There has been a lot of talk about the direction of the Blackhawks in the wake of Chicago’s divorce with Corey Crawford and subsequent trade of Brandon Saad.
On Sunday, Mark Lazerus at The Athletic published an exclusive interview with Jonathan Toews. The captain’s comments were pointed. From that article:
“Bottom line is, I want to win,” Toews told The Athletic on Saturday night. “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.”
Toews has rarely gone public with any comments, especially calling into question the moves made by the organization. The last time he appeared to be moved by a move by the front office was when the Hawks fired coach Joel Quenneville.
“There’s some guys you think you’re going to be surrounded by forever,” Toews told the media in January. “And all of a sudden things change. It will definitely be weird to see him on the other bench because all those years playing for him, you just didn’t think things would ever change.
“Things were really great with him behind the bench. Had a great relationship that grew stronger and stronger as time went on when he was in Chicago. It’ll definitely be different seeing him on the other side.”
His interview with Lazerus was eye-opening even to some of the longest-tenured NHL insiders.
In his 34 Thoughts column on Wednesday, SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman wrote the following:
“I’ve chased Jonathan Toews during the off-season. He prefers his privacy and declines interviews, which is totally understandable. I only bring it up because the fact he surfaced to give an interview to The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus about the Blackhawks’ direction is significant. Toews wanted to make a point. Chicago’s decision making says to me that Blackhawks ownership doesn’t feel the team can contend for a Stanley Cup, knows the economics are extremely challenging without fans and are punting on next season.”
Toews isn’t alone. Sources indicate the Blackhawks’ core of Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been in frequent contact during this offseason of change, and the players have been vocal to each other and the organization – over Stan Bowman’s head – about their frustration with the lack of communication from the decision makers and the players who led the franchise to three championships.
Toews and Kane have three years remaining on their matching contracts that carry a $10.5M cap hit. Keith also has three years left on his deal with a $5,538,462 cap hit. Seabrook’s contract has been widely blamed by fans; he has four years left on his deal carrying a $6.875M AAV.
With the pandemic’s league-wide economic impact on the NHL, and the ages of the players, it’s understandable that the Blackhawks would be concerned about the dollars coming in.
But the growingly public appearance of a significant disconnect between the leadership on the ice and the front office makes for a uniquely awkward situation.
Amplifying those issues is the lack of internal options to support the veteran cast.
Scott Wheeler of The Athletic published his list of the top 50 under-23 prospects in the NHL on Wednesday, and the Blackhawks were one of six teams to not have a player on the list; the others were the Bruins, Lightning, Penguins, Blue Jackets and Islanders.
Development continues to be an issue. Rockford has not produced many NHL regulars over the past six years – at least in Chicago. And we’re not counting Jeremy Colliton as being developed with the IceHogs.
Since Kane won the Calder Trophy in 2008, Chicago has had only four players finish in the top three for the top rookie award: Kris Versteeg (2009), Saad (2013), Artemi Panarin (won the award in 2016) and Dominik Kubalik (2020).
Alex DeBrincat, Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach jumped straight to the NHL (Boqvist appeared in 15 games with Rockford last year). Ian Mitchell spent three years at Denver but figures to be on the NHL roster in the coming season as well.
Phillip Danault spent two full seasons in Rockford but was traded to Montreal before he found his footing in the NHL. Similarly, Teuvo Teravainen spent half of one season in Rockford before he was recalled but didn’t establish himself as a top-six NHL player until after he was traded to Carolina.
The core four of the Blackhawks have been outspoken about wanting to make another run at a championship – together.
They aren’t getting much help from the front office, however.
And, now, it appears the disconnect that was once between Bowman and Quenneville had shifted to the team’s on-ice leadership and the front office.