The Blackhawks are going full tank; how far will they take it?

Chicago Blackhawks
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It has been quite a while since we have watched an NHL team shamelessly gut its roster with the ferocity that the Chicago Blackhawks have over the past six months.

After missing the playoffs in four of the past five years (with that one playoff appearance only happening because of the expanded bubble postseason), and many of their championship players either already gone or rapidly aging, it has been clear that a full rebuild is on the way.

The short-term plan for that rebuild is obvious: Gut the roster, be as bad as possible in the short-term, hope for some draft lottery luck, and rebuild around as many top picks as you can collect.

It is a long process, and as the Buffalo Sabres showed going back to the 2013 and 2014 era, it is not a guaranteed recipe for success. And even though the Blackhawks will not openly admit that is what their plan is, all you have to do is look at the most recent roster moves.

It is not just about getting rid of declining players toward the end of their career that would have no long-term future with the team (like the recent trades of Duncan Keith or Marc-Andre Fleury over the past year). It is about getting rid of everybody on the roster regardless of age, production level, or long-term outlook.

[NHL free agency tracker 2022: Full list of offseason signings]

As of this moment, the Blackhawks have already parted ways with five of their top-eight scorers from the 2021-22 season (Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Hagel, Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik, Kirby Dach).

In return for that group of players, the only NHL players they have received in return are Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk, both received in exchange for Brandon Hagel. Everything else has been draft picks.

What stands out most about those deals is that four of those five players are age 25 or younger. They are, in theory, players that should still have prime years (and in some cases maybe the best years) still ahead of them.

A run down of the moves to this point.

  • Hagel, 23, and a 25-goal scorer this past season, was traded to Tampa Bay at the NHL trade deadline for Raddysh, Katchouk, and two future first-round draft picks (2023 and 2024).
  • Alex DeBrincat, one of the league’s best goal scorers, a bonafide top-line player, and still only 24 years old, was traded to Ottawa before the NHL draft for three draft picks, including the No. 7 overall pick in 2022.
  • Kirby Dach, still only 21 years and just three years removed from being the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, was traded in a three-team trade for the No. 13 overall pick in the draft.
  • Dylan Strome, 25, was not given a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent despite the fact he has been a 20-goal, 50-point player with strong underlying numbers with the Blackhawks. He will be a highly sought after player as an unrestricted free agent.
  • Dominik Kubalik, 26, has a 30-goal season on his resume and was one of the few goal-scoring threats still on the roster. He was also not extended a qualifying offer and will be an unrestricted free agent.

Individually, most of these moves are defensible, and probably even make some degree of sense.

Hagel might not ever repeat his 2021-22 performance and they sold high on him. Maybe Kubalik gets overvalued in arbitration. Dach has not exactly panned out as hoped.

[Related: Blackhawks trade Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa Senators]

But selling DeBrincat for so little, and then getting nothing in return for Strome, just really shows the degree to which the Blackhawks are willing to tear this all down.

The end result is a roster that, as of now, has maybe four above average NHL players on it. Even they have their flaws.

Patrick Kane is still an elite scorer, but he might legitimately be one of the worst defensive players in the league. At this point in his career is not going to carry a team no matter how many points he racks up. Jonathan Toews has rapidly declined and might only be able to score at a second-or third-line rate if the team is lucky. Those two are both entering the final years of their contracts and will be unrestricted free agents after this season.

Seth Jones had a strong offensive season, but his contract is an albatross while the trade that brought him to Chicago has been a massive loss for the Blackhawks in terms of the assets given up (not to mention the salary cap hit). And then there is Connor Murphy, a solid if unspectacular defensive defenseman that is probably a solid No. 2 or 3 on a good team.

As far as the good, proven players are concerned. That is it. They have some intriguing players with potential (Lukas Reichel, Philipp Kurashev), but nobody else that is proven. The only goalie under contract is Petr Mrazek, and he is only there because Toronto wanted to dump his contract so badly it was willing to move back 14 spots in the draft to do it.

[Related: Blackhawks trade Kirby Dach]

The rest of the roster is grim, and even with those four this might already be the worst team in the league by a substantial margin. While they were able to collect a lot of draft picks, they should be lucky if two of those four first-round picks they recently acquired becomes an NHL regular. They should be ecstatic if even one becomes a star.

Their most valuable pick will be their own pick this year. The prized prospect in the 2023 class is Connor Bedard, and the Blackhawks have already done well to potentially position themselves for the top odds to get him. But even in that situation they still have less than a one-in-five chance of actually getting the top pick.

Now that they are at this point, there is no reason for them to stop here.

They might as well just fully embrace the situation and do whatever it takes to auction off any remaining facsimile of an NHL player to the highest bidder. Retain as much salary as possible (which will be required to move any of the Kane, Toews, or Jones) to maximize the return.

Neither Kane or Toews is going to re-sign in this situation unless they are blindly loyal to the organization, or completely lacking in common sense to to see the reality of the situation and what is ahead in the coming years. There is no reason for the Blackhawks to even entertain the idea of extensions given the other roster moves. Rather than lose them for nothing in a year, just rip the band-aid off and get it over with and keep collecting your lottery tickets. Yes, they have no-trade clauses, but those are minor hurdles if it can get them to a situation where they play competitive hockey again for the first time in five years.

Because it is probably going to be at least another five years before this team even has a chance to be competitive again.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.