Blackhawks blow up roster by trading Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach in draft-night explosion

MONTREAL –Kyle Davidson has made his decision. The Blackhawks have begun a scorched-earth rebuild.

And neither Alex DeBrincat nor Kirby Dach will be part of it.

In an explosive Thursday at the NHL draft, DeBrincat was traded to the Senators for the seventh and 39th overall picks — plus a third-round pick in 2024 –and Dach was traded to the Canadiens for the 13th and 66th picks.

The Hawks also acquired the 25th pick and goalie Petr Mrazek from the Maple Leafs in exchange for the 39th pick, then selected defenseman Kevin Korchinski, forward Frank Nazar and defenseman Sam Rinzel with their three newly acquired first-round picks.

The trades cemented the Hawks’ plan to completely tear down their current roster and reconstruct their organizational depth chart through the draft, accepting years of struggles in the meantime.

“Going through a rebuild, it’s not fun,” Davidson said. “There’s going to be tough days like this where you see familiar faces [leave]. … But it’s necessary to get to where we want to be. It’s all about the process.”

Kirby Dach’s time with the Blackhawks ended Thursday after just three seasons.

AP Photos

The return for DeBrincat was underwhelming, given the burgeoning superstar had previously been considered the centerpiece of the Hawks’ new core. The return for Dach was far more palatable, given his difficulty finding his stride in the NHL over his first three seasons.

“With respect to the DeBrincat deal in particular…the flexibility it gave us to either add younger players to the roster [or] use our cap space to add more assets, that all goes into the ‘return,'” Davidson added.

The trades end DeBrincat and Dach’s Chicago tenures shockingly abruptly.

DeBrincat was coming off a fantastic 2021-22 season in which he tied a career high with 41 goals and arguably surpassed Patrick Kane as the team’s best player. He, in total, tallied 160 goals and 307 points in 368 games over five seasons with the Hawks.

Dach, meanwhile, struggled with his confidence throughout much of his straining season, finishing with 26 points in 70 games. After a promising if understated rookie season, his wrist injury in December 2020 set him back significantly, and he ultimately tallied just 59 points in 152 total games for the Hawks.

One logical criticism of the trades is that DeBrincat, still only 24 years old, will likely always be — even in several years, when the Hawks start trying to contend again –better than anyone the Hawks pick this week. Even Dach, at age 21 with plenty of elite physical tools to build around, might one day also fit that description.

DeBrincat is admittedly due a massive payday next summer, when his current contract (with a $6.4 million salary cap hit) expires, and the Senators haven’t talked with him yet about a possible extension. But he could become a franchise centerpiece type of player, and for a Senators team trying to ascend after years of mediocrity, he’s a very worthy use of cash.

“Not that there wasn’t interest in Alex, but it’s a little harder of a deal to make given the [contract] uncertainty moving forward,” Davidson said. “Even great players have to fit under cap, so that made it a little tough on some teams. And most of the league is in a cap crunch. There’s a very select number of teams that, one, want to add a player, and two, if they want to add a player, [are able to] give you some high-value assets up the draft board.”

Davidson nonetheless insisted he believed DeBrincat’s value was at its maximum point Thursday versus later in the offseason or during next season.

The Senators’ ability to exclude from the trade all of their top prospects– a talented pool headlined by Jake Sanderson, Erik Brannstrom, Ridly Greig and Jacob Bernard-Docker — was also surprising. With those guys plus DeBrincat joining a preexisting forward core of Matthew Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris and Drake Batherson, the future looks bright in Ottawa.

And while the package Montreal surrendered for Dach more accurately reflects his perceived value, a 13th pickis still quite a bit lower than a third pick, as in the one the Hawks used to select Dach in 2019.

Davidson said he was looking for offers for DeBrincat that included a top-10 pick and for Dach that included a top-15 pick. Once those materialized –in the latter case after the Canadiens made a separate deal for the Islanders’ 13th selection –they were able to build out satisfactory packages. Asking for a Senators prospect was considered, but Davidson ultimately valued the 39th pick more.

The trades will be primarily justified, however, as just pieces of a bigger-picture puzzle moving forward. Given Davidson’s lack of leverage, he’ll have a difficult time getting fair value for anyone in a vacuum. His plan is to accumulate so many picksthrough numerous moves that some inevitably develop into game-changing players down the road.

Gutting the Hawks’ roster of talent could also improve the Hawks’ own pick positions in 2023, with the goal of ending up with a top-three overall pick and the ability to select one of three star prospects: Connor Bedard, Matvei Michkov and Adam Fantilli.

“Today was a day that I’m not sure any people saw coming,” Davidson said. “But it’s a necessary step that we had to take… We had to make a big shift. We had to change things.”

The spotlight now turns to longtime franchise cornerstones Kane and Jonathan Toews, who hold no-trade clauses and haven’t tipped their intentions.

DeBrincat and Dach’s departures may well influence their decisions, as it has become abundantly clear the Hawks plan to ice an otherwise terrible forward lineup next season. Davidson said he’d been honest with Kane and Toews about the changes coming but acknowledged they’re “real now.”

“There’s value in having guys like that that can help mold and set the bar and set the example for younger players coming in,” he said. “That’s a two-way street, and they have to want to be a part of that. But to this point, we haven’t heard otherwise.”

The one active player acquired in all the chaos was Mrazek. He will be the Hawks’ new starting goalie next season, shaky as he may be –which won’t particularly bother the tanking Hawks.

The 30-year-old Czech Republic native is coming off a disastrous year in Toronto, in which he was plagued by injuries and posted an .888 save percentage in 20 appearances, but he’d gone 50-32-8 with a .911 save percentage the previous three seasons combined with the Hurricanes. He has two years left at a $3.8 million cap hit, which the Leafs were desperate to dump.

“We’ve got two years of term on him, so we don’t have to worry about going into the free-agent market and dealing with a bunch of competition,” Davidson said. “We’ve got a guy that can come in and give us solid NHL starts.”

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