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How long will the Blackhawks’ rebuild take? Some best-case scenarios

It’s a long road back to the top — but just how long are we talking?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

That the Chicago Blackhawks are rebuilding is familiar to millions.

The unknown part of this equation, though, is how long this rebuilding process is going to take.

Instead of flipping through an endless list of prospect projections, it felt like a better exercise to dive into the past and see how long it took other teams to assemble the young core that carried them to the top of the league. That’s the part we’ll focus on: the talent-gathering stage, not the stage of adding one last free agent to complete the team (think of that as the Marian Hossa stage).

We’ll start with the timeline that everyone here will know best.

Chicago Blackhawks

  • Drafted Brent Seabrook No. 14 overall in 2003
  • Drafted Jonathan Toews No. 3 overall in 2006
  • Drafted Patrick Kane No. 1 overall in 2007
  • Won a Stanley Cup for the first time in 2010

Drafting Toews and Kane was not the start of the Blackhawks rebuild. It was the end of it. Along with the aforementioned Seabrook, here’s who else was part of the organization when Toews was drafted in 2006: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Dave Bolland, Bryan Bickell, Troy Brouwer, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Sharp. Kris Versteeg was added in a trade between the selections of Toews and Kane, too.

If the Blackhawks current rebuild ends in a shorter timeframe, it’ll likely be the result of the team’s current wave of prospects producing multiple NHL players — perhaps a more important thing to watch than where the team drafts next summer. But we’ve been down that road already.

Tampa Bay Lightning

  • Drafted Steven Stamkos No. 1 overall in 2008
  • Drafted Viktor Hedman No. 2 overall in 2009
  • Notable non-first-round picks: Nikita Kucherov (second round, 2011)
  • Lost 2015 Stanley Cup Final, won in 2020 and 2021

Let’s focus on that seven-year window from the selection of Stamkos in 2008 to the Cup Final appearance in 2015, since Tampa was obviously in Stanley Cup contention by then. Nabbing a future Hall-of-Famer in the second round certainly expedited things.

Still, Tampa’s cupboard was largely bare in the back half of the 2000s as it came down from the high of a Stanley Cup won in 2004. Its next core started taking shape when Alex Killorn was drafted in the third round in 2007, but Tampa supplemented its other high draft picks with key moves like the addition of undrafted free agents Tyler Johnson in 2011 and Andrej Sustr in 2013. Tampa also drafted Ondrej Palat (2011), Cedric Paquette (2012) and Andrei Vasilveskiy (No. 19 overall in 2012)

It took about seven years for the Lightning to become Cup contenders and then another five years to finally summit the NHL mountaintop. A similar timeline for the Hawks would mean the next Cup wouldn’t arrive until the 2030s. Eek.

Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Drafted Ryan Whitney No. 5 overall in 2002
  • Drafted Marc-Andre Fleury No. 1 overall in 2003
  • Drafted Evgeni Malkin No. 2 overall in 2004
  • Drafted Sidney Crosby No. 1 overall in 2005
  • Notable non-first-round pick: Kris Letang (third round, 2005)
  • Lost 2008 Stanley Cup Final, won in 2009, 2016 and 2017

Drafting future Hall-of-Famers in three consecutive drafts is pretty good, right? Pittsburgh also nabbed a No. 1 defenseman in 2005 in the same draft it acquired a No. 1 center. That’s a big reason why it was just five years after the Fleury pick that Pittsburgh was on the verge of the Stanley Cup championship it’d secure the following summer.

But even that trio needed depth players around them and some were around before Fleury arrived, including: Ryan Malone (1999 draft), Brooks Orpik (2000), Colby Armstrong (2001), and Maxime Talbot (2002). More arrived as the decade progressed, including Alex Goligoski (2004) and Tyler Kennedy (2004).

In spite of all that star power, though, it was still seven years from Whitney’s selection until the Penguins won the Cup. And the whole thing was trending in the direction of a one-hit wonder before it nabbed back-to-back Cups with two of those top-five picks on to other franchises.

Los Angeles Kings

  • Drafted Dustin Brown No. 13 overall in 2003
  • Drafted Anze Kopitar No. 11 overall in 2005
  • Drafted Trevor Lewis No. 17 overall in 2006
  • Drafted Drew Doughty No. 2 overall in 2008
  • Notable non-first-round pick: Jonathan Quick (third round, 2005)
  • Won Stanley Cups in 2012, 2014

It took a while for the Kings to assemble that early 2010s juggernaut, but Doughty’s arrival kicked it all into high-gear — a pick that worked out far better than 2007 No. 4 overall pick Thomas Hickey.

The Kings drafted well in the later rounds, too, adding Alec Martinez and Dwight King in the fourth round in 2007. They also grabbed Wayne Simmonds in the second round that year, who was part of the trade that brought Mike Richards to town for that first Cup season. A few other key cogs of that initial Cup-winning LA team included Jarrett Stoll and Matt Greene (acquired in same 2008 trade), Slava Voynov (2008 draft), Justin Williams (2009 trade) and Rob Scuderi (2009 free agency). Younger reinforcements who eventually became part of the team that won LA’s second Cup included Jake Muzzin (2010 FA signing), Tyler Toffoli (2010 draft) and Tanner Pearson (2012 draft).

Go back to the start of this process, though, and it was a nine years before the Kings won a Cup.

Colorado Avalanche

  • Drafted Gabriel Landeskog No. 2 overall in 2011
  • Drafted Nathan MacKinnon No. 1 overall in 2013
  • Drafted Mikko Rantanen No. 10 overall in 2015
  • Drafted Cale Makar No. 4 overall in 2017
  • Won Stanley Cup in 2022

The first difference between Colorado and the other teams on this list — which could explain the lengthy duration of all this — is that Colorado did not draft the goalie that was in net for the Cup run. The Avalanche, in general, did not draft well outside of the first round: since 2011, they don’t have a non-first-round pick who played at least 100 games in Colorado. Combine that with the misguided hire of Patrick Roy as head coach, and the 11-year gap between drafting Landeskog and winning the Cup becomes more understandable — although that brief downturn did lead Colorado to drafting Makar.

Because of that, Colorado added most of its other pieces via trade: J.T. Compher (2015), Sam Girard (2017), Andre Burakovsky (2019), Nazem Kadri (2019) and Devon Toews (2020). They also picked up Valeri Nichuskin in free agency in 2019.

Don’t bore us, get to the chorus

Keep in mind that the situations detailed above are best-case scenarios.

Even if the focus is just on a return to the playoffs, that can still take several seasons. For Pittsburgh, it was five years after drafting Whitney. For Chicago, it was six years after drafting Seabrook. For LA, it was seven years after drafting Brown. Tampa made a surprise run to the conference finals just three years after drafting Stamkos, but then missed the next two postseasons. Colorado had a quick first-round exit three years after drafting Landeskog and then waited for more years to get back.

So many damn things have to go right for this rebuild to work. And some fortunate breaks would certainly help. The best-case results above stemmed from the combination of assembling top-end talent with quality depth contributors — and nabbing a future Hall-of-Famer or two outside of the first round wouldn’t hurt, either.

Did the Blackhawks rebuild start in 2022 with the trio of first-round picks? Could we trace it back to 2020 and the selection of Lukas Reichel? We’ll probably only know that in hindsight.

But, even in the most optimistic outlook, a return to the playoffs seems like it won’t come until the back half of this decade. Beyond that, it’s hard to envision the Hawks being a true Cup contender until — at best — the final years of this decade. And perhaps rounding up to 2030 makes for a more reasonable target.

Don’t worry: Kevin Korchinski would only be 26 by then.