With the Stanley Cup Final around the corner and the 2022 NHL Draft now officially less than a month away, we’re starting to enter trade rumor season territory. In fact, we may already find ourselves there.
The Blackhawks have made it known that they're listening to trade offers on just about anybody not named Patrick Kane, Seth Jones or Jonathan Toews as they embark on a rebuild. No surprise, given those three players have full no-trade protection.
As we wrote on Tuesday, that means a player like Alex DeBrincat could draw some serious interest from other teams this offseason, and it appears a trade for the two-time 40-goal scorer might not be as far-fetched as originally believed. According to Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff, the question seems to be "when" not "if" the Blackhawks will move DeBrincat.
A few reasons why this isn't totally shocking:
- 1. The Blackhawks don’t have a first-round pick this year and, outside of Kane, DeBrincat is the only player on the roster who could bring back a massive haul and help replenish a pipeline that's pretty bare beyond top prospect Lukas Reichel.
- 2. If the Blackhawks are looking at a longer-term timeline here, then it doesn’t make much sense to list multiple players as untouchable. Stockpiling future assets should be the priority, because that kick-starts the process more than delays it.
- 3. By the time the Blackhawks are ready to be legitimate perennial Stanley Cup contenders again, DeBrincat could be in his 30s, which is hard to envision but a real possibility. (Look how long Detroit's rebuild is taking and they're doing it the right way).
- 4. If the Blackhawks are going to be bad next season, why not be really bad? The top end of the 2023 NHL Draft class is loaded, headlined by Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli and Matvei Michkov. Those are franchise-changing players.
So all this begs the question, what would a potential return look like for the Blackhawks on a DeBrincat trade? It's an interesting debate because there aren't many recent trade comparables that fit this specific situation.
DeBrincat is 24 years old and about to enter the final year of his deal that carries a $6.4 million cap hit. He’s due a substantial raise, with his next contract possibly being in the $9 million per year range and deservedly so, considering only seven players have scored more goals than him since he entered the NHL in 2017. DeBrincat also has some leverage as a pending restricted free agent next year with arbitration rights.
When the Blackhawks traded Brandon Hagel to Tampa Bay for a pair of first-round picks and two NHL players, it was a huge return mainly because of the player's value. Hagel was on pace to finish with 30-plus goals, and the Lightning essentially got him at a bargain $1.5 million cap hit for what they hope to be three long playoff runs.
If you’re a team that wants to acquire DeBrincat, however, not only do you have to be prepared to give up significant assets but you have to have the cap space to fit his contract on the books. Plus, the size of the return would likely depend on whether or not a potential trade is contingent on an extension, too, like Chicago's was when it traded for Jones from Columbus.
Despite the different circumstances, the Blackhawks probably won't take any offer seriously unless it resembles the Hagel package to some degree, although you have to imagine GM Kyle Davidson would make acquiring a high first-round pick and/or an A-level prospect a priority. (The two first-rounders Chicago received from Tampa Bay are likely going to be late ones).
A team to watch could be the New Jersey Devils, who are reportedly open to trading the No. 2 overall pick, already have one of the top farm systems in the league and have more than $25 million in projected cap space next season. I'm sure they'd like to find a permanent long-term winger for Jack Hughes and DeBrincat would certainly be an ideal candidate.
While the Blackhawks can choose to wait until next year's trade deadline to consider moving DeBrincat, the offseason is typically the best time to make a big splash because more teams can get involved and maneuver money around to make it work. The deadline can be hit or miss depending on the market and cap space, among other factors.
(Just look at the underwhelming return Ottawa got for Mark Stone on deadline day in February 2019: A high-end defenseman prospect in Erik Brannstrom, a second-round pick and a bottom-six center in Oscar Lindberg who's no longer in the NHL. That return had nothing to do with Stone the player and more about Ottawa not having much leverage, because Stone was willing to sign a long-term extension with Vegas and eventually did for eight years at a $9.5 million cap hit).
Buckle up, Chicago, because the next few weeks leading up to the July 7-8 NHL Draft could get interesting.
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