The Chicago Blackhawks have seen their fair share of turnover these past weeks. General manager Kyle Davidson said he was committed to a full rebuild; and boy, he wasn’t kidding. He flipped two of the organization’s biggest trading chips for first rounds picks in the 2022 Draft. He didn’t tender qualifying offers to a couple of high-profile forwards, while letting numerous other free agents walk.
It’s tough to see all these familiar faces depart as the Blackhawks head in a different direction. In that vein, let’s give a fond farewell to those who have left, and consider what their future’s may hold elsewhere.
DeBrincat Heads to Ottawa
Arguably the biggest loss of them all was that of star forward Alex DeBrincat. Just hours before the draft, DeBrincat was dealt to the Ottawa Senators for three draft picks: the seventh overall pick and the 39th overall pick, plus a third-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft.
Many argued it was insanity to trade this 24-year-old who scored 41 goals last season. Besides that, this is someone who has worked extremely hard to improve his all-around game, and who plays with great intensity and grit. Plus, he wanted to stay and essentially be one of the new faces of the franchise.
But Davidson felt it was a necessary step to jump-start the rebuild, even with a rather underwhelming return for DeBrincat. Rebuilding involves trading your best assets with the future in mind. That’s what the Blackhawks did.
After he was traded, DeBrincat discussed his thoughts on playing for the fans in Chicago,
Fans affectionately dubbed DeBrincat as The Cat, and he certainly is that feisty forward with an easy-to-love style of play; especially considering he only stands at 5-foot-7. Will you still be following him in Ottawa? The bigger question might be, will DeBrincat still be as successful without one Patrick Kane as his linemate?
Dach Dealt to the Canadiens
Moving on to another big surprise from the draft. The Blackhawks traded Kirby Dach to the Montreal Canadiens for picks No. 13 and No. 66. It’s a little hard to stomach that the former 2019 third overall pick was given up for this return. But Davidson and company didn’t have confidence in Dach turning things around after an underwhelming first few seasons.
It’s controversial the way the Blackhawks handled Dach. He was arguably pushed into the NHL too soon by a franchise that was desperate to turn around a losing 2019-20 campaign. Then Dach missed most of the 2020-21 season after sustaining a wrist injury in the World Junior Championship. The Blackhawks also probably brought him back to soon, this time in a last ditch effort to make the playoffs. Alas, Dach wasn’t able to finish the season due to wrist soreness.
But in the minds of the Blackhawks, there were no more excuses when Dach couldn’t put things together last season. A different path was probably in order for both parties. Dach seems ready for his new challenge.
I think it’ll be good for me to kind of have a fresh start and be the player I know I can be. I feel like I’m pretty offensive and smart with the puck and can make plays but also that reliable two-way centerman that’s big and strong down the middle of the ice that skates well and can make plays. I feel like Montreal is a place I can flourish with that.
Let’s hope the Canadiens can provide more support for the 21-year-old, and his fortunes change for the better.
Strome Signs With the Capitals
It was no surprise when the Blackhawks didn’t offer Dylan Strome a qualifying offer. After all, they’ve been actively trying to trade him for a few seasons now. The team also didn’t feel he was worth his $3.6 million qualifying offer.
Strome probably did catch a little bit of lightning in a bottle with the line of DeBrincat/Strome/Kane. We know Strome’s weaknesses. He has to play with other skilled players, and ideally at the center position to make an impact. That wasn’t going to happen with this new, torn-down to-the-studs Blackhawks’ team.
The Washington Capitals signed Strome to a $3.5 million, one-year deal. This is a team with some excellent talent and depth. The Caps should have more options available to provide the right fit for Strome. Hopefully he can find the same success with them as he did in the latter half of last season with the Blackhawks.
Kubalik Goes to the Red Wings
While the Blackhawks didn’t want to invest in Strome’s $3.6 million qualifying offer, it’s no wonder they didn’t tender Dominik Kubalik his $4 million qualifying offer. After his underwhelming 2021-22 season, it’s safe to say no team in their right mind would offer that much.
Instead, Kubalik agreed to a two-year deal with an annual cap hit of $2.5 million with the Detroit Red Wings. The Czech native doesn’t fit that scrappy, hard-to-play-against persona Davidson seems to be going for in Chicago. Pretty much Kuby’s one strength was scoring goals, and when that went dry the writing was on the wall.
I’d like to reference a quote from Kubalik after he found out he wouldn’t get his qualifying offer from Chicago.
This quote struck me a little bit. As a professional athlete it’s all about the production, and one tends to forget there’s a human being in there. But there IS something to be said about the intangibles of being a good person, a good leader and a good teammate. Also with having the maturity to deal with the cut-throat side of the business.
Best of luck to Kuby in Detroit; I hope he finds his scoring touch again, AND continues to grow as a person and a professional.
Lankinen Will Play With the Predators
When the Blackhawks acquired goaltender Petr Mrazek and the 25th overall pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs in this year’s draft, I thought for sure Mrazek would be the mentor for the younger and less experienced Kevin Lankinen. But Davidson indicated negotiations between the Blackhawks and Lankinen didn’t work out.
Now, we all know the Predators and the Blackhawks are division rivals, and there is no love lost between these two clubs. Watching the affable Lankinen play for the enemy won’t be fun. Although he will back up netminder Juuse Saros, who has fully entrenched himself as the Predator’s starting goaltender. So how much time will Lankinen actually see? Well, probably at least a few of their three games against Chicago next season.
Delia to the Canucks
Keeping with the goaltending theme, Collin Delia was also a free agent this offseason. Unlike Lankinen, Delia never seemed to be a part of the Blackhawks’ future. Which is why it was no real shock when he signed a one-year deal (for $750,000) with the Vancouver Canucks instead.
Delia hails from Rancho Cucamonga, California. It turns out current Canucks netminder Thatcher Demko is from San Diego, California. What a coincidence! Only three goaltenders in NHL history have been from California (the third being John Blue who played for the Boston Bruins and the Buffalo Sabres). Besides bonding about covering the crease, Demko and Delia will have their California connection to talk about!
It’s a bit sad to see the Blackhawks let both of their netminders go that have been in the system for a few years now. But both Lankinen and Delia will likely be working behind a better team than they would have with the Blackhawks.
Canucks Take Kalynuk Too
The Canucks also signed defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk for the same pay and term as Delia. Kalynuk was a fringe player, spending most of his time with the Rockford IceHogs in his two seasons in Chicago. He only played in 26 NHL games in that span; 21 of them being in the 2020-21 season. His best stint was in April of 2021, where he notched four goals and fours assists in 13 games. At the time, he was touted for his offensive contributions and poise with the puck.
But the 25-year-old only saw five NHL games in the 2021-22 season. The Blackhawks have a plethora of defensive prospects, so they obviously wanted to go in a different direction.
Free Agent Blueliners Gustafsson & de Haan
Since spending his first three seasons in the NHL with the Blackhawks, defenseman Erik Gustafsson has suited up with four different clubs in the past four years, including a second stint in Chicago. He will join his fifth club next season, as he signed a one-year deal with the Capitals. Gustafsson has a lot of holes to his game, but he always manages to find a landing spot. Let’s see how he fares with the Caps.
Calvin de Haan, on the other hand, is still without a home. Unlike Gustafsson, de Haan is a proven steady and reliable stay-at-home defenseman. But his skill set also demands a larger paycheck. De Haan’s previous cap hit was $4.5 million. His age is something that could make teams pause as well. Where the 31-year-old veteran ends up remains to be seen.
Borgstrom & Connolly Bought Out
Finally, let’s get to the Blackhawks’ buyouts of Henrik Borgstrom and Brett Connolly. Both players came over to the Blackhawks in Apr. 2021 as part of a five-player trade with the Florida Panthers. Borgstrom was the main attraction in this deal, with the Blackhawks willing to take on veteran Connolly’s $3.5 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season. Borgstrom was then signed to a two-year deal with a $1 million cap hit.
As we know, Borgstrom didn’t pan out as planned. He only managed four goals and seven points in 52 games last season. Connolly played most of the season with the IceHogs. Which is why it was no surprise when both were bought out last week. It was all part of Davidson cleaning house from the old regime. To be fair, he offered that he was trying to do right by the players.
Borgstrom will join former teammates Strome and Gustafsson with the Capitals. All three players signed one-year contracts. At the time of this writing, Connolly is still without a contract.
All in all, the Blackhawks have said goodbye to 11 players so far this offseason due to trades, free agency and buyouts. That’s a lot of turnover. As outlined above, these players have made varying contributions to the Blackhawks. They will be missed, some more than others. But the show must go one, and we will eventually embrace the new-look Blackhawks. It could be a long and tough ride. But like it or not, the rebuild is on. Farewell to the old, prepare for the new.
Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up, and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibility’s with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Quote to live by, “Follow your dreams, and good things will happen.” Wait, maybe it’s “Good things happen when you shoot the puck!” You get the idea.
Follow Gail for her unique commentary about this storied franchise. And be sure to catch her and the rest of the Blackhawks’ crew on their weekly Blackhawks Banter show, as well as follow her on Twitter.