There is enough smoke around the possibility of the Chicago Blackhawks trading star winger Alex DeBrincat this offseason that we should probably be paying attention to it. And if you are a Blackhawks fan, preparing yourself for it.
On Tuesday, the Athletic’s Scott Powers outlined the reasons why the Blackhawks are likely to make such a move this offseason and it basically boils down to this (my words): The team currently stinks, the front office is ready kick off a massive rebuild that will probably require several years to make the team competitive again, and re-signing DeBrincat to a new contract after this season (he will be a restricted free agent after the 2022-23 season) that pays him upwards of $9 million per year is probably not what a rebuilding team needs at the moment.
Then there is also the fact he is — by far! — their most tradable asset which also probably assists the rebuilding effort.
Add all of that together, and you have the potential for a blockbuster deal.
But what would such a deal look like for the Blackhawks?
As we discussed when the Buffalo Sabers were trying to go through the Jack Eichel trade these types of deals never look like anybody expects them to look. It is really difficult to trade a player of this caliber and get back an equal return. It is also difficult because there are not really many parallels to look at here for comparison because players like DeBrincat do not typically get traded.
He is not only still just 24 years old and in the prime of his career, but he is also already one of the league’s top goal scorers. For his career he’s averaged a 35-goal pace per 82 games, has already topped the 40-goal mark twice, and would almost certainly had a third 40-goal season had the 2020-21 NHL season (32 goals in 52 games) not been shortened.
Try to think of a similar player (age, talent, production) that has been traded in recent years and what that return looked like.
There’s not many to go by.
Eichel of course comes to mind as he was 25, averaged 0.37 goals per game and 0.95 game points while he was under contract for several years with a $10 million per year salary cap hit. Buffalo received a first-round pick, a second-round pick, Alex Tuch, and Peyton Krebs.
Patrik Laine at the time of his trade from Winnipeg to Columbus was pretty similar to DeBrincat as a goal-scorer and contractually. He and Jack Roslovic were dealt in exchange for a third-round draft pick and Pierre-Luc Dubois. The big factor here is that both Laine and Dubois wanted out of their current situations.
Taylor Hall was a former No. 1 overall pick and 24 years old when Edmonton traded him to New Jersey in a one-for-one deal for Adam Larsson.
Those are probably the most recent comparable deals.
But let’s expand on this a little more and try to take a more objective look at it. In the salary cap era there have been 35 forwards that played at least 100 games, averaged more than 0.35 goals per game, and 0.80 points per game before their 25th birthday in the NHL. DeBrincat is one of those players.
Out of the other 34, only 11 of them were traded at any point in their career (whether it be before their 25th birthday or after).
Only seven of them were traded before their 26th birthday: That list includes Tyler Seguin, Mike Cammalleri, Laine, Eichel, Hall, Bobby Ryan, and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Seguin was traded at age 20, after just his second season in the NHL.
Kovalchuk was traded as a pending unrestricted free agent.
Neither situation is totally similar to the Blackhawks and DeBrincat, but the talent level is somewhat close.
Here is what each of those seven players was traded for.
Quit the mixed bag of returns.
The Seguin trade looked fine on paper at first, but within three years Boston had literally nothing to show for it as they moved on from all four players for one reason or another. The jury is still out on the Eichel and Laine trades. The Hall trade was a disaster for Edmonton, while the Kovalchuk trade amounted to nothing but spare parts for Atlanta.
The common thread with most of these deals though is a first-round pick, a really good prospect or young NHL player, and sometimes some NHL roster filler.
It is worth keeping in mind that every situation is different. All of these players are different in some way, and it only takes one team to make a big offer to blow Chicago out of the water. But there is still uncertainty with DeBrincat in terms of a contract as whatever team would trade for him would have to sign him to a new contract, and he will need the salary cap space for that. That might take some teams out of the running.
If the Blackhawks do decide to go all in with a rebuild and deal DeBrincat there should be no shortage of interested teams. New Jersey, Buffalo, and Detroit need something to jumpstart their rebuild. Calgary might have to replace Johnny Gaudreau. Los Angeles and the New York Islanders need another star. What that trade looks like though remains to be seen. But there is at least a potential framework out there based on similar deals in the salary cap era.
Can Chicago do better than any of those?
We might find out in the coming weeks.