GM Kyle Davidson believes it's time for Blackhawks ‘to take a step forward' in rebuild

GM Kyle Davidson believes it’s time for Blackhawks ‘to take a step forward’ in rebuild originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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The Chicago Blackhawks wrapped up the 2023-24 campaign with only 52 points, which is their fewest in franchise history since the NHL moved to an 80-plus game schedule in 1974. It was also the third consecutive season they finished in the bottom six of the standings.

It’s no secret the Blackhawks are in the beginning stages of a full-scale rebuild. But in his 40-minute exit interview on Saturday, GM Kyle Davidson said it’s time for the next phase.

“There needs to be a progression,” Davidson said. “I don’t know how many points or standing slots that is, but we can’t finish second-last in the league. I think the standard has to be raised. The expectation has to be raised. Through that, accountability will be raised. That’s the nature of the path we’re on. Eventually, we have to start making positive steps. And I think we’ve reached that point.

“I’m not saying that we’re going to be competing for playoffs or Stanley Cups or anything next year; I don’t know how realistic that is. It’s the best league in the world, best players and best teams in the world. To say we’re just going to improve a whole great deal in the standings is difficult. But we need to be better. And it’s time to take a step forward.”

This doesn’t mean Davidson is going to go big-game hunting on the free-agent or trade market this season. He’s going to be calculated on how he utilizes his cap space, as he should.

“The salary cap is unforgiving, and once you give that space up, you can’t get it back,” Davidson said. “It’s really hard to move contracts that are no longer desirable to you. We don’t want to get into that business. We’d like to be responsible with it and thread that needle as best we can, while balancing short and long-term objectives. That’s difficult.”

Having said that, I do expect Davidson to fill out the roster with quality, serviceable NHL players on shorter-term deals to surround Connor Bedard and the younger players with a stronger supporting cast. The Blackhawks can’t take the next step in their rebuild if he runs it back with a similar roster.

“It starts from the top; it has to start with me, on down to the coaches, coaches to the players, and it has to cascade down that way,” Davidson said. “Are we going to bring in some new players? I think that’s likely. Yeah, there’s going to be turnover. Who’s available, what you can get? That’s yet to be determined.

“There’s a lot more that goes into that than just wanting certain players or wanting a type of player. It’s got to fit short-, long-term. It’s got to fit contractually. It has to make sense.”

The Blackhawks threw several rookies into the lineup at the beginning of the season, and it was important for them to do that because they wanted to see who would take advantage of the opportunity. Some guys did, others didn’t.

Next season, there’s going to be a legitimate competition for positions and roles in training camp. And that’s the way Davidson wants it.

“We want to create battles,” Davidson said. “We want training camp competition for spots. And that comes with a little bit of addition and honesty with the players, both veteran and young, that you’re all fighting for the same spot. Your experience level, your age, where you’re at in your career, whether you’re new here or not, that’s not going to play a role into if you’re on the team come Day 1. You’re going to determine if you’re on the team based on your play in camp.

“Part of that is players we bring in. It’s difficult in this league to take a huge leap forward. But we just need to see some positive progression here and also be realistic about what that means. Positive progression next year is likely an increase in our win total, our point total, but not setting the bar too high.

“It’s not realistic to say we’re going to win the Stanley Cup. That’s obviously the goal every year. But we also have to be realistic with where we’re at and work to that point where we can be fortunate enough to be in that conversation. That’s going to take time. But it has to start one step at a time. And that starts next year in training camp.”

Davidson doubled and tripled down on the need to be better next season. Again, it doesn’t mean the Blackhawks are trying to speed up the rebuild timeline. It’s more indicative of the fact they’re graduating to the next stage of it, and the expectations are starting to elevate.

“Previous to this year, we finished third-last,” Davidson said. “This year, we finished second-last. That can’t happen again. We need to start moving up and onward. That’s the exciting part of the process. It may not be a huge leap, but there has to be some positive momentum to be carried forward starting next year.”

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