Toews is not happy with idea of Blackhawks rebuild; Can they pull one off?

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After trading Brandon Saad and letting Corey Crawford walk, it sure looks like the Chicago Blackhawks hit the “rebuild” button. From the sound of things, key Blackhawks such as Jonathan Toews aren’t thrilled with said rebuild.

Blackhawks, including Toews, not happy with idea of a rebuild

A source told the Athletic’s Mark Lazerus (sub required) that Toews, Patrick Kane, and others are “pissed” that the Blackhawks (seemingly suddenly) decided to rebuild. While Toews didn’t use that same tone in a recent interview with Lazerus, he also didn’t approve of the plan.

“Bottom line is, I want to win,” Toews said on Saturday, via Lazerus. “The expectation for the other leaders on this team and myself is to come ready to training camp every year to be a playoff team. We prepare ourselves to win a Cup for our fans. I’ve never been told that we were going through a rebuild. That has never been communicated to me, for that matter. A lot of this comes as a shock because it’s a completely different direction than we expected.”

Considering that Toews is 32, and Patrick Kane is 31, it’s understandable that they aren’t thrilled with the idea of waiting. And they might be convinced — maybe too convinced — after the team waded into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs after beating the Oilers in the Qualifying Round.

But, let’s be honest. If anything, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman could be dinged for waiting too long to rebuild. If you believe they at least made gestures toward rebuilding, maybe a one-foot-in, one-foot-out plan was flawed?

Could they have gotten more than a third-round pick for Erik Gustafsson if they traded him after that 60-point season, instead of watching his trade value cool off? Would the odds of trading Brent Seabrook have been higher earlier? Maybe a full-on rebuild would’ve given them a better chance to land an extra blue chip prospect or two? (For every Robin Lehner trade that involved a pick, there were a few player-for-player deals; getting futures made more sense than Nikita Zadorov in the Brandon Saad trade.)

[MORE: 2020 NHL Draft Results; Winners and Losers]

How strong is the Blackhawks’ prospect pool?

So, again, Chicago probably should have pulled off the Band-Aid and started a rebuild earlier.

With that aside, how far along are the Blackhawks when it comes to prospects?

To start, they didn’t really land extra “dart throws” in the 2020 NHL Draft. They picked Lukas Reichel at the 17th pick, while only having one pick (a third-rounder) on top of the typical set of seven picks. Looking toward 2021, they actually only have six picks, as they lack a third-rounder.

Looking at work from The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler and others, the Blackhawks’ farm system is solid, but not astoundingly strong. Back in February, Wheeler ranked the Blackhawks’ prospect pool 12th overall., with Adam Boqvist leading the way. Following the 2020 NHL Draft, the Blackhawks ranked among six teams that didn’t have a top 50 prospect among players who hadn’t yet made the NHL leap, according to Wheeler. (Note: subscription required for articles at The Athletic.)

Back in June, Dobber Hockey ranked the Blackhawks’ pool at 11th. So, generally, pundits place the Blackhawks closer to the top third of prospect pools rather than the middle of the pack. Could be better, could be worse.

They at least seem pretty well-stocked on defense, but there’s plenty of work to do.

Key questions for Blackhawks as they enter unofficial rebuild

Overall, the Blackhawks’ pipeline seems solid, although they should actively pursue true impact prospects. Frankly, that’s where they might need to tank, and upset veterans such as Toews and Kane. Let’s look at the other factors of a Blackhawks rebuild.

How much will veterans have left?

Again, Kane is 31 and Toews is 32; they boast matching $10.5 million cap hits that run through 2022-23. Duncan Keith, 37, also sees his contract ($5.54M AAV) expire after three seasons, while 35-year-old Brent Seabrook’s punishing contract ($6.9M) won’t end until after 2023-24.

By the time the Blackhawks’ rebuild makes big strides, will Kane and Toews have much to offer? While Seabrook teeters between replacement-level and a potential future on LTIR, Keith’s seen a dramatic drop-off, even just from 2018-19 to 2019-20.

Duncan Keith SKATR; Blackhawks rebuild
via Bill Comeau/SKATR tool

If the thought of a rebuild repluses these players, then they might fall in line with a lot of others who waived their no-trade/no-movement clauses over the years. Keith seems like the most realistic potential trade chip, although who knows with salary retention? And who knows how many teams would take on those contracts, even at reduced rates?

(Then again, this is the NHL. Even wildly expensive contracts get moved with staggering consistency.)

Which younger players are true “core” players?

Over time, the Blackhawks will figure out how prominent Kirby Dach, Boqvist, Reichel, and other prospects fit into their rebuilded roster. But what about players who fall between prospect and aging veteran designations?

Alex DeBrincat, 22, has already emerged as a top contributor, even after a bumpy 2019-20. But are Alexander Nylander (22) and Dylan Strome (23) going to justify their high draft statuses from before they were Blackhawks? And how much will they cost, being that Strome is an RFA, and Nylander is slated for that status after 2020-21?

Identifying keepers vs. trade fodder ranks among the Blackhawks’ key tasks during a rebuild. If they’re proactive, they can flip players for picks and prospects (Lehner style), rather than deciding too late and letting them walk. If you’re going to lose players like Corey Crawford, why not at least get picks for your trouble … more often than not? Don’t leave stones unturned any longer when it comes to spotting value.

Blackhawks rebuild DeBrincat Strome Murphy
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Do they have a goalie of the future?

When it comes to tanking, team-building can become cynical. For instance: letting Crawford walk in free agency makes sense because, well, he’s often been good enough to steal wins.

But the bottom line is that the Blackhawks are basically back to square one when it comes to goaltending.

Heading into 2020-21, they boast two 26-year-old goalies in Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia. While Subban entered the NHL with hype (24th pick in 2012) and Delia did not (undrafted), neither have made much of an NHL impact.

Maybe it will come down to a prospect or future free agent pickup. If nothing else, Chicago’s taken some swings, selecting one goalie in each of the last three drafts. 2020 NHL Draft pick Drew Commesso represents the biggest investment of the three as a second-rounder (46th overall).

So, there are some big questions in net. On the bright side, free agency might be the most efficient way to address goalie options anyway, even if it’s also a big grabbag of mysteries.

Final thoughts on Blackhawks rebuild

Overall, the Blackhawks have a lot of work to do if they’re rolling with a rebuild. In other words, Toews might want to get used to this feeling, unless the organization makes another jarring about-face.

How long do you think a Blackhawks rebuild would take? And do you even think rebuilding is their best option?

From here, it looks like easier said than done.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Stars sign 41-goal scorer Jason Robertson to 4-year, $31M deal

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FRISCO, Texas — Jason Robertson signed a four-year, $31 million contract with the Dallas Stars after the young 40-goal scorer missed the first two weeks of training camp.

The Stars announced the deal after their exhibition game in Denver, only a week before the regular season opener Oct. 13 at Nashville.

Robertson turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when the left wing had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. His 13 power-play goals led the team. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

“Jason is an integral part of the present and future of our team and we’re thrilled to have him for the next four years,” general manager Jim Nill said.

A second-round draft pick (39th overall) by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. The 6-foot-3 California native had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

“Since he was drafted by our organization, he has worked tirelessly to become a better player every day. His knack for scoring goals and seeing plays develop on the ice are just some of the tremendous assets that he brings to our team,” Nill said. “He is one of the best young players in the NHL, and we look forward to seeing him continue to progress.”

Robertson had the second-highest point total for a Stars rookie in 2020-21, when he had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in his 51 games.

Before the start of this season’s camp, new coach Pete DeBoer said he looked forward to coaching Robertson.

“Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here,” DeBoer said then. “So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Robertson will finally be there now.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.