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After playing seven seasons with the Buffalo Sabres organization, the atmosphere around the NHL Trade Deadline probably becomes commonplace.
No, we’re not talking about Jack Eichel, but rather a lesser well-known former Sabre in Blackhawks defenseman Jake McCabe.
McCabe came to the Chicago this summer with postseason aspirations. McCabe, along with Seth Jones, Tyler Johnson, and Marc-André Fleury, were the offseason acquisitions that many believed could put the Blackhawks over the hump in the Western Conference this season and bring “real” playoff hockey back to Chicago.
That hasn’t been the case this season.
With Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline looming just a week away, the atmosphere in the locker room is all too familiar for McCabe.
“I hate to say it’s like normal,” the 28-year-old said on Monday. “Unfortunately, I’ve been on selling teams every year at the deadline. As you play in this league for a few years, you figure out how the business side works.”
The Blackhawks will be sellers over the next week, eventually once the dam on the trade market opens, and they are going to be in a rebuilding mindset according to new general manager Kyle Davidson. We will likely see players like Dominik Kubalík and Calvin de Haan traded and maybe Dylan Strome and Marc-André Fleury as well.
Once looked at as a roster that could have made some noise at this point of the season and later into the spring, McCabe and the Blackhawks will likely see a number of players in the postseason after all, just wearing different sweaters.
“It’s tough when you see buddies go, but also exciting for them, too, if they’re going to chase it and going to a contender. It can be an exciting thing. It is a little bit of a weird week.”
McCabe signed a four-year, $4 million AAV deal with the Blackhawks this past summer, coming to play for the team in the city he had adopted as his summer home for the past few years. Coming off season-ending knee surgery with Buffalo last year, McCabe was likely hoping to replicate his start to the 2021 year when he got back on the ice with Chicago.
That, too, has not been the case for the former second-round pick.
In 53 games this season, McCabe has three goals and 11 assists while averaging 19:57 minutes per game. It’s the second-most ice-time he has averaged in his career, just behind his 20:42 minutes per game he played in the 2016-17 season, and his 14 points are already tied for his second-best output in his career, following a 20-point effort that also came during that 2016-17 season.
While the Blackhawks likely should be listening to all offers on all players as this week progresses, it’s likely McCabe will not be moved at the deadline. He figures to be part of the group that will be leading the “new core” into the new era of Blackhawks hockey, especially on the blue-line where players like Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin, Jakub Galvas, and Alec Regula could all have roles with Chicago in the near future.
It’s a role that McCabe has embraced as a veteran.
“All of them really throughout this season have done a phenomenal job stepping in, whether it’s Galvy, Regula, Mitchy, Wyatt. All of them have done a great job stepping in and playing big roles and big minutes when we need them to. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
With Calvin de Haan and potentially Erik Gustafsson on the move, there will be at least two roster spots open for the Blackhawks to fill at the end of the year and into next season. Add in that Caleb Jones will need a new deal this summer and a third roster spot could be open heading into next season. McCabe will be in the rotation, as will Seth Jones and Connor Murphy. It’s not Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, but it’s a group that can help set the tone for the future in Chicago.
“It is nice to have some familiarity and have big pieces of teams left over from year to year to build an identity.” McCabe said of the future in Chicago. There’s a young group already in-place for the Blackhawks which includes Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach, Dylan Strome, and Lukas Reichel, but it’s those “big pieces” McCabe talks about, meaning Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, whose futures seem far from settled in Chicago. While they would help set the identity of the new era of the Blackhawks, their value on the trade market could potentially mean more than what they bring to the team off the ice.
Those are all decisions Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson will have to make in the coming weeks and months, something McCabe wants no part of.
“I don’t make those decisions,” McCabe said. “I don’t like to touch on the roster building stuff. I try to do my job the best I can and let Kyle do his.”
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