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It’s somehow only been a month since the Blackhawks named Luke Richardson the 40th head coach in franchise history. So much has happened since then, and while the moves are not all related, they do shed some light on what both the hockey and business sides of the franchise have planned.
On the Ice
Luke Richardson hired
The more we learn about Richardson, the better I feel about the hire. At first, it was a bit concerning the Blackhawks were the only team looking to hire the former Canadiens assistant, but since news of the hire leaked, praise from players and analysts has been plentiful.
“His calming influence behind the bench and little tips he would give you, or the entire D corps, that you would normally never think about, different ways to play different situations, he helped me tremendously,” former Montreal d-man Jeff Petry told The Athletic in 2019.
The Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowen tweeted, “Great hire by Chicago, big loss for Habs.”
The team announced on July 11 that Richardson had added Kevin Dean and former Blackhawks interim head coach Derek King to his staff.
Later, it was revealed that Richardson will not use the man-on-man or “man plus one” system Jeremy Colliton implemented during his time as head coach. There was much rejoicing.
Richardson seems like a coach who knows how to use the pieces he has in the roles they are best suited for. The next few years will be a massive challenge for the new head coach, but he’ll be given the needed patience and time to see this rebuild through to the other side.
Huge Trades / NHL Draft
One of the worst-kept secrets of the offseason was the Blackhawks looking to move Alex DeBrincat. They did so at the NHL Draft on July 7. While fans and analysts were dreaming about a potentially massive return, Kyle Davidson and company weren’t able to deliver the huge trade package many had hoped for. DeBrincat went to Ottawa for the 7th overall pick (Seattle Thunderbirds defenseman Kevin Korchinski), the 39th overall pick (Kingston Frontenacs center Paul Ludwinski), and the Senators’ 3rd round pick in the 2024 draft.
After the initial shock and disappointment wore off, it was clear to see that DeBrincat has his heart set on testing free agency next summer and that signing a long-term deal was off the table. This reduced the number of teams who were willing to sell the farm for a one-year rental.
Later that night, the Blackhawks traded former No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach to Montreal. In exchange, Chicago received the 13th overall pick (USNDT center Frank Nazar) and the 66th overall pick (Flint Firebirds forward Gavin Hayes).
Finally, the Blackhawks took advantage of the Maple Leafs’ cap woes and leveraged their space to solve their goaltending problem while picking up yet another first-round pick, moving their #38 overall pick to Toronto for the 25th overall pick (Waterloo Black Hawks defenseman Sam Rinzel) and goaltender Petr Mrazek.
So the Blackhawks, who entered the evening with zero first-round picks, ended the night with three. Two of which (Nazar and Korchinski) rank in the Top 50 NHL Prospects list just published by the Athletic’s Scott Wheeler (who will be a guest on Thursday’s CHGO Blackhawks show).
All of the Blackhawks’ first-round picks were on hand for the team’s Development Camp, and while it’s hard to glean too much from drills and loose scrimmages, all the players who you wanted to stand out stood out. Nazar and Korchinski looked every bit like first-round picks. Nolan Allan, whom the Blackhawks selected in the first round in 2021, looked the part as well. Defenseman Ethan Del Mastro looked like a seasoned NHL vet based on his size alone, even though he’s just 19 years old. While none of these players will have an impact in Rockford or Chicago this season, the future looks bright for the first time in a long time.
With the departures of DeBrincat and Dach (and the eventual departures of Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik, Henrik Borgstrom and Erik Gustafsson) the Blackhawks needed to fill some roster spots. They did so, signing a trio of forwards. Andreas Athanasiou and Max Domi each signed identical one-year $3 million deals. Colin Blackwell signed a two-year $1.2 million deal.
They also signed goaltender Alex Stalock to a one-year, $750,000 deal to back up Mrazek.
In Domi and Athanasiou, the Hawks get two players who are looking to bet on and position themselves for a more lucrative contract next summer. For Chicago, they get two very flippable assets who they can easily move for draft picks or middling prospects at this year’s trade deadline. It’s a win-win situation for all parties, and frankly, Athanasiou and Domi are higher-quality players than I expected the Hawks to land.
Blackwell seems to be in the longer-term plans for the team. Stalock is also looking for a bounce-back, after missing most of last season with a COVID-related heart issue. He appeared in only one game with San Jose last season, but has a 2.64 GAA and a .908 save percentage over 152 NHL games. Both he and Mrazek could also be candidates for deadline flips if either bounces back.
If we look at the offseason’s hockey moves as a whole, they make perfect sense for a team that is long overdue for a full-out rebuild. While it was painful to lose DeBrincat, especially for less than we all initially expected, you can see Davidson’s vision … something his predecessor lacked. Whether or not the rebuild will work remains to be seen, but the plan is sound.
Now, we wait to find out what Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane want to do with their futures.
Off the Ice
The biggest shock of the offseason didn’t happen at the draft, at free agency, or anywhere on the transaction wire, but in the broadcast booth. Last week, it was revealed that Eddie Olczyk and the team were unable to come to terms on a new deal and Olczyk signed a new deal with the Seattle Kraken.
Olczyk has said repeatedly that it wasn’t about money and wasn’t about term. Sources tell me that the Blackhawks were unwilling to guarantee his five-year contract. Others tell me that Olczyk wanted a full-time or expanded role for his son Nick, who filled in wonderfully on Blackhawks radio broadcasts. Whatever the reason for his departure, the Blackhawks are short-sighted in letting this happen. Olczyk should have been the face of the rebuild. He’s a trusted voice who could have spun what was happening on the ice in a positive way. Instead, the Blackhawks are screwing Chris Vosters, who was already taxed with replacing Pat Foley. Now he doesn’t have Olczyk in his corner “putting him over,” to use a wrestling term.
Maybe what Olczyk was asking for was a bridge too far for the Blackhawks. Too bad. He’s a made man and has earned everything he’d possibly ask for.
What concerns me is the Hawks seeming obsession with “going young.” I praised the team for bringing Jaime Faulkner in to lead the business side of things. I felt the team needed an outside voice to lead them into this century. I do fear, however, that she may be too focused on “appealing to young fans” and missing the obvious greatness (Olczyk) that was right in front of her face. Olczyk, 55, is not going to turn away any young fans. The organization’s lack of a guaranteed contract may have signaled to Olczyk that he wasn’t in their long-term plans. If I was Eddie, I’d feel the same way.
Native American Initiatives
On Thursday, Danny Wirtz released a video marking the two-year anniversary of their Native American initiatives. While the video failed to address the future of the Blackhawks logo, Wirtz (and his team of writers) did a wonderful job of laying out the work that has been done, and what will be done going forward, including a scholarship program for indigenous students. The team is also helping to develop an app to help the Sac and Fox nations maintain their native languages. The Blackhawks are putting their money where their mouths are on these causes. You can, of course, question the sincerity of these initiatives. Is it just damage control to prevent a seemingly inevitable logo change? Perhaps, but the action is real and the results are real, and that’s what matters. The Blackhawks land acknowledgement, shown on the scoreboard before every home game at the United Center, is wonderfully produced and emotional. Make it a point to see it next time you’re at a game.
How all of these franchise-altering events occurred over the just last 30 days is a bit staggering when you think about it. June 27-July 27, 2022 might be one of the most important months in franchise history.
Time will tell if we look back on it fondly, or with regret.
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