In a letter marking the end of an era, the Chicago Blackhawks confirmed that the club is rebuilding.
"We're committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster," read the letter, published Tuesday. "We want more than another window to win; we want to reach the summit again, and stay there -- an effort that will require a stockpile of emerging talent to complement our top players. The influx of youth and their progression will provide roster flexibility and depth throughout our lineup."
The Blackhawks, who won three Stanley Cups between 2010 and 2015, were on pace to miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season before the COVID-19 pandemic paused play in March. Despite being six points out of a playoff spot at the time of the pause, the team was invited to participate in the NHL's expanded playoff format, where they upset the Edmonton Oilers in the qualifying round.
However, the club hasn't built on that playoff momentum in the off-season and instead parted ways with veteran goalie Corey Crawford in free agency, and traded winger Brandon Saad to the Colorado Avalanche and defenceman Olli Maatta to the Los Angeles Kings. The club also released long-time president and CEO John McDonough in April.
In an interview with ESPN's Emily Kaplan published shortly after the letter, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman provided more context to the direction his team is headed. While Bowman said he's comfortable using the word "rebuild" he added that he doesn't anticipate a full tear-down of the roster.
"What I don't want it to mean is we're trying to tear this team apart and trying to bring in a whole new group of players in the next year and a half," Bowman told Kaplan. "But we do need to rebuild the depth of our team. We don't have enough players, top to bottom, to compete with the top teams. We've got a lot of good players, we've got a pretty good start on the makings of a good team, but we still have a ways to go yet, and I accept that."
Earlier this month, team captain Jonathan Toews criticized the moves the team has made in an interview with Mark Lazerus of The Athletic. Toews made it clear that he and fellow cornerstone players Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith still want to compete for the Stanley Cup in Chicago before their careers are over.
“Bottom line is, I want to win,” Toews told Lazerus. “The expectation for the other leaders on this team and myself is to come ready to training camp every year to be a playoff team. We prepare ourselves to win a Cup for our fans. I’ve never been told that we were going through a rebuild. That has never been communicated to me, for that matter. A lot of this comes as a shock because it’s a completely different direction than we expected.”
Bowman addressed Toews comments in his interview with Kaplan, saying they surprised him because the two sides had discussed the team's direction throughout the 2019-20 campaign.
"I think what's assumed in that comment is a little bit of misunderstanding because I have talked to Jonathan since then; I've talked to all the veterans," Bowman told Kaplan. "I've tried to explain that the direction of the team -- we're on the same path that we were on last year. There's really no change in direction. We're being more honest about it. And if anything, we're going to double down on investing even more in our young players. The direction is not something that is a sea change for us."
Bowman added that he doesn't anticipate trading Toews, Kane or Keith in the near future.
"I don't know if that's going to happen down the road, I guess we'll tackle that if it happens," he said. "But right now, I didn't get the feeling from any of them that that was their desire."
The New York Rangers famously wrote a similar letter to fans in February 2018 and nearly three years later, after some draft lottery luck and the addition of Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin, there is optimism around that franchise again.
The Blackhawks already have centre Kirby Dach, the No. 3 overall pick from the 2019 NHL Draft, and wingers Dominik Kubalik and Alex DeBrincat making an impact. With those players continuing to develop and more joining them, only time will tell if the rebuild will be worth it.
"As our young players develop and learn how to win consistently, they'll make some mistakes. Inevitably, we'll miss the mark sometimes, too, but we'll communicate openly with you on this journey together," the letter says. "We know that what comes next must be more than just words, and that inspires us."