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 or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rangers sign Filip Chytil to 4-year extension

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NEW YORK — The New York Rangers have signed forward Filip Chytil to a four-year contract extension worth $17.75 million, locking up another member of their core long term.

The team announced the deal Wednesday night. Chytil will count just under $4.44 million annually against the salary cap through the 2026-27 season.

Chytil, 23, is in the midst of a career year. He has set career highs with 22 goals, 20 assists and 42 points in 66 games for the playoff-bound Rangers.

The Czech native is the team’s sixth-leading scorer and ranks fourth on the roster in goals. The 2017 first-round pick has 144 points in 342 NHL regular-season and playoff games. He was set to be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer.

New York already had top center Mika Zibanejad signed through 2030, No. 1 defenseman Adam Fox through 2029, veteran Chris Kreider through 2027, winger Artemi Panarin through 2026 and reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin through 2025.

General manager Chris Drury’s next order of business is an extension for 2020 top pick Alexis Lafrenière, who is only signed through the remainder of this season and can be a restricted free agent.

Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

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CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

“Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

“When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

“We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

“It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

“Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

“Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

“I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

“You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

“He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

“It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

“I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

“Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

“I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.