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On Alex DeBrincat, the rebuild and the Blackhawks’ road ahead

Some final thoughts before a pivotal stretch of days for the Blackhawks’ entire organization.

Chicago Blackhawks v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

It’s starting to feel inevitable, isn’t it?

On Wednesday, Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli used the phrase “when, not if” as he discussed whether or not the Chicago Blackhawks are going to trade Alex DeBrincat. He later stated that DeBrincat’s “days are numbered,” although Seravalli added that the move may not occur this weekend and could come at next year’s trade deadline.

Still, I just cannot embrace the notion of trading away a 24-year-old forward who was just an all-star for the first time in his career and continues to evolve well beyond a “one-trick pony” by morphing into an all-around player who was trusted with penalty kill minutes last season to go along with his massive offensive responsibilities.

But here we are, with the NHL Draft arriving Thursday evening, and it feels like the Blackhawks are about to make a decision that will — for better or worse — chart the course of this team for the rest of the 2020s.

So much of what’s rattling around in the ol’ noggin is similar to what was published on this corner of the internet roughly three weeks ago, as the DeBrincat trade rumors ramped up significantly.

These rumors feel more real now, though, as the draft is always a busy day on the transaction market.

But is this really the best option for the team going forward? Is burning the whole thing down and starting from scratch really the best way to get the Blackhawks back to relevance?

I still can’t get there.

Let’s say the Hawks do it all. Start with a DeBrincat trade. From there, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane realize this situation won’t work for them any longer and waive their individual no-movement clauses, so they depart as well. Perhaps, against all odds, Kyle Davidson finds a taker for Seth Jones’ massive contract and unloads that, too. Maybe blue-line veterans like Connor Murphy and Jake McCabe are also moved for picks and/or prospects because, if there’s not a place for DeBrincat after this rebuild is over, there isn’t a place for them, either.

After a dreadful 2022-23 season, the Blackhawks win the lottery and land Connor Bedard with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. That’d be cool. But there are still FIVE other spots in the top six to fill. Feel free to take it down to four if Lukas Reichel lives up to the billing (and there’s no reason yet to say he won’t do so). Chicago would still need four other legitimate top-six forwards.

And then the entire blue line would need to be reassembled.

And they’d need a goaltender, too.

Do you realize how damn hard it is to put all of those puzzle pieces together?

Hell, the Blackhawks’ golden era was primarily built through the draft and a few shrewd trades for younger players, but they still had to add a top-four defenseman (Brian Campbell) and a Hall-of-Fame talent at forward (Marian Hossa) in free agency to complete the lineup — and it feels like players of that caliber hitting free agency are an increasingly rare occurrence as teams improve in their handling of the salary cap.

It just feels like an overwhelming venture in this version of the NHL, to take an organizational structure down to the studs and then build it all the way back up.

To be fair (to be faiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrr), the other option isn’t too great, either.

Keeping DeBrincat and Kane and Jones around — and perhaps other proven NHL commodities like Murphy and McCabe and maybe even Dylan Strome — while focusing on development of the younger players who are in the organization already or will be added in the next draft or two or three in hopes of assembling a more formidable NHL roster comes within an extremely narrow window in which to complete those tasks. Within three or four years, it may be difficult to envision Kane being the top-line fixture he’s been for 15 years — holy shit, FIFTEEN?! — and several of the other players mentioned above will be on the other side of 30 by then. And if that doesn’t work, then Chicago could be even farther away from the Cup in 2025 or 2026 then they are right now, and they’d need a telescope to catch a glimpse of the top of the league standings in the present.

Maybe this is all just a matter of personal preference. Some people in the sports world — (*raises a hand*) — would rather build around players who’ve already proven that they can flourish at the NHL levels while others would rather place their chips on the roulette wheel of the potential of younger players who have more time to acquire the skill sets that transform them into NHL-level talents.

Neither road is certain, but what road is in the world of professional sports? Even the most optimistic Blackhawks fans could not have envisioned, in the mid-2000s, that Chicago was about to notch a trio of Stanley Cup championships in a span of six seasons.

Maybe the full rebuild works. Maybe Davidson doesn’t find the return he’s looking for on the trade market, keeps DeBrincat and Kane and the others around and assembles a winning team that way. None of us know.

Guess we’ll have our answers soon enough.