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Takeaways from Kyle Davidson's press conference, including the decision to not re-sign Jonathan Toews
Kyle Davidson met the Chicago Blackhawks media on Thursday for his annual end-of-season press conference. The Chicago Blackhawks’ GM spoke for over 30 minutes and covered a number of important topics, the biggest of which turned heads all around the city.
Here’s what we learned.
Jonathan Toews will not be back next season.
We’ll start with the day’s biggest news. Captain Jonathan Toews will not be back as a Blackhawk.
“Tonight will be the final game in a Blackhawks jersey for Jonathan Toews, because we will not be re-signing him this summer,” Davidson began. “Words fail to adequately summarize everything that Jonathan has done for the organization … the amazing memories he’s provided. He’ll forever be known as Chicago’s captain.”
“He’s one of the greatest players in team history…of his generation, and some of his milestones and accomplishments will be extremely difficult to match.” Davidson continued. “We can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done. The Blackhawks organization and the City of Chicago will be forever indebted to him for the amazing ride that he took us on.”
Kyle Davidson doesn’t think Jonathan Toews is retiring
As jarring as the Toews news is, it’s not unexpected. However, I was caught off guard a couple of times, as Davidson seemed pretty convinced Toews’ playing career isn’t over.
“Wherever he plays next, he’ll be a Blackhawk forever,” Davidson said.
Sure, maybe that’s a throwaway line, but later in the presser, Davidson doubled down.
NHL.com’s Tracey Myers asked if Toews might have a front-office role with the Blackhawks at some point. “As far as I’m concerned, we believe he’s going to play,” Davidson said. “That door [to join the front office] is not going to be closed if and when that time comes.”
Toews meets the media after Thursday night’s game vs the Flyers. Perhaps he’ll have more insight on his future then.
Moving on from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews opens the door for new leadership voices
The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus asked Davidson, “Why were you so determined to put the past behind you and start without those guys?’
“I don’t think it’s putting the past behind us,” Davidson responded. “It’s more so clearing the deck to allow the organic growth for young players into leadership roles, and offer this new era of Blackhawks player the same opportunity that Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook … they were all offered when they came into the league. When there’s a player like Jonathan or Patrick in your locker room, you defer to them. There’s not a lot of development opportunity there.”
I agree with Davidson on this. One could argue that when Kane and Toews were rookies, they looked around and saw Martin Havlat, Nikolai Khabibulin, Robert Lang, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and they were able to grow into those leadership roles, but none of those veterans carry the weight of Kane or Toews, and Keith and Seabrook were far from established NHLers at that point.
“This is about us trying to get back to where we want to be,” Davidson said. “I don’t know if resting on sentimentality or the past does us any good in the future.”
Kyle Davidson made the right hire in Luke Richardson
Davidson went out of his way to praise head coach Luke Richardson.
“I couldn’t be happier with the job that Luke has done. Him and his staff have created a positive culture in the locker room … cultivated a team identity the city and fans can be proud of. We’re really excited to have him, as well as his whole staff, returning next season.”
When asked specifically what stood out about Richardson, Davidson identified structure and development.
“It’s just that consistency,” Davidson said. “It was something that we saw all year long. I don’t think he’s had a misstep all year.”
Next year’s Blackhawks team will be younger, but not all kids
All season on the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast, we’ve wondered if 2023-24 will be a carbon copy of this season … made up of mostly veteran players on short-term contracts with a Rockford piece sprinkled here or there. On Thursday, Davidson painted a similar, if somewhat younger picture.
“I see the infusion of some of the more talent that you’ve seen on an up-down basis from Rockford more full time, and supporting those young players with some new players in the organization, whether it be free agency or trade,” Davidson said. “We’re going to prioritize flexibility. We’re going to prioritize keeping our salary position advantageous. So that doesn’t mean we’re going out and signing long-term deals. That’s now where we’re at. This is a rebuild. They take time. You can’t take any short cuts.”
So if you’re playing armchair GM, Lukas Reichel will be a full-time NHL player. More on him later, by the way. Cole Guttman seems like an NHL lock. Isaak Phillips will be more of a regular, if not full-time, NHL player. One has to wonder what this means for Wyatt Kaiser and Alex Vlasic. If I had to guess, I think Vlasic moves to the NHL full-time, while Kaiser gets the same assignment Vlasic got this season, playing the vast majority of his games in Rockford before making the full-time jump in 2024-25.
I think more free agents on the same level as Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou might be in the cards, as well. Maybe even specifically Domi.
Lukas Reichel is in Chicago to stay
I had Reichel penciled in for 82 games in Chicago this season, but that wasn’t part of Davidson’s plan. He wanted to see more from Reichel in all areas. Yes, he probably had the ability to come to the NHL and contribute, but there was no need to rush, and that patience has paid off. Anyone who watched this Hawks season saw a different player from Reichel’s first call up to his latest call up.
“Playing center, playing big minutes…every situation…leadership role. As the season went on, he came up and looked really good,” Davidson said. “The plan was for him to go back down, so we stuck to the plan. A huge credit to Lukas, who, after that stint, could have said, ‘You know what, I’m an NHL player…’ that didn’t happen. That speaks to the character of the player and his growth mindset. And then he came up and showed again he was ready for the NHL. He left no doubt.”
Drafting Matvei Michkov is not off the table
If Russian prospect Matvei Michkov’s name was Gordie O’Sullivan, he’d very likely be the second pick in this draft. He has high-end talent, and if he makes the jump to the NHL, could be one of the game’s best players. However, Michkov is under contract in the KHL through the 2025-26 season. It’s also important to remember that it can never be assumed that Russian players will make the jump. Drafting Michkov would be a huge risk for any GM, let alone Davidson, who has been targeting this draft as the true jumping-off point of the rebuild. Would Michkov’s status and uncertainty be too risky for Davidson?
“There’s a lot of information that needs to be gained from here to the draft. As we sit right now, we’ve got a full board. We’re not taking anyone off. We’re looking for the best players. We can’t pass up on talent.”
Yes, this draft is loaded
Davidson continued (vaguely) talking about the talent at the top of the draft. “The top of the draft is good,” Davidson chuckled. “It’s a special top of the draft. The greatness of this draft class is in its depth, as well. There are players down the board that we are really excited about…that we really like.”
“Statistically, every team should [get] a player per team that comes out of a draft, roughly. Let’s beat those odds. Let’s get more than what is traditional. We’ve got the capital to do it. We’ve got the information and the process that we can uncover those players. There are some special players [at the top of the draft], and a really strong down the board group, too.”
Expect Philipp Kurashev to be back
Davidson told the media that their message entering this season was to work on his consistency, and he delivered. “He did that. I thought he had a really strong year,” Davidson said. “For me, at the end of last year, it was kind of ‘We’ll see.’ Now, to me, he’s certainly a bonafide contributor at the NHL level.”
It’s going to be a busy night at CHGO Blackhawks. All three of us will be at the United Center covering the game, Jonathan Toews’ post-game press conference, and more. Join us on the postgame show as soon as things wrap up.
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