Luke Richardson should enjoy the moment.
He had his big day, his coronation as the 40th head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks at the team’s store downtown, and has been on his welcome-to-Chicago tour, appearing on radio and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Wrigley Field.
It’s a wine-and-dine period every new coach receives, and from many reports it couldn’t be happening to a nicer guy.
So no one wants to throw cold water over Richardson’s big splash, but reality is lurking around the corner for the first-time head coach.
The Hawks star’s future has dominated conversation about the team’s offseason, and it certainly loomed in the background of Wednesday’s introductory news conference.
Will Richardson be starting the rebuild without his leading goal scorer? DeBrincat accounted for 19% of the Hawks’ goals and almost 30% of their power-play goals.
General manager Kyle Davidson said in March that “I don’t necessarily subscribe to the untouchable theory” when it comes to trading players, and when asked Wednesday whether that stance applies to DeBrincat, he doubled down.
“I don’t necessarily subscribe to the untouchable theory because there’s always a situation where someone’s going to offer you, whether it’s realistic or not … something that you can’t turn down,” Davidson said. “I guess in reality, other than those who are contractually obligated to be untouchable, that no one is. But we’re not in a position where we can hold anything back.”
Davidson also said the Blackhawks wouldn’t “necessarily” be “proactive in every sense,” but — there’s always a but.
“When you announce something like a rebuild, it’s only natural that people come to you with a lot of different ideas,” he said. “So we’re open to listening and we’ll evaluate from there.”
Reports have pegged the Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders among the suitors for DeBrincat.
A rebuild is motivation enough to entertain trade talks, but the lack of a first-round pick in Thursday’s draft only heightens the Hawks’ incentive.
“I haven’t been shy about professing my willingness to acquire some future assets,” Davidson said. “That’s something we’ll look to do. But I’m not looking to force anything. … We have some ideas and some thoughts as we head to Montreal next week, but until we have more concrete discussions with teams, we’ll see where that goes.”
The impact of DeBrincat’s departure from Chicago would be monumental — both in the short and long term.
The impact obviously would be immediate. Short of hearing from Richardson about what he has in store on offense and defense — you can only go by what the Hawks put on film last season — it’s not a stretch to say the offense revolved around DeBrincat and 92-point producer Patrick Kane.
To underscore what DeBrincat means to the Hawks, he ranked 22nd in the league in goals-above replacement (20) and tied for 21st in wins above replacement (3.5), according to evolving-hockey.com.
Who could even begin to approximate that role? Kirby Dach, Lukas Reichel or Taylor Raddysh?
Trading DeBrincat also could start a domino effect on the roster.
Kane would have to evaluate how patient he can be with the rebuild, or waive his no-movement clause and ask to be traded to a playoff contender, like the Hawks did with goalie Marc-André Fleury last season. Otherwise, Kane would have to weigh how much staying with one franchise through his Hall of Fame career means to his legacy.
Jonathan Toews already spoke about the prospect of moving on after the Hawks traded up-and-coming forward Brandon Hagel to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“In this case, you can’t help but picture yourself and what it’d be like to play for another team and what that experience would bring. That pops into your mind,” Toews said in March.
The Hawks have said they’ll be reluctant to shell out cash during free agency this summer, so without DeBrincat, how much appetite would they have to retain Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalík, both of whom have arbitration rights and likely are due significant raises?
Speaking of which, DeBrincat will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights after next season, and a $9 million qualifying offer might be too rich for the Hawks’ blood this early in the rebuilding process.
DeBrincat said he’s “open to anything” when asked last season about an extension.
In the long term, trading DeBrincat could bring a windfall for the Hawks.
Hagel netted two future first-round picks and young forwards Raddysh and Boris Katchouk.
Imagine what DeBrincat could bring. Davidson’s not going to trade DeBrincat for anything short of a king’s ransom, not if he wants to show his face anywhere near Madison Street.
The Hawks have five picks between the second and third rounds this year, a protected first-round pick from the Lightning in 2023 (potentially four picks in the first two rounds) and another protected first-round pick from the Bolts in 2024 (potentially two first-rounders).
If DeBrincat lands a first-rounder or two and an elite prospect or two, that would be quite a haul for Davidson and Richardson to mold the roster however they want.
Four or five years from now, the Hawks should have a solid enough nucleus to loosen the purse strings for free agents and catapult the team into contention — with enough prospects still in the pipeline to keep developing — or else something went terribly wrong in the draft or the locker rooms.
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At that point, Richardson probably would be the first to welcome the pitchforks if his team isn’t competitive.
But for now, he has to worry about more than just a paucity of playmakers.
At a critical time when he’s trying to build a culture in his image, he could have fewer players of the kind he needs.
DeBrincat isn’t just revered for his skill — like Hagel was — he’s beloved for the example he sets.
The 5-foot-7 winger harasses bigger opponents on defense, often poking away pucks into the Hawks possession, and he’s as feisty on the penalty kill as he is on the power play. He’s one of the Hawks’ character guys, the kind who playfully torments a young skater such as MacKenzie Entwistle in practice. Like, every practice.
And based on many of DeBrincat’s postgame interviews, personal achievements can’t dull the sting of a loss.
DeBrincat checks a lot of boxes, and that kind of player wouldn’t be very easy for Davidson and Richardson to replace — no matter how many prospects they get in return.