One can only hope Alex DeBrincat’s career doesn’t go the way Jeff Skinner’s has.
Skinner, the longtime Hurricanes-turned-Sabres forward, holds the NHL record for most regular-season games played without a playoff appearance at 851 (and counting). He’s currently finishing his 12th NHL seasonwithout sniffing the postseason even once.
DeBrincat, who played just his 366th career game for the Blackhawks on Monday, is certainly a long way behind Skinner. He’s also already ineligible for that ignominious distinction, having technically played in nine playoff games during the 2020 postseason bubble.
But if not for the COVID-prompted exception that included those 12th-placed Hawks in the postseason, DeBrincat would be finishing up his fifth full NHL season without one real playoff berth. The Hawks have indeed posted a losing record in all five of his seasons.
They appear destined for at least another couple years of losing records and playoff misses ahead, too, even though DeBrincat personally has no choice but to blindly pray that won’t be the case.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” he said Monday. “But you’ve got to work for what you get. So hopefully we can work these next couple years, get a good roster and win some games. Anytime you can win games, you have more fun in the locker room. … These next couple years, we can build that identity to get back to where we want to be, and hopefully it’s sooner than later.”
It’s easy to feel sympathy for DeBrincat because the Hawks’ struggles aren’t his fault. He has objectively produced yet another terrific season.
He has reached the 40-goal plateau for the second time in his career, tied a career high with 76 points (entering Monday) and –due to his gradual defensive improvement –been used more diversely than ever before, setting a new career high of 20:48 ice time per game.
His chemistry with Patrick Kane and Dylan Strome has helped them record the third- and second-highest scoring seasons of their respective careers, as well.
“There [have been] some good parts of the year [and] some bad parts, obviously,” DeBrincat said. “Overall, I wish we would’ve had more success as a team. You can’t really be happy when you don’t make the playoffs. Whether you [individually] had a good year or not, it’s not fun.”
Despite the frustration caused by the Hawks’ struggles, DeBrincat seems committed for the long haul.
He’ll become eligible for another contract extension in July — once he enters the final 12 months of the three-year extension (at $6.4 million per) that he signed in 2019 –and he said he’s “open to talking” about an extension “whenever” the Hawks are.
He acknowledged general manager Kyle Davidson will “have a lot of things to do probably before” getting to that item on the agenda. But Davidson will meet with DeBrincat,and every other Hawks player,during exit interviews next week.
Meanwhile, DeBrincat and his wife, Lyndsey, are expecting their first child next month, ruling out the possibility of him participating in the World Championships in Finland. Besides learning fatherhood, he plans to use the summer to continue improving his shot and footwork, plus anything else Davidson asks him to work on.
Far more uncertain than DeBrincat’s status is whether Kane and Strome will return next season.
Strome is a pending restricted free agent who seems 50-50, at best, to be re-signed at the $4 million-or-higher price he’ll likely demand. And Kane, along with Jonathan Toews, need to decide if they want to stick around through the rebuild.
“We’ll talk [about that] maybe a little in the future, but that’s kind of their decision,” DeBrincat said. “It doesn’t really affect me. I’m still young. I want to help bring this team to the playoffs and win. I’m here to do whatever I can.”