By JOHN WAWROW and STEPHEN WHYNO | AP Hockey Writers
The long-anticipated dismantling of the Chicago Blackhawks’ roster begun Thursday with the team trading Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators and Kirby Dach to the Montreal Canadiens.
In completing a third trade to acquire goalie Petr Mrazek from the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Blackhawks went from having nothing in the first round at the NHL draft in Montreal to making three picks through the evening.
Chicago acquired the seventh and 39th picks in this year's draft and a third-rounder in 2024 for DeBrincat, who is likely a year away from a big payday. The Blackhawks acquired the No. 13 pick by trading Dach to Montreal.
“Going through a rebuild, it’s not fun," general manager Kyle Davidson said. ”Doing things you have to do to get to where you want to go is not fun. There’s going to be tough days like this where you see familiar faces and faces that we in management and the fans know and love, but it’s necessary and it’s necessary to get to where we want to be."
In adding Mrazek, the Blackhawks acquired the No. 25 selection for helping the Maple Leafs free up much-needed salary cap space. Mrazek has two years remaining on a three-year $11.4 million contract he signed with Toronto.
Dealing DeBrincat signals a shift into win-soon mode for the Senators, while the Blackhawks moved even further away from contending again a year after making moves like acquiring defenseman Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury.
“I think they’re trying to do something that maybe we were trying to do a few years ago,” Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said at the draft in Montreal. “Now we’re trying to do something that a lot of teams were trying to do, and that’s win a lot of hockey games.”
With a lot of losses coming up next season and beyond, the attention now turns to the future of longtime Blackhawks stars and three-time Stanley Cup-winners Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, whose matching contracts expire after next season.
“It’s a discussion that we’re going to have to have,” Davidson said. “We’re honest and told them what could happen. And we’re going to have to potentially make some changes, so there wasn’t any deception in that. But it’s real now. There’s a discussion that’s going to have to happen. They’re aware of what we expect of them and why we want them around."
They already gained some financial flexibility by trading DeBrincat, who is expected to attract a hefty raise once his current deal expires after the 2022-23 season.
DeBrincat, 24, has one year left on a $19.2 million, three-year contract, after which he is eligible to become a restricted free agent. Dorion said the Senators expect to start extension talks with DeBrincat's agent next week when league rules allow them but added the team wants to make sure he's a good fit in coach D.J. Smith's system.
“Obviously, we would like to extend him at some point in time,” Dorion said. “He was pretty excited. He talked to both myself and DJ earlier, and he was really excited. He knows we’ve got a really good, young group of players.”
Davidson said adding high draft picks was a priority following the DeBrincat trade.
Chicago selected Canadian junior defenseman Kevin Korchinski with the 13th pick, U.S. development team center Frank Nazar at No. 13 and Minnesota high school defenseman Sam Rinzel at No. 25.
“I think we’ve got some really, really high-quality prospects in our system," Davidson said. “Coming into today, if I figured we would add Kevin Korchinski, Sam Rinzel and Frank Nazar, I wouldn’t have believed you. And sitting where we are right now with the prospects we just picked up, I’m pretty damn happy.”
The trades come with the Blackhawks having reached a crossroad in their franchise’s direction. Chicago has missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, and hasn’t won a postseason round since 2015, when the Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six years.
The DeBrincat deal will create more questions for longtime Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Toews and Kane — still one of the league’s most dynamic players at age 33 — have no-movement clauses, making a trade unlikely unless they ask for a change in scenery. But DeBrincat’s departure could prompt Kane or Toews to seek a new home.
DeBrincat was selected by Chicago in the second round of the 2016 draft. He put up big numbers with the OHL’s Erie Otters in juniors, but he slipped down some draft boards because of his height at 5-foot-7.
Those concerns turned out to be unfounded.
DeBrincat has been one of the NHL’s most prolific scorers since his debut with the Blackhawks in 2017. The winger matched his career high with 41 goals this past season and set a career best with 37 assists in 82 games.
Overall, he has 160 goals and 147 assists in 368 games.
But the Michigan native also has improved on the defensive end, becoming a more well-rounded player since entering the league.
He joins a burgeoning Senators roster that already features a collection of promising youngsters including Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle.
AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen contributed to this report.
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