The Chicago Blackhawks have a plan to return to championship contention, but it may take some time.
“We’re committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster,” the Blackhawks said in an open letter to fans posted via Twitter on Tuesday. “We want more than another window to win; we want to reach the summit again and stay there — an effort that will require a stockpile of emerging talent to complement our top players. The influx of youth and their progression will provide roster flexibility and depth throughout our lineup.”
The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015, but have not advanced past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since.
Last season, the Blackhawks (32-30-8, .514 points percentage) finished 12th in the Western Conference. They were the final team to qualify for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers in the West when the season resumed with a 24-team tournament after the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
Chicago won the best-of-5 Qualifiers against the Edmonton Oilers in four games but lost in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights in the best-of-7 first round.
The reshaping of the roster began this month, with the departures of two members of Chicago’s two most recent title teams: goalie Corey Crawford and forward Brandon Saad.
Crawford signed a two-year, $7.8 million contract ($3.9 million average annual value) with the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 9 after being told before free agency began that Chicago wouldn’t re-sign him. The Blackhawks traded Saad and defenseman Dennis Gilbert to the Colorado Avalanche for defensemen Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm on Oct. 10.
Chicago did add two forwards in free agency Oct. 12, agreeing with Mattias Janmark on a one-year, $2.25 million contract and agreeing with Lucas Wallmark on a one-year, $950,000 contract.
The letter from the Blackhawks is similar to one the New York Rangers sent their fans Feb. 8, 2018.
The Rangers missed the playoffs that season for the first time in eight seasons and have made big changes since then. They gave forward Artemi Panarin a seven-year, $81.5 million contract ($11.6 million AAV) on July 1, 2019, and acquired two defensemen in trades: Adam Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes on April 30, 2019, and Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets on June 17, 2019. They also selected forward Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and forward Alexis Lafreniere with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 Draft.
Several young Blackhawks players gained experience in the regular season and the playoffs, including forwards Kirby Dach and Matthew Highmore, and defenseman Adam Boqvist.
Dach, 19, scored 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 64 regular-season games and six points (one goal, five assists) in nine postseason games. Highmore, 24, scored six points (two goals, four assists) in 36 regular-season games and four points (three goals, one assist) in nine postseason games. Boqvist, 20, scored 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 41 regular-season games and no points in eight postseason games.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews told The Athletic on Oct. 11 he was surprised at the Blackhawks’ direction.
“I’ve never been told that we were going through a rebuild,” the center told the website. “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.”
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman told NBC Sports Chicago on Tuesday that he, coach Jeremy Colliton and senior vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac talked with Toews, forward Patrick Kane and defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook after Toews’ comments went public. Those four players have each been a part of the three championship teams.
“We had a very good discussion, in-depth discussion about where we’re going,” Bowman told the Blackhawks Talk Podcast. “I think part of this communication here is to clear up some miscommunications or perceptions. It’s really not a rebuild in a tense of we’re tearing this down and we’re just getting rid of all the players. Sometimes you do have to make difficult decisions to trade away popular players and it’s hard for our veterans who’ve been together.”