Column: With the futures of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in flux, the Chicago Blackhawks' rebuild is 'grueling,' and has barely begun

Jonathan Toews gave an apt description of the rebuilding of the Chicago Blackhawks during a recent interview with The Athletic.

“Really, really exhausting,” he said. “And exhausting.”

Truer words could not be said, and the reconstruction has only just begun. They don’t call him Serious Captain for nothing. Imagine how Toews will feel at the end of March, when the only remaining goal is to secure the first pick in the 2023 draft.

It’s hard to imagine how long it will take for the Hawks to get back into contention, but Toews unlikely to be around when, or if, it happens.

“At the end of the day, we’re talking about a five-plus-year process, according to (general manager Kyle Davidson),” he said. “So I don’t find that part attractive at all.”

However, Toews is still a Blackhawk, and with a full no-move clause, he can decide whether to leave or stay if Davidson decides to sign him. The same goes for Patrick Kane, who like Toews will enter the final year of an eight-year deal.

The difference is that Kane has a much higher trade value than his friend and teammate and would theoretically have more options. Toews said he “can’t speak for Kaner,” who is reportedly undecided about whether to give the Hawks the go-ahead to find a team he feels comfortable playing for and make a deal. Kane has yet to publicly comment on his wishes.

Having suffered more black eyes than Mike Tyson’s former sparring partners, the Hawks might be reluctant to part with Kane or Toews, the only real cards left. The Hawks have already suffered immense backlash for the short-sighted decision. let analyst Eddie Olczyk go following a contract strategy that blew up in their faces.

And why Toews regressed a bit last season after a year off for what has been called chronic immune response syndrome, it may not be worth treating until you show that you can recover.

If the Hawks trade only Kane this offseason, Toews would be asked to be the sole face of the organization after the two shared those responsibilities throughout their careers. Like Chicago Cubs wide receiver Willson Contreras, Toews would be part of one of those “long bye-bye” seasons that are never easy for players or fans to go through.

As Hawks bosses processed Toews’ comments Wednesday, the team introduced its new starting goalie, Petr Mrázek, to the Chicago media.

The Hawks acquired the backup from the Toronto Maple Leafs on the first night of the draft in exchange for moving up 13 spots for their second pick. The Leafs were trying to get rid of Mrázek and his $3.8 million salary cap over the next two years, while the Hawks were willing to accept the affordable contract. They allowed 289 goals last season, seventh-worst in the league despite Marc-André Fleury’s strong finish before being sent to the Minnesota Wild at deadline.

Mrázek, 30, who battled injuries and missed several weeks with a groin injury late in the season, said he feels good after taking time off and changing up his exercise routine in the off-season. He’s perhaps the perfect acquisition for a team looking for the future, the polar opposite of last year’s prized offseason acquisition: Fleury.

As a goalkeeper for a young team with no expectations, Mrázek will be under no pressure to succeed, which should come in handy in what he hopes will be a bounce-back season.

“I don’t think there’s anything to prove,” Mrázek said. “I’ve been in the league for a long time and I know how to prepare for the season, how to prepare for games. Injuries happen in a hockey career for everyone, and last year especially was a year where I couldn’t stay healthy.”

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Mrázek will get a chance to play a lot, assuming he can stay healthy. Backing him up will be Alex Stalock, 34, who played one game last season for the San Jose Sharks after missing the 2021-22 season with myocarditis following a positive COVID-19 test. With a mostly inexperienced defense playing against Mrázek and Stalock, they are sure to be tested every night.

But those are concerns for another day.

Until training camp begins and Kane and Toews officially wear Indians head logo sweaters, their uncertain future will be a topic on the minds of all Hawks fans. Toews told The Athletic that management “can’t be blamed” for failing, even as he admitted it was exhausting watching teammates Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach negotiate, speeding up the process.

But really, the only culprit is the Hawks’ management, which failed to keep the organization from hitting rock bottom the past two years while the Tampa Bay Lightning continued to churn out contenders — and two Stanley Cup championships — after the Hawks beat them. the 2015 Cup final.

Stan Bowman is gone And I won’t accept any of your blame for what happens next. Davidson is still in his honeymoon phase after having his interim GM title stripped from him, while new coach Luke Richardson has the unenviable task of leading the rebuild in the first year of the supposed five-plus journey. years.

Now everything is uphill for the Hawks.

Tune in at your own risk.

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