It’s going to be a long time before the Chicago Blackhawks are competitive again. As the team continues rebuilding, it would not be surprising to see some fan favorites leave the club this summer and into next season. For Blackhawks fans, it’s clear at this point that winning isn’t as much a priority right now as is developing for the future through possible trades and upcoming drafts.
For that reason, trading star forward Alex DeBrincat makes pretty good sense. A proven 40-goal scorer, he’s just 24 and is Chicago’s most attractive trade target. However, while a deal might seem tempting, DeBrincat is exactly the type of player Blackhawks general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson should keep and build around — at least for now.
Rebuilding can be tough and painful. For the Blackhawks, specifically, it seems long overdue. However, it doesn’t have to mean trading everyone, including DeBrincat.
DeBrincat Brings Leadership, Star Power, & Skill
You can argue the Blackhawks don’t need DeBrincat right now, considering the team’s overall state. He has a year remaining on his current contract with an annual average value (AAV) of $6.4 million, so he’ll be due for a raise next summer when he becomes a restricted free agent (RFA), money Chicago could invest elsewhere.
With that said, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ current contracts will be coming off the books then. Both players, even Kane, will almost certainly need to take pay cuts if they want to stay around for the long haul. As contrary as it may sound to Chicago’s goal of rebuilding, why not invest some of that money into DeBrincat? Unlike Kane and Toews, DeBrincat’s still young enough that he could play an integral role on the next competitive Blackhawks club.
A two-time 40-plus goal scorer, it can be argued that DeBrincat doesn’t have much left to prove even though he’s only in his mid-20s. He’s also a bona fide leader, and despite being just 5-foot-7, he was given the “A” last season as one of Chicago’s three alternate captains. Over the last few years, he’s found his voice in the locker room and could be the perfect mentor for the team’s upcoming wave of youth as he seems bought into the Blackhawks’ long-term goals.
Most importantly, however, DeBrincat is a proven superstar. While you don’t need stars to rebuild, he’s one of the few sure things the Blackhawks have on their roster right now, along with Kane and Seth Jones. Players such as Kirby Dach, Taylor Raddysh, Lukas Reichel, and others have shown potential but are far away from being proven commodities. From his personality to his social media presence, he’s also a marketable asset and could still drive fans to the United Center even if the on-ice product is unsuccessful.
If DeBrincat goes, fans shouldn’t automatically panic, and it makes sense why the Blackhawks might try to move him. However, because of his age and potential, it is a better idea to build around him for the future.
The Return Might Not Be Worth It
Regardless of what the Blackhawks receive should they deal DeBrincat, there’s no guarantee it will turn out a success or be nearly as good as him. Although this is true for nearly every trade, it’s something Davidson should keep in mind, given DeBrincat’s age and performance thus far. He is a centerpiece of the team right now and still can be moving forward.
Now, of course, risks can bring rewards. As Mark Lazerus of The Athletic discussed, when the Colorado Avalanche dealt Matt Duchene in 2017, it brought them Sam Girard and a 2019 first-round pick, which became Bowen Byram (from ‘Trading Alex DeBrincat would be short-sighted madness by the Chicago Blackhawks,’ The Athletic, 06/14/22). That’s outstanding value, but Duchene was also a few years older than DeBrincat back then. He also didn’t nearly bring the same level of star power to Colorado that DeBrincat brings to Chicago.
Another potential comparison is the Jack Eichel trade, from which the Buffalo Sabres landed Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a 2022 first-round pick, and a 2023 second-round pick. But, with all due respect to DeBrincat, he’s not Eichel, who’s shown flashes of being a generational talent. That type of return would probably be unrealistic for Chicago, and for as many hits as a team can have during a rebuild, there can be just as many misses. Just look at when the Edmonton Oilers dealt Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils in 2016 — who was 24 at the time, DeBrincat’s age. That trade looks pretty ugly for Edmonton now despite their return to relevance.
When it comes to potential trades during Chicago’s rebuild, I don’t expect every deal to be a win — that’s far too unrealistic. Though some of Davidson’s early moves, such as dealing Brandon Hagel to the Tampa Bay Lightning, are looking pretty solid so far, a potential DeBrincat trade would be different because of his star power. There’s a very good chance that whatever Chicago receives in a deal will not equal his success in the long run.
Take the idea of trading DeBrincat to the Devils for the second overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft, for example. While it’s understandable that Davidson wants a first-round pick this year as the Blackhawks do not currently have one, who knows what that player will become?
There’s no doubt Juraj Slafkovsky, Logan Cooley, or even Shane Wright — all three of whom could go No. 2 overall — would be a great asset for Chicago, but the jury is still out on their NHL careers. Furthermore, two of the past five No. 2 overall picks — Nolan Patrick and Kaapo Kakko — have been rather underwhelming so far at the NHL level. Top prospects aren’t sure things.
If DeBrincat was a little older, I’d be more open to a potential trade. For now, though, he’s a proven commodity and should remain a part of the team’s future. No matter the return, a trade could very well hurt Chicago more than it could help.
Blackhawks Can Still Rebuild While Keeping DeBrincat
There are plenty of reasons why trading DeBrincat makes perfect sense for the Blackhawks, and I don’t necessarily think Chicago should hold onto him at all costs. It’s possible that now is the highest his trade value will ever be, especially before he’s due for a raise next offseason. However, the Blackhawks can still execute their rebuild successfully even if they keep him. From drafts to other potential trades to free-agent signings, Chicago has several opportunities to build from the ground up, and they are in no rush to do so.
Rebuilding isn’t easy. Depending on how long the Blackhawks’ rebuild goes, there may be a point when trading DeBrincat makes sense, similar to when the Sabres and Eichel parted ways last year. That time is not now, though. Chicago should view DeBrincat as a centerpiece moving forward, given how thin their resources are right now.
If the Blackhawks move DeBrincat, so be it. Of course, part of rebuilding is finding value from current assets. For now, however, keeping DeBrincat should be the route Davidson and the Blackhawks take as he’s a young, elite superstar and could still make a difference in the future.
Connor Smith covers the Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers. He is from Naperville, Illinois, and recently graduated from Ball State University in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, earning summa cum laude honors. This fall, he plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago to further his studies and earn his master’s. Along with The Hockey Writers, he’s written and edited for The Ball State Daily News, Ball State’s on-campus student newspaper, and has interned for Best Version Media (BVM) Sports and Jersey Column, a Georgia-based sports blog. You can find more info about Smith and his work through his online portfolio, connornsmith0719.wordpress.com.