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FEATURE: Real Work Just Beginning in Path Back to the Top

As offseason begins, GM Kyle Davidson is laying the groundwork for Chicago's long-term path back to success

by Carter Baum @CarterBaum /

Kyle Davidson doesn't take any pleasure in watching from afar as 16 other NHL teams start the grueling two-month fight for the greatest trophy in sports. But he's watching anyway. The playoffs, the Blackhawks general manager says, are a nightly education in success.

The pace, the energy and the skill level of the opening games are undeniable. It's exciting. It's also, frankly, a night-and-day difference of where his Blackhawks stand today.

"Absolutely," Davidson agreed of the visible gap on Tuesday. "You see the level that you need to get to and it's very stark, the contrast, to the teams that are in it to win it and the teams that are just a little bit behind, and the teams that are a lot behind."

Chicago, undoubtedly, falls in that latter category. They wouldn't be embarking a well-publicized rebuild otherwise. But the teams still playing represent a possible blue print of the path back to enjoying the late-spring fruit of their current labor.

"It's very, very important to understand the standard that the game is being played at and the style that's being played elsewhere," Davidson added. "It's all great information. It doesn't mean you have to go out and copy the team that wins this year, but there are elements that you can take from every team in the playoffs because they're at a level that they've got a chance to win the Cup … You're always learning, you're always watching and this is the best time of year to understand what's working in our sport."

That's why there are no flights scheduled to some beachside town, nor tee times scattered across the calendar. The real work is just beginning for the first-year general manager to get his team back to playing hockey in May and, more importantly, June.

Video: Off-Ice: Inside the GM's Office with Kyle Davidson

Davidson has completed his executive leadership staff with the hirings of Norm Maciver and Jeff Greenberg as associate general managers. That trio will now work meticulously to put the right people and the right processes in place off the ice to drive the resurgence of the on-ice product in the weeks, months and years to come.

"We've been doing a lot of work to modernize the hockey operations group here and the infrastructure to be ahead of the changes in the game," Davidson explained. "We plan on returning to competitive hockey and staying there, and currently we're working behind the scenes to make sure we're dealing with the best-in-class information to build the team on the ice. In the offseason here, we're really looking to build our team off the ice so we're in the best position to put the best product on the ice moving forward."

"We're going to build it the right way," he added, "so when we get there, we're going to sustain a level of success that everyone can be excited about, and not rush anything for a quick run at potentially making the playoffs or a quick thrill. We want to do this right and stay at a top level."

There are pieces in the current makeup of the team and the prospect pipeline that can serve as the building blocks to the team's longer-term success -- Seth Jones and Lukas Reichel just two of the names discussed on Tuesday. "Absolutely there is a place for" Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews as well if they want to be part of the road back to the top. The message, though, is that Chicago simply needs more -- more young depth and more players with the skill to push each other for spots and minutes as their development progresses. In order to build a championship-caliber team, having meaningful depth across the system is a must.

Video: Davidson on end of season, Pt. 1

Take the current defensive prospect pool, for instance. There are names like Alec Regula, Alex Vlasic, Louis Crevier, Nolan Allan and Ethan del Mastro currently under contract -- all ranging in age from 19 to 21 years old. Considering their ages and all the other defensemen in the fold, both now and in the future, not all of them will become full-time Blackhawks in the years to come. But the more they push each other for roles, the more fine-tuning they can do within their individual games and the more steps forward each can take, the better the Chicago blue line of the future becomes because of the ones that do separate from the pack.

Development, a lot of times, is simply a numbers game because you can't definitively project the outcome.

"It's not necessarily (a problem of) the quality (of players) that we (currently) have, it's more so in the quantity, and the quantity is what you need in building a depth of talent that's going to come up together and sustain success at the NHL level," Davidson remarked of development as a whole. "We've got some players that have an opportunity to play up the lineup, but that's all to be determined in their development. We're going to give them every tool and every ability to reach their potential, but we just don't have enough of that … If we can add more high-end talent, then that's what we really want to do."

To see how crucial roster depth is for a playoff contender, look no further than the price the Tampa Bay Lightning paid to acquire Brandon Hagel at the deadline -- two first-round picks and two promising rookies in exchange for a coveted, high-energy, physical winger that slots in on their checking line. Hagel was a product of the Rockford-to-Chicago development pipeline. The Blackhawks need that same path to develop the next wave of players, both ones in the system and those they're seeking to acquire in drafts to come.

Video: Davidson on end of season, Pt. 2

With so much in motion on the hockey operations front -- internal staffing, a search for a new head coach, draft planning and more -- one thing is clear from Davidson. The Blackhawks of the future will be built around a distinct identity.

"We're looking for up-tempo, speed players that play high-motor hockey, high-compete," Davidson said. "And then as people, you want players that are driven, that want to improve, that understand what they need to work on and are willing to work on it."

"(Our next head coach has to be) able to communicate, able to drive a message and create a positive culture," he added, "and get players to want to come to the rink and compete every single night."

This offseason will be a transformative one for the future of the Blackhawks. While the rest of the hockey world is watching the league's best, the groundwork will be taking shape for Chicago's long-term path back into the conversation.

"Really digging into it the last few weeks has been really exciting because I think we're starting a journey here that we can really all put our stamp on and get excited about where we're headed," Davidson said. "We're using some traditional means (and) we're using some non-traditional means to get back to a place where all of our fans want to be, where we want to be, and it's really exciting. I'm pretty fired up about it."

Video: Davidson on end of season, Pt. 3

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