Luke Richardson should enjoy the moment.
He had his big day coronation as the 40th head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks at the team store downtown, and has been on his homecoming tour to Chicago, appearing on the radio and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Wrigley Field.
It is a period of wine and dinner that each new trainer receives, and according to many reports, it couldn’t be happening to a nicer guy.
So no one wants to throw cold water on Richardson’s big splash, but reality lurks around the corner for the head coach.
The Hawks star’s future has dominated the team’s offseason conversation, and it certainly appeared in the background of Wednesday’s introductory news conference.
Will Richardson start the rebuild without his top scorer? DeBrincat accounted for 19% of the Hawks’ goals and nearly 30% of their power play goals.
General manager Kyle Davidson said in March that “I don’t necessarily subscribe to the untouchables theory” when it comes to trading players, and when asked Wednesday if that stance applies to DeBrincat, he doubled down.
“I don’t necessarily subscribe to the untouchables theory because there’s always a situation where someone is going to offer you, realistic or not…something you can’t refuse,” Davidson said. “I guess really, other than those who are contractually bound to be untouchable, no one is. But we’re not in a position where we can hold anything back.”
Davidson also said the Blackhawks wouldn’t “necessarily” be “proactive in every way,” but there’s always a catch.
“When you announce something like a rebuild, it’s natural for people to come to you with a lot of different ideas,” he said. “So we are open to listen and we will evaluate from there.”
Reports have named the Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders among DeBrincat’s suitors.
A rebuild is motivation enough to entertain trade talks, but the lack of a first-round pick in Thursday’s draft only adds to the Hawks’ incentive.
“I have not been shy about declaring my willingness to acquire some future assets,” Davidson said. “That is something we will look to do. But I’m not trying to force anything. … We have some ideas and some thoughts as we head to Montreal next week, but until we have more concrete discussions with the teams, we’ll see where it goes.”
The impact of DeBrincat’s departure from Chicago would be monumental, both in the short and long term.
The impact would obviously be immediate. Short of hearing from Richardson about what he has in store on offense and defense — he can only go by what the Hawks filmed last season — it’s no exaggeration to say the offense revolved around DeBrincat and 92-point producer Patrick Kane.
To underscore what DeBrincat means to the Hawks, he ranked 22nd in the league in goals above replacement (20) and tied for 21st in wins above replacement (3.5), according to evolution-hockey.com.
Who could even begin to approach that role? Kirby Dach, Lukas Reichel or Taylor Raddysh?
Switching to DeBrincat could also start a domino effect on the list.
Kane would have to assess how patient he can be with the rebuild, or waive his no-move clause and request to be traded to a playoff contender, like the Hawks did with goaltender Marc-André Fleury last season. Otherwise, Kane would have to weigh how much it means to his legacy to stay with a franchise throughout his Hall of Fame career.
jonathan toews he’s already talked about the possibility of moving on after the Hawks traded promising forward Brandon Hagel to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“In this case, you can’t help but imagine yourself and what it would be like to play for another team and what that experience would bring. That comes to mind,” Toews said in March.
The Hawks have said they’ll be reluctant to shell out cash during free agency this summer, so without DeBrincat, how much appetite would they have to retain Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalík, who have arbitration rights and are likely to receive significant raises?
Speaking of which, DeBrincat will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights after next season, and a $9 million qualifying offer might be too rich for the Hawks’ blood this early in the rebuilding process.
DeBrincat said that he is “open to anything” when asked last season about an extension.
In the long term, trading DeBrincat could create a windfall for the Hawks.
Hagel scored two future first-round picks and young strikers Raddysh and Boris Katchouk.
Imagine what DeBrincat could bring to the table. Davidson isn’t going to trade DeBrincat for anything short of a king’s ransom, not if he wants to show his face near Madison Street.
The Hawks have five second- and third-round picks this year, a protected first-round pick from the Lightning in 2023 (potentially four picks in the first two rounds) and another protected first-round pick from the Bolts in 2024 (potentially first two shifts).
If DeBrincat lands one or two first-rounders and one or two elite prospects, that would be a huge haul for Davidson and Richardson to shape the roster however they want.
Four or five years from now, the Hawks should have a core strong enough to loosen the strings of the free-agent bag and catapult the team into contention, with enough prospects still in development to continue developing, or else something went terribly wrong in the draft. or the changing rooms.
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At that point, Richardson would probably be the first to welcome hairpins if his team isn’t competitive.
But for now, he has to worry about more than just a shortage of playmakers.
At a critical time trying to build a culture in his image, he might have fewer of the kind of players he needs.
DeBrincat is not only revered for his skill, as Hagel was, he is loved for the example he sets.
The 5-foot-7 winger harasses bigger opponents on defense, often potting pucks into the Hawks’ possession, and is just as feisty on penalties as he is on the power play. He’s one of the Hawks’ characters, the kind who playfully torments a young skater like MacKenzie Entwistle at practice. Like, every practice.
And according to many of DeBrincat’s postgame interviews, personal accomplishments can’t dull the pain of loss.
DeBrincat ticks a lot of boxes, and that type of player wouldn’t be very easy for Davidson and Richardson to replace, no matter how many prospects they get in return.