a second-round pick for him, but I don’t see a team offering a pick that high.
Patrick Kane and his Chicago legacy
One player that would bring back potentially the biggest trade haul is Patrick Kane. He controls his future in Chicago with a no-movement clause on his current contract. He also has expressed numerous times his desire to play his whole career in Chicago. He just recently passed Bobby Hull for the second-most points all-time for the franchise and would surpass Stan Mikita for the top spot with 312 more points in a Blackhawks sweater. Fitting.
No matter how or where his NHL career ends, No. 88 will be in the rafters at the United Center and there’s likely already a statue of him commissioned.
But with him being eligible for a contract extension on July 13, all the focus is going to continue to be on his future with the team. Whether or not he’d waive his no-movement clause to help the rebuild and chase more Stanley Cups with a contending team, or if he’ll sign another extension with Chicago and essentially line-up to end his playing days with Chicago. Option one is arguably better for the Blackhawks in the long-term, but the ripple effect of trading Kane could set the organization back in terms of fan support.
Is Kane going to be a top-six player in three, four, or five more years when the Blackhawks are hopefully contending for the Stanley Cup playoffs again? Maybe. But is that worth risking holding onto him too long and being stuck with a $10M+ player who no longer can produce at a $10M+ rate?
More young defensemen
Chicago signed 2019 second-round draft pick Alex Vlasic to his entry-level contract yesterday. The 20-year-old joins an already crowded defensive prospect pool for the Blackhawks after three NCAA seasons with Boston University. Vlasic is a big-bodied defenseman at 6-foot-6 and 210+ pounds. He moves well for a player his age and size, and the focus for him in his development at the professional level will be catching up to the speed of the game, processing it, and translating that to good decision-making with the puck and being able to hold his own in the defensive end and in transition.
He is a shutdown-style blueliner with size, something that Chicago’s defensive prospect pool has been lacking. He’ll join the team tomorrow and will likely get into a few NHL games down the stretch. I’d put money on the Wilmette-native playing on Sunday at the United Center. Beyond that, who knows? He has a lot of potential, a lot of time to develop, and could end up playing a key role for the Rockford IceHogs down the stretch of the AHL season.
Rockford IceHogs’ postseason push
It’s very clear that Kyle Davidson is in no rush to rush prospects up to the NHL. At least so far. Top-forward prospect Lukas Reichel has been a catalyst for the IceHogs this season and under Stan Bowman, he probably would have been brought up to the NHL roster already this season on a more permanent basis. But Davidson’s plan looks to be to play Reichel less than 10 games in the NHL this season so his rookie contract can slide a year and he’ll be an NHL rookie for the first time, again, next season.
That has worked out in the favor of the IceHogs. Currently sitting in fifth-place in the AHL Central Division, Rockford is benefitting from having Reichel and from having the AHL postseason expanding to allow 23 teams into the Calder Cup Playoffs. Reichel, along with other top performers like Ian Mitchell, Isaak Phillips, Michal Teply, Alec Regula, Mike Hardman, and Arvid Söderblom, just to name a few, are hoping to push the IceHogs over the hump and back into the postseason for the first time since reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2018.
They’ll play next on back-to-back nights Saturday and Sunday, with the NHL Trade Deadline coming that Monday afternoon. Once that comes and goes, there will likely be a rotation of young players going back and forth between Rockford and Chicago as both the NHL and AHL seasons reach their end. Hopefully, the IceHogs can handle the rotation well enough to hold onto their current playoff spot and postseason hockey can be had at the BMO Harris Bank Center this spring.
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