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Devils Potential Trade Partner: Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks are sellers, but do they have anything worthwhile for the Devils to buy at the deadline?

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NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Calgary Flames
It’s time to talk about Max Domi
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Blackhawks will never admit it publicly, but the 2022-23 season has gone according to plan thus far.

Chicago entered the season with one goal. That goal was to be as bad as possible so they would have the best possible draft lottery odds in a year where a potential generational prospect in Connor Bedard is available. Mission accomplished so far, as Chicago sits in last place in the Central Division and is among the very worst teams in the NHL this season.

Under new GM Kyle Davidson, the Blackhawks have stripped the roster down. They’ve even gone as far as to trade young players like Alex Debrincat and Kirby Dach as they have tried to accumulate as many prospects and draft capital as possible. Only Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane remain from their dynasty years, and they only have two players under contract through the 2025-26 season in defensemen Seth Jones and Connor Murphy. Davidson has a blank canvas to shape this roster however he sees fit moving forward. So it goes without saying that Chicago will be selling whatever inventory remains at the deadline.

With the trade deadline only a couple weeks away at this point, its time to take a look at the Blackhawks as they have a “For Sale” sign on anything and everything. Who do they have that might be of interest to the Devils and what might they cost? Let’s take a look.

Max Domi - Journeyman Pest

It seems like only yesterday when Max Domi was the 12th overall pick by the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft at Prudential Center. The 8-year veteran has already played for five NHL teams, with the bulk of his time in Arizona. He also has stops in Montreal, Columbus, Carolina, and now Chicago, as he signed a 1-year, $3M contract this past summer.

Listed at 5’10” and 192 lbs., the lefty-shooting left winger has shown flashes of offensive brilliance in the past. He posted a career high 28 goals and 72 points in his first season in Montreal. He is also leading a Chicago team that is trying to be as bad as possible in scoring this season, which goes noted on a roster that does still have future Hall of Famers Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on it for the time being.

Dave Melton of Second City Hockey wrote a really good roundup on Domi when he signed in Chicago that I’d recommend checking out. In summary, a lot of Domi’s value on offense comes from the fact he’s a great passer. Of course, that’s far from what Domi is best known for.

Max Domi is the son of longtime NHL enforcer Tie Domi. Devils fans will remember Tie Domi for elbowing Scott Niedermayer in the head during the playoffs in 2001 and getting suspended for the remainder of the postseason that year. They may recall that Tie sucker-punched Ulf Samuelsson in a game in 1995, knocking him unconscious and earning an eight-game suspension. They may remember the time when Tie goaded a fan into a fight in the penalty box in a game in Philadelphia. Tie played over 1000 NHL games, but retired with the third most penalty minutes ever. His calling card was being a pest, and if you weren’t a fan of the team he was on, you likely hated Tie Domi’s guts.

Max is arguably a better hockey player than his father was, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an instigator and pest in his own right. If you’ve been reading my trade posts, this is about the time where I like to link to highlight videos to showcase what the player does well. In Max Domi’s case, you have to scroll down a little bit when you search him in YouTube as most of the videos are of him doing Max Domi things and mixing it up with whoever he’s scrapping with on that particular night. Domi is a physical player who will stand up for his teammates. He’ll also sucker-punch someone who doesn’t want to fight in a preseason game. This is who he is.

I don’t think there’s anyone at All About the Jersey who has written more about how the Devils need to get tougher to play against than me. I don’t like it when the Devils do nothing when other teams take liberties with our guys. So I can appreciate that Domi is a no-nonsense guy who will stand up for the boys. I also see a player who will do questionable things on the ice from time to time when he crosses the line. I get accidents happen and sometimes a hit looks worse because a player turned at the last moment or got their head down. Hockey is a fast game with split-second decisions that have real consequences. With that said, I don’t like rooting for players who repeatedly cross the line. If I’m going to rip Jacob Trouba for becoming a head-hunter and throwing unnecessary elbows, I’m going to have a hard time defending Max Domi’s antics the next time he acts up. Especially if he were to become a Devil.

There might be more to Max Domi than being a borderline dirty player. He might be a better hockey player than I’m giving him credit for, although the fact he makes zero effort defensively is another strike against him.

It goes noted that a smart team like Carolina traded almost nothing to take a chance on him last year at the deadline. The last time he was traded before that, he went with a third round pick to Columbus for Josh Anderson. Domi’s value is about as low as it’s ever going to be when he’s accepting one-year deals from Chicago. And yet, he’s having a decent enough season where he could probably fetch a third round pick in the coming weeks.

Is he a fit for the Devils though? Maybe, but I would not say that he is an ideal fit. I think they could use a little more size on the wing to go with that snarl and Domi doesn’t really address that need. I don’t think he’s the greatest skater. He’s a bad defensive forward. It’s true that he can play several positions and give Lindy Ruff flexibility when it comes to filling out a lineup card. It’s also true that he has been surprisingly good in the faceoff circle this season, so the thought of putting him next to Hughes is interesting if Ruff is still interested in tethering him with someone who can win a faceoff. I just don’t think he checks enough boxes of things that the Devils could use more of in their lineup. He is a tough player and the Devils could use more of that, but If the Devils were going to go down this road, I’d rather gamble on someone like Ivan Barbashev who I wrote about last week.

Kane & Toews - Chicago Legends Who Make No Sense for NJ

I’m lumping the two Blackhawks icons together here for similar reasons. Both have no-move clauses, both have a matching $10.5M AAV cap hit, both are free agents at the end of the season, and I don’t think either one makes a ton of sense for the Devils.

Let’s start with Patrick Kane, as the 16-year veteran is one of the great offensive players and scoring wingers of his era. He is a former Hart Trophy winner, 3-time Stanley Cup champion, and future Hall of Famer. Wouldn’t he be a great fit for any team looking for more offense?

Not exactly.

Kane is an all-offense, no-defense player at this stage of his career. Some would even say he’s the worst defensive player in the NHL and has been for years. It’s debatable whether or not the Devils, who are 6th in the league in goals per game, need more offense. It’s not debatable that they don’t need another forward who can’t get the puck out of the defensive zone. He also would do nothing to help the Devils address their lack of size and sandpaper on the wings.

More importantly, it appears Patrick Kane isn’t 100 percent healthy and is playing through some lower body injury. He’s on pace for career-worst marks with 9 goals and 26 assists in 48 games, so his production has been impacted. Arthur Staple went as far as to say that it “Seems the whole league knows he needs hip surgery”. One of the reasons the Rangers traded for Vladimir Tarasenko instead of Kane was because of concerns with the latter’s hip.

I’m not a doctor. I’m not privy to Kane’s medicals and even if I were, I don’t know if he needs hip surgery or not. But I do know he’s having a down season offensively and doesn’t look right. I would trust people around the league when they say he’s playing through something and I would trust my eyes that he doesn’t look right when I watch him play. Add in the fact he’s 34, he has a no-move clause, he would have to agree to come here, and that the Devils would need to move heaven and earth to shift salary around just to overpay the Blackhawks in draft pick compensation for a player who may be damaged goods and arguably doesn’t even make them better? This makes no sense to me. Not when other, healthier, better options are available.

As for Toews, he also has a future Hall of Fame resume. 15 year veteran, three-time champion, former Selke winner, one of the best defensive forwards of his era, and captain of the Blackhawks dynasty. With 65 points in his last 117 games though, it appears his days as a difference maker on both the offensive and defensive ends are behind him.

I wrote last week about Ryan O’Reilly and how he’d be a strange fit for the Devils as they’re already set down the middle with Hischier and Hughes. Most of those points also hold true with Toews. The big difference is that I believe O’Reilly is a better player at this stage of their respective careers and has more left in the tank. O’Reilly also comes with a smaller cap hit on an expiring deal and you don’t have to deal with a no-move clause like you would with Toews. I’m not pounding the table for either center, but if you made me pick one, its not going to be Jonathan Toews in 2023. Especially when, like Kane, there’s an entire set of roadblocks you’d need to clear to make it all work.

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. I can understand why Kane and Toews, even at this stage of their respective careers, would draw interest from teams. I can also see NHL GMs who are stuck in 2010 channel their inner Tobias and Lindsay Fünke and talking themselves into trading for one of them because they’ll be “re-energized” playing in a playoff race.

It would take some heavy lifting just to fit their cap hits onto the Devils books, even if Chicago retained half and perhaps even if they got a third team involved. The Devils don’t need to give up a 5th round pick or whatever it would be to convince a third-party to retain 25% on top of whatever they’d be giving up for the player themselves. The Devils don’t need to chase what Kane and Toews were in 2010, 2013, or even 2015 in hopes that they could get some of that magic in 2023. Let someone else make this mistake.

Does Chicago Have Anyone We’d Want?

Yes, they might.

Let’s start with defenseman Jake McCabe, who is expected to be moved at the deadline.

Credit: Shayna Goldman, Dom Luszczyszyn, & The Athletic

McCabe is a defense-first defenseman who has put up positive results on a Chicago team that is actively tanking. The 10-year veteran is listed at 6’1” and 204 lbs. and has primarily played his career with the Buffalo Sabres before spending the last two seasons in Chicago.

You might be asking why do the Devils need another defenseman for the stretch run when Luke Hughes is probably signing at the end of the college hockey season, and that’s fair. McCabe, however, is not a rental defenseman. He has two seasons remaining on his contract at $4M AAV. This is notable because the Devils have two veteran defenseman who will be UFA after the season in Ryan Graves and Damon Severson. There’s a decent chance both players ultimately leave for bigger paydays elsewhere.

It would be incredibly proactive on Tom Fitzgerald to do some future-shopping at the trade deadline in 2023, but adding another quality veteran defensive defenseman who is cost-controlled the next two seasons via trade might make more sense than re-signing Graves or Severson and tying either one up until their mid-30s. It also might make more sense than paying UFA prices in the summer when the Devils might have bigger fish to fry. Tom Fitzgerald appears to be a savvy enough GM where he’s trying to make moves now that will pay off down the line. He wants wingers with term. Why wouldn’t he want a cost-controlled defenseman with term as well if he has a hole to fill? Especially when the Devils will likely add two high-profile rookie defenseman in Hughes and Simon Nemec into the mix in the next couple seasons.

I wouldn’t necessarily give up a first for him as Frank Seravalli has suggested, but it doesn’t appear to be an outrageous ask either. Defensively responsible defensemen are a commodity and you’re getting three playoff runs if you make this move at a $4M cap charge per season. I’d be ok if the Devils offered a 2nd and a prospect. To me, that’s basically the price they paid when they acquired two years of Ryan Graves from the Avalanche in the first place. I think there’s value in knowing you have your Graves replacement ready to go and you can devote those precious cap dollars elsewhere.

Andreas Athanasiou signed a 1 year, $3M deal prior to this season in Chicago. He’s always been a fast skater who might be a stylistic fit for a Lindy Ruff-coached team with his run-and-gun approach, but he’s also a streaky player who hasn’t contributed much of anything this year to the Blackhawks. The Devils already have an abundance of offensively streaky wingers where I don’t think they need to add another one in Athanasiou. He’s probably not too far behind teammate Patrick Kane for the title of “worst defensive forward in the NHL”. He also doesn’t bring a ton of the “hard to play against” qualities you’re typically looking for from a trade deadline rental, so I would pass on AA.

If the Devils wanted to address those deficiencies in their lineup, I’d suggest pursuing Sam Lafferty. Lafferty is signed at a team-friendly $1.15M AAV cap hit through next season, so he’s not a rental. He’s got a good frame at 6’1” and 195 lbs, is a righty shot, can skate, plays with a high motor, kills penalties, and brings a little physicality. He’s probably not worth a second round pick as Seravalli suggests, but his value should be in line with other quality fourth-line players and he should go for a third or fourth round pick. He’d be an interesting add to a team that currently lacks an identity on the third line and is likely an upgrade over what the Devils are working with on the BMW line as well.

Chicago should be listening on just about everybody on their NHL roster though with the possible exceptions of Taylor Raddysh and Lukas Reichel. The problem is that there’s just not a lot on this roster worth asking about, which is a byproduct of Davidson assembling this roster in the manner that he did. Seth Jones is signed forever at a massive cap hit and he’s not very good anymore. Connor Murphy might make some sense in the same vein that Jake McCabe makes sense as a cost-controlled quality defenseman but he’s a RHD and would be blocking Simon Nemec at some point. Jack Johnson and Jarred Tinordi are replacement-level players at best and “guys who will do more harm than good” at worst. Tyler Johnson has another year at $5M and is years removed from being the player he was in Tampa. He might have made some sense at one point years ago when the Devils were still rebuilding and the Lightning had their cap crunch, but he doesn’t make sense now.

Final Thoughts

Chicago is clearly a seller, but from the Devils perspective, there’s not a whole lot here worth buying. Max Domi is a flawed player who would bring some toughness but also probably would take a foolish penalty, doing something that makes you cringe. At this stage of their respective careers, it’s simply not worth going out of your way to acquire Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane at any cost. There’s a couple of intriguing pieces in Jake McCabe and Sam Lafferty if the Devils want to add some depth with an eye to the future, but that’s about all I’d have interest in from the Blackhawks roster.

You’ve heard enough from me though, so now, I turn things over to you. Is there anyone on the Chicago roster that has your interest? Do you agree with me that Domi, Kane, and Toews are stay-aways? Would you have any interest in adding McCabe for the reasons I laid out? Would Lafferty be an upgrade in the Devils bottom six? Did I miss anyone else from Chicago’s roster who warrants further discussion? Please feel free to leave a comment below, and thank you for reading!