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Under general manager Kyle Davidson, the Chicago Blackhawks are undergoing what is expected to be a long rebuild. The process has generated speculation about the future of franchise superstar Patrick Kane and longtime team captain Jonathan Toews.
The pair served as the foundational pieces in the Blackhawks’ rise into an NHL powerhouse between 2009-10 and 2014-15. They led the club to three Stanley Cups, earning individual awards and garnering a place among the league’s 100 greatest players.
However, the Blackhawks have steadily declined since their last championship in 2014-15. They’ve made only one playoff appearance over the past five seasons as salary-cap constraints and quick-fix deals depleted their roster.
Toews told Mark Lazerus of The Athletic that the Blackhawks could be looking at a five-plus-year rebuild, which didn’t “sound appealing” to him. He also said the constant turnover of players over the past three or four years was “really, really draining. and exhausting.”
While Kane remains among the NHL’s leading scorers, the past two seasons were difficult for Toews. The 34-year-old missed all of the COVID-shortened 2020-21 campaign because of chronic immune response syndrome, and he had a career-low 37 points in 71 games last season.
Like Kane, Toews carries a $10.5 million salary cap hit for 2022-23 with a full no-movement clause. His actual salary will be $2.9 million after he received a $4 million signing bonus from the Blackhawks. Still, that contract won’t be easy to move unless the Blackhawks retain up to half of his cap hit.
A bounce-back effort by Toews could make him an enticing trade target in the coming season, especially for playoff contenders seeking a two-way center with leadership and championship experience. Here are five potential landing spots and what the Blackhawks could get in return.
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On July 11, NHL.com’s Amalie Benjamin reported the Boston Bruins were awaiting word if Patrice Bergeron would return for another season or retire. They’re also waiting to find out if David Krejci intends to make a comeback after spending last season playing in his native Czech Republic. Three weeks later, there’s still no word if either player will be back.
Even if one of them returns, the Bruins could be seeking another center for one of their top two lines in the coming season, especially if they’re hoping to remain a playoff contender. Perhaps they’d look into acquiring Toews as a one-season rental if he’s willing to accept a trade to Boston.
Toews could fill the first- or second-line center role, depending on whether Bergeron and/or Krejci came back. His experience, leadership and two-way skills would make him a good fit alongside the Bruins’ veterans, while the younger players could benefit from his presence.
The Bruins might have to get creative to acquire Toews. They have only $4.8 million in cap space, although they’ll get some early-season cap relief if Brad Marchand (hip surgery) and Charlie McAvoy (shoulder) go on long-term injured reserve as they recover from offseason surgery. However, Boston must be cap compliant upon their return to the lineup.
To take on Toews, the Bruins could attempt a three-team trade. The Blackhawks would retain half of Toews’ $10.5 million cap hit, with the Bruins and the other club splitting the remainder in half. They could offer up winger Jake DeBrusk or center Jack Studnicka as part of the return, along with a draft pick and a prospect such as John Beecher.
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On July 13, the Calgary Flames lost leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau to the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency. Ten days later, they traded winger Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers, with winger Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar as part of the return.
Huberdeau and Weegar could help the Flames remain among the top teams in the Western Conference this season. However, they might need a boost at their second-line center position at some point before the trade deadline. Toews could be a tempting option by that point if he’s willing to approve a trade to Calgary.
Sean Monahan is expected to return from his right hip surgery in time for training camp in September. However, his struggles following surgery on his left hip suggest he could have difficulty filling the second-line center role. The Flames could benefit from bringing in someone with Toews’ skills and experience to provide additional depth.
The Flames have $9.3 million in cap space with restricted free agents Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington left to re-sign. Acquiring Toews in the offseason or in the first half of the regular season could take up too much cap space even if the Blackhawks absorbed half of his cap hit.
It might be better for the Flames to wait until the trade deadline, when they’ve accrued more cap space. The return to the Blackhawks could be a second-round pick, a young defenseman such as Juuso Valimaki and a prospect such as Connor Zary.
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The Colorado Avalanche have a significant hole at second-line center following the departure of Nazem Kadri in free agency. Adrian Dater of Colorado Hockey Now recently suggested Toews could be a solid short-term replacement.
Dater acknowledged the concerns about Toews’ age, contract and recent decline in his production. He anticipated that Toews might not be available until the trade deadline, when he figures to be a hot commodity. That would leave the Avalanche making do with Mikko Rantanen or Alex Newhook as their second-line center. JT Compher could also fill that role.
Speaking of Compher, Dater suggested he could be part of the return to the Blackhawks. The Avalanche could dangle their first-round picks in 2023 and 2024, too. However, they could be reluctant to part with them since they’ve already traded away their second and third-rounders in both drafts. They might need to include a few prospects instead.
The Avalanche entered August with nearly $18.2 million in projected trade deadline cap space. Still, they might have to get the Blackhawks to pick up half of Toews’ cap hit to facilitate the deal, especially if they plan on making other additions before the deadline.
Toews’ production could improve skating on a deeper club in Colorado. He would bring plenty of experience and leadership to the Avs in their quest to defend the Stanley Cup.
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After reaching the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the Dallas Stars missed the playoffs in 2021 and were eliminated from the opening round by the Calgary Flames last spring in seven hard-fought games. They might benefit from having Toews center their second line, with team captain Jamie Benn on left wing and Tyler Seguin on the right.
CHGO Sports’ Jay Zawaski recently reported there was no truth to a rumor linking the Stars to Blackhawks star Patrick Kane. Even if the Stars were pursuing the 33-year-old winger, the Blackhawks’ asking price combined with Kane’s $10.5 million cap hit and full no-movement clause could put him out of the Stars’ reach.
Given the Stars’ depth among their wingers, Toews might be a better fit as a two-way center with considerable championship experience. Granted, he has a contract identical to Kane’s and would have to agree to the trade. The Blackhawks would also have to retain a healthy portion of the cap hit.
The Stars have $11.5 million of salary-cap space remaining, but they have yet to re-sign rising young stars Jason Robertson and Jake Oettinger. They’d probably have to wait until the trade deadline to accrue sufficient cap space to pursue Toews.
As for the return, the Blackhawks could ask for young defenseman Thomas Harley plus a prospect such as Ty Dellandrea along with a draft pick. Still, a rental like Toews could be worthwhile if the Stars are in playoff contention by the trade deadline.
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The New York Islanders are pursuing free-agent center Nazem Kadri, according to Kevin Kurz of The Athletic. If those efforts fall through, perhaps general manager Lou Lamoriello will consider Toews as a second-line center option.
The Islanders already have two centers in Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson. Kurz suggested moving one of them to the wing to make room for Kadri, but they same idea could apply if they were to acquire Toews.
Kadri would provide the Islanders with a scrappy second-line center coming off a career-best 87-point season and a Stanley Cup championship. Toews doesn’t play the same style, but he is a solid two-way center who brings years of championship experience and leadership to the table.
With $11.2 million in salary-cap space and restricted free agents Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov still left to re-sign, the Islanders wouldn’t have sufficient cap space for Toews’ full cap hit to start the season. They’d have to convince the Blackhawks to retain half of it. In return, they could offer up Josh Bailey along with a draft pick and a prospect.
NYI Hockey Now’s Stefen Rosner recently reported the Isles are shopping Bailey. The 32-year-old winger has two years remaining on his contract with an average annual cap hit of $5 million. Rosner believes he could do wonders for a rebuilding club like the Blackhawks.
Salary-cap info current as of Aug. 2, 2022, via Cap Friendly.