At this point in the offseason, it’s pretty clear that the Chicago Blackhawks aren’t just rebuilding, but blowing things up and starting over. However, while winning may not be a priority, the team had significant gaps to fill going into free agency. On Wednesday, Blackhawks general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson addressed some of those needs by signing veteran forwards Andreas Athanasiou and Max Domi to identical one-year, $3 million deals.
Now, at first, these moves may seem like the complete antithesis of a rebuild. Both players are in their late 20s, have struggled with inconsistencies over the past few years, and are far off from their career seasons. Still, these two signings make total sense for Chicago and are the type Davidson should make until the club shows signs of struggle again.
Athanasiou and Domi bring speed, work ethic and some perks
Although Domi, the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, has arguably had the better career so far of the two players, each has had similar journeys. Athanasiou, a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2012, made his NHL debut in 2015-16 and gradually took on a bigger role with the team before posting a career-high 54 points in 76 games in 2018-19. The following season, he had 24 points in 46 games before Detroit traded him to the Edmonton Oilers in February 2020.
After appearing in just nine regular season games as an Oiler, Athanasiou signed with the Los Angeles Kings; however, he only played 75 games in two seasons with the club, mostly due to injuries. Although his production has declined as a result, he remains a decent striker in the middle of the six, and man, does he bring speed: a trait Davidson said he wants to be a focal point of the rebuild. Of course, as I’ll explain later, he’s definitely not going to be a long-term play, but his style of play is what the Blackhawks are looking for going forward.
Domi also made his NHL debut in 2015-16 with the Arizona Coyotes before the club traded him to the Montreal Canadiens in June 2018. In 2018-19, he posted a career-high 72 points (28 goals, 44 assists) with Montreal forward recording 44 points in the COVID-shortened 2019-20 regular season. In October 2020, he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets before heading to the Carolina Hurricanes at last season’s deadline.
Since his career year, Domi is no longer the same player, but he brings experience and a bit of versatility. Like Athanasiou, he lends speed and skill to the Blackhawks, but he’s best known for his grit and aggressiveness, which could benefit a flawed Chicago roster even in the short term.
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While both players, especially Athanasiou, have struggled with adversity in recent years, they still provide decent benefits when healthy. They are also proven products and bring some value to Chicago, which is important for an otherwise relatively inexperienced club. More importantly, if the Blackhawks continue to blow things up, the presence of these two players could benefit Davidson and his goal moving forward.
Adding Athanasiou and Domi could help rebuild
Unlike Patrick Kane and Seth Jones, Athanasiou and Domi are not stars. They don’t have much to prove either, and we have a pretty good idea of the players they are. Simply put, Davidson’s intention with these two signings isn’t to make the Blackhawks better, but rather to hope they can contribute to Chicago’s rebuilding plan instead of being part of it.
If the Blackhawks want to keep blowing things up, there aren’t many players left for the team to trade as they get younger. While Kane, Jones and Jonathan Toews might be another story — at least for now — Davidson has made it clear from the start that just about everyone is on the table for the Blackhawks. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t loopholes with other veterans, as Davidson still has to work around the previous regime and its poor management of the team.
Tyler Johnson and Jake McCabe, for example, might seem like deep pieces for a contending club, but you could argue that both are overpaid with average annual values (AAV) of $5 and $4 million, respectively. Connor Murphy, who is not expected to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) until 2026, carries a cap of $4.4 million. If the Blackhawks are looking to move those three veterans, they certainly still have the cap to keep some of their salary, but you can’t pretend their current contracts just complicate a potential deal. This is where Athanasiou and Domi come in.
With identical deals, Davidson made the smart move to sign these players if the idea is to trade one or both of them at next year’s deadline. While the experience they bring to Chicago is one thing, what’s more important is that it shouldn’t be difficult for the Blackhawks to move either and thus add more upside the next season.
Injuries and poor production could happen, of course, but the risk here is relatively low. If these deals are flops, so be it. Chicago isn’t in a rush to fight, and they’ll have more opportunities to execute the same strategy next offseason: sign a few veterans and trade them later for assets.
The Blackhawks should hope for the best of both players
Adding those two players, plus Colin Blackwell, Petr Mrázek and Alex Stalock, certainly gives the Blackhawks more experience than they had after the Kirby Dach and Alex DeBrincat trades. However, there is no sweetening, Chicago will be a very, very bad team next season.
That said, the Blackhawks should still hope to get the most out of Athanasiou and Domi, not necessarily to improve the team, but to maximize a potential return if they move both players. While it might seem like a stretch to say they could go for first-round picks, they’re only three seasons away from putting up 50- and 70-plus-point seasons, respectively. If either player showed some semblance of that production, it would surely attract more teams, opening up more opportunities for Davidson.
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Last season, when the Blue Jackets traded Domi, they received defensive prospect Aidan Hreschuk, Carolina’s 2021 third-round pick. When Detroit traded Athanasiou to Edmonton in 2020 as part of their rebuild, they received second-round picks in 2020 and 2021. Overall, these were solid returns relative to the production of both players and are the type the Blackhawks should hope to receive if they plan to deal one or both in stride. Prospects aren’t sure things, nor are draft picks. But, for Chicago, the more assets, the better.
These are two good low-risk signings from Davidson. When it comes to projecting the two players’ production, Chicago fans should remain somewhat conservative given the inconsistencies the two have recently faced. That said, they still bring a decent perk that could maximize their value. While adding these types of players might seem counter-intuitive to building from the ground up and getting younger, the Blackhawks need assets to get assets, and that’s exactly how fans should see Athanasiou and Domi. entering the 2022-23 season.
Connor Smith covers the Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers. He is from Naperville, Illinois, and recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in May 2022, with summa cum laude. This fall, he plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago to further his education and earn his master’s degree. With The Hockey Writers, he wrote and edited for The Ball State Daily News, Ball State’s on-campus student newspaper, and was an intern for Best Version Media (BVM) Sports and Jersey Column, a Georgia-based sports blog. You can find more information about Smith and his work in his online portfolio, connornsmith0719.wordpress.com.