Under general manager Kyle Davidson, the Chicago Blackhawks are undergoing what is expected to be a long rebuild. The process has generated speculation about the future of franchise superstar Patrick Kane and longtime team captain Jonathan Toews.
The pair served as the foundational pieces in the Blackhawks’ rise into an NHL powerhouse between 2009-10 and 2014-15. They led the club to three Stanley Cups, earning individual awards and garnering a place among the league’s 100 greatest players.
However, the Blackhawks have steadily declined since their last championship in 2014-15. They’ve made only one playoff appearance over the past five seasons as salary-cap constraints and quick-fix deals depleted their roster.
Toews told Mark Lazerus of The Athletic that the Blackhawks could be looking at a five-plus-year rebuild, which didn’t “sound appealing” to him. He also said the constant turnover of players over the past three or four years was “really, really draining. And exhausting.”
While Kane remains among the NHL’s leading scorers, the past two seasons were difficult for Toews. The 34-year-old missed all of the COVID-shortened 2020-21 campaign because of chronic immune response syndrome, and he had a career-low 37 points in 71 games last season.
Like Kane, Toews carries a $10.5 million salary cap hit for 2022-23 with a full no-movement clause. His actual salary will be $2.9 million after he received a $4 million signing bonus from the Blackhawks. Still, that contract won’t be easy to move unless the Blackhawks retain up to half of his cap hit.
A bounce-back effort by Toews could make him an enticing trade target in the coming season, especially for playoff contenders seeking a two-way center with leadership and championship experience. Here are five potential landing spots and what the Blackhawks could get in return.
On July 11, NHL.com’s Amalie Benjamin reported the Boston Bruins were awaiting word if Patrice Bergeron would return for another season or retire. They’re also waiting to find out if David Krejci intends to make a comeback after spending last season playing in his native Czech Republic. Three weeks later, there’s still no word if either player will be back.
Even if one of them returns, the Bruins could be seeking another center for one of their top two lines in the coming season, especially if they’re hoping to remain a playoff contender. Perhaps they’d look into acquiring Toews as a one-season rental if he’s willing to accept a trade to Boston.
Toews could fill the first- or second-line center role, depending on whether Bergeron and/or Krejci came back. His experience, leadership and two-way skills would make him a good fit alongside the Bruins’ veterans, while the younger players could benefit from his presence.
The Bruins might have to get creative to acquire Toews. They have only $4.8 million in cap space, although they’ll get some early-season cap relief if Brad Marchand (hip surgery) and Charlie McAvoy (shoulder) go on long-term injured reserve as they recover from offseason surgery. However, Boston must be cap compliant upon their return to the lineup.
To take on Toews, the Bruins could attempt a three-team trade. The Blackhawks would retain half of Toews’ $10.5 million cap hit, with the Bruins and the other club splitting the remainder in half. They could offer up winger Jake DeBrusk or center Jack Studnicka as part of the return, along with a draft pick and a prospect such as John Beecher.
On July 13, the Calgary Flames lost leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau to the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency. Ten days later, they traded winger Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers, with winger Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar as part of the return.
Huberdeau and Weegar could help the Flames remain among the top teams in the Western Conference this season. However, they might need a boost at their second-line center position at some point before the trade deadline. Toews could be a tempting option by that point if he’s willing to approve a trade to Calgary.
Sean Monahan is expected to return from his right hip surgery in time for training camp in September. However, his struggles following surgery on his left hip suggest he could have difficulty filling the second-line center role. The Flames could benefit from bringing in someone with Toews’ skills and experience to provide additional depth.
The Flames have $9.3 million in cap space with restricted free agents Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington left to re-sign. Acquiring Toews in the offseason or in the first half of the regular season could take up too much cap space even if the Blackhawks absorbed half of his cap hit.
It might be better for the Flames to wait until the trade deadline, when they’ve accrued more cap space. The return to the Blackhawks could be a second-round pick, a young defenseman such as Juuso Valimaki and a prospect such as Connor Zary.