Acquiring 1st-round draft pick should be Blackhawks’ top priority this winter
The Hawks, whose own 2022 first-rounder will go to the Blue Jackets barring a lottery miracle, desperately need one to bolster their prospect pool entering their rebuild.
The Blackhawks — a subpar team with a subpar prospect pool — don’t have a first-round pick in the NHL Draft this summer.
To put it bluntly, that’s a bad situation.
Much has been said about former general manager Stan Bowman’s decision last July, just before the draft, to relinquish defenseman Adam Boqvist (the Hawks’ 2018 first-round pick), their No. 12 overall pick (they got No. 32 in return) and a 2022 first-round pick (with top-two protection) in a trade with the Blue Jackets for defenseman Seth Jones.
But interim general manager Kyle Davidson — and whoever is brought in to flesh out the Hawks’ hockey operations — can only move forward with the wreckage they inherited.
Accordingly, Davidson’s top priority between now and the March 21 trade deadline should be to reacquire a first-round pick.
The Hawks simply can’t afford to enter a rebuilding era without one, as they’d be rebuilding around almost nothing. Outside of wing Lukas Reichel, they might not have a future top-six forward or top-pair defenseman anywhere in their pipeline. It would delay the entire process by at least a year.
There’s a chance a miracle draw could rescue their original draft pick. If the season ended Friday, the Hawks — eighth from last place — would have a 12% chance of winning the lottery for first or second overall, triggering the top-two protection clause and returning their pick to them from the Blue Jackets. In that case, they’d have not just a first-round pick but a potentially franchise-altering one.
But Davidson must assume that isn’t happening and that he’ll instead need to pry a first-rounder out of another team’s hands.
Trading goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is the most obvious route to consider. But even that would require creativity and negotiation, especially for the Hawks to land a first-round pick in exchange.
They might need to retain up to 50% of Fleury’s $7 million salary-cap hit to make it easier for a new team to fit him in financially.
They’d probably also need to stir up competing trade offers from around the league to drive up Fleury’s price. The Oilers (27th in team save percentage), Avalanche (21st) and Capitals (18th) are the three most logical suitors, although the Avalanche don’t have a 2022 first-round pick. Could the Penguins or Maple Leafs, who both rank top-10 in team save percentage but have relatively unproven goalies, also join the sweepstakes?
The Hawks might have to sweeten the pot, as well, by attaching one of their many depth players to Fleury to bump the return over the first-round threshold.
Before any of that, though, they’d have to convince Fleury to be open to a trade. He officially has a partial no-trade clause, but he might have more say than that, considering the Hawks’ presumed reluctance to double-cross him after convincing him to come to Chicago last summer. Fleury said publicly Thursday he hasn’t yet considered the trade possibility.
“[It’s] not my thought yet,” he said. “All I want is to have this team make the playoffs. Honestly, that’s what is in my head right now. To me, it’s not worth looking too far ahead.”
There are a few other conceivable scenarios that could bring the Hawks back into the first round, such as packaging one of their three third-round picks with one of their other trade-bait players (center Dylan Strome, defenseman Calvin de Haan or winger Dominik Kubalik). But such a move would be even trickier to execute.
None of the options are simple or painless — but neither is parting with a first-round pick if you’re the other team. For the sake of their future, the Hawks must find a partner ultimately willing to do that and then find a way to make it work.