A new Blackhawks era begins: No Toews, no Kane, no Rocky -- and no captain
A new era dawns for the Blackhawks this week.
One without Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. And one, sadly, without owner Rocky Wirtz, who passed away on July 25 after a brief illness.
For sure, it's going to look and feel a lot different at the United Center this season as the Hawks continue a rebuild that -- by most accounts -- is going quite well.
General manager Kyle Davidson addressed the media Tuesday at Fifth Third Arena, speaking on a variety of topics two days before training camp begins with the first on-ice practice at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Here were the biggest revelations:
For the second time since the 1974-75 season, the Hawks will not name a captain, which is absolutely the right decision. Toews wore a "C" on his sweater 14 of the past 15 seasons, missing the pandemic-shortened 2021 campaign with an illness.
Defensemen Seth Jones or Connor Murphy could have stepped into the role, but the role was left open as a stick tap to Toews.
"A little bit of it is just out of respect for Jonathan," Davidson said. "The other part is not to put that pressure on someone else when you're coming out of a period of such greatness."
The Hawks rotated five alternate captains in 2021, using Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Connor Murphy, Duncan Keith and Andrew Shaw. They could go a similar route now, with the leading candidates being Jones, Murphy and forwards Tyler Johnson, Nick Foligno and Taylor Hall.
Then in 2024-25 it's possible we'll see Connor Bedard wearing that "C."
"We'll see who emerges ... and decide next year if it's appropriate to name someone," Davidson said.
For the past 16 years, fans would often see Rocky Wirtz during games in the northwest corner of the United Center. He would often stop to shake hands, pose for pictures and sign autographs.
His absence will be felt on game nights for sure, but also among employees in the halls of the United Center. Davidson, who started with the Hawks as an intern in 2010, is among those who will miss the warmhearted owner most.
"His impact on myself and my life has been immeasurable," Davidson said. "He gave me an opportunity to start in pro hockey and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to be the general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks. So forever grateful to Rocky for his support and his guidance.
"He was very excited about the path we were going on. ... We'll miss him a great deal."
The hype surrounding Connor Bedard has been building since the Hawks drafted him No. 1 overall in June, and it certainly picked up steam over the weekend when the 18-year-old notched a hat trick in a 5-0 victory over St. Louis in a prospects showcase at St. Paul, Minnesota.
Bedard scored on the power play, off the rush and on a slick shot in the middle of the ice.
The spotlight will shine even brighter Thursday and continue to intensify as the season opener at Pittsburgh approaches on Oct. 10.
Based on what we've seen thus far, it seems like Bedard will handle it all in stride.
"It's been incredibly impressive," Kyle Davidson said. "The amount of attention (he's getting) -- not just now but in the past -- has been something that is rarely seen.
"I can't speak more highly of how he's handled it (and) how he's not let it impact his focus."
No time for R&R
Kyle Davidson's first full season as GM was a complicated one. He will forever be known as the man who traded Patrick Kane and told Jonathan Toews his career with the Hawks was over.
Both icons raved about how Davidson handled their difficult situations, though, and that should pay big dividends down the road when big-name free agents decide where they want to sign.
This season will have a much different tone, with Davidson likely out of the spotlight for long stretches. He can enjoy the games a bit more, watch a young roster mature and decide who should be around long-term as the rebuild picks up steam.
"It feels a little more settled this year ... walking into training camp, which is nice," Davidson said. "To be one year further into the rebuild, you start to give players more responsibility and opportunity, and with that brings excitement.
"You also want them to make those steps, so there's some nervousness there. But it's all good because ... we've seen some progress from the young players and that's what we want at the stage we're in."
Odds and ends
Lukas Reichel, who had 7 goals and 8 assists in 23 games with the Hawks in 2023-24, will play center to start this season. ... It will be interesting to see how the Hawks handle Kevin Korchinski. The seventh overall pick in 2022, Korchinski is not eligible for the AHL and may not gain much from going back to juniors. He's only 19, however, and could be overwhelmed by NHL forwards. "We're just going to do what we feel is best for him," Davidson said. "We're looking long term with Kevin. He's a big piece." ... The Hawks won't likely sign anyone to a professional tryout (PTO), but may make a waiver claim during the preseason if it makes sense. Davidson did so last season by grabbing Jarred Tinordi. It worked out so well that the Hawks re-signed the D-man to a one-year deal in April. ...
Davidson did not want to put a timeline on when the Hawks may become a playoff team, saying: "We need to build a whole team of contributors and we want to make sure we're not putting artificial timelines that are delayed or sped up or based on whether prospects do or don't work out. ... Having said that, I really like where we're at. I really like the talent we've got in the NHL, that'll probably be in Rockford and in the amateur ranks. ... But in terms of specific timeline for playoff contention, it's still a wait and see."
• • •
Blackhawks training camp schedule
Thursday, Sept. 21-Saturday, Sept. 23, 10 a.m.: Practice
Monday, Sept. 25-Wednesday, Sept. 27, 10 a.m.: Practice
Thursday, Sept. 28, 10:30 a.m.: Practice (game group)
Thursday, Sept. 28, 11:45 a.m.: Practice (nongame group)
Thursday, Sept. 28, 7:30 p.m.: Hawks vs. St. Louis at United Center
Friday, Sept. 29, 10 a.m.: Practice
Saturday, Sept. 30, 10 a.m.: Practice (nongame group)
Saturday, Sept. 30, 11:30 a.m.: Practice (game group)
Saturday, Sept. 30, 6 p.m.: Hawks at Minnesota
Sunday, Oct. 1, 10 a.m.: Practice (nongame group)
Sunday, Oct. 1, 11:30 a.m.: Practice (game group)
Sunday, Oct. 1, 7 p.m.: Hawks at Detroit
Tuesday, Oct. 3, 10:30 a.m.: Practice (game group)
Tuesday, Oct. 3, 11:45 a.m.: Practice (nongame group)
Tuesday, Oct. 3, 7:30 p.m.: Hawks vs. Detroit at United Center
Wednesday, Oct. 4, 11 a.m.: Practice
Thursday, Oct. 5, 10:30 a.m.: Practice
Thursday, Oct. 5, 7:30 p.m.: Hawks vs. Minnesota at United Center
Friday, Oct. 6, 11 a.m.: Practice
Saturday, Oct. 7, 11:30 a.m.: Practice
Saturday, Oct. 7, 7 p.m.: Hawks at St. Louis
All practices at Fifth Third Arena; times subject to change. Fans can watch for free but must claim tickets (4 max) at Blackhawks.com/practices to attend. Doors open approximately 30 minutes before start time.