When the interim tag was removed and Kyle Davidson was introduced as general manager of the Blackhawks, he talked about his plan for reshaping the franchise going forward.
“We’re going to look at more of a rebuild here,” Davidson said on March 1. “There are some things that we really need to fix that are going to take time. We’re not going to put a timeline on it, whether it’s three, five [years], I don’t have that answer right now. That will be determined as we proceed.”
Two days later, when asked about his future with the Blackhawks, captain Jonathan Toews said, “I don’t know if I really understand what [a rebuild] means yet.”
How Davidson approached Monday’s NHL trade deadline gave Toews a good picture of how the GM plans to go about rebuilding his roster. Brandon Hagel, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Ryan Carpenter were all dealt away and draft picks were stockpiled. The question now, and one that will hover over the franchise’s off-season, is if there’s any role for Toews and Patrick Kane, who both see their contracts expire after the 2022-23 season.
Toews saw those moves, trades made by a franchise thinking about next season and beyond, and it was difficult to process.
“It’s become pretty clear the direction we’re heading in as a franchise and I’m not going to lie, it was disheartening to see a couple of good friends go, regardless of what’s to come in the future,” Toews said Wednesday. “I think this group has been through quite a bit this year on and off the ice. Obviously, life’s been weird, it’s been hard for a lot of people.
“There have been a lot of challenges that these guys have grown through as a group and when you kind of cultivate that chemistry and that friendship and that connection with your teammates, I think you want to keep building off it. So it’s definitely a little disheartening to see some key parts to our lineup and our group get traded away.”
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Kane and Toews have one season left on contracts that carry a $10.5 million salary cap hit. They both turn 34 this year, own full no-movement clauses, and will see their actual salaries decrease to $6.9 million for 2022-23. There would be suitors if they decide to move on, but the thought of playing somewhere else is still hard to imagine for the Blackhawks captain.
“I wouldn’t say it makes me question it as much as, for the longest time the thought never entered my mind to ever leave Chicago,” said Toews, who’s expected to play his 1,000th NHL game next week. “In this case, you can’t help but picture yourself and what it would be like to play for another team and what that experience would bring. The thought pops in your mind, but again, Chicago’s my home. I love the Blackhawks, love the organization. It’s been my family for a long time and I’m not putting the cart before the horse or getting ahead of myself in any way.”
Kane and Toews can dictate their futures, and have to be asking themselves if they want to be part of a rebuilding team or chase a fourth Stanley Cup somewhere else. Davidson said this week he will continue to keep his two stars in the loop when it comes to future plans for the team.
The lines of communication are open and that will be important as the Blackhawks take their next steps in Davidson’s vision for the franchise.
“I think Kyle is sincere,” Toews said. “Obviously, he’s had some tough decisions to make already and [I’m] looking forward to being in touch with him on his thought process and what the near future looks like, at least this summer.
“At the end of the day, just hear what he thinks about my game. It’s never easy, but it’s always good to hear some honest thoughts of his vantage point and go from there.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.