What Happened? The Sinking of the Defensive Corps

Photo: Rich Lam/Getty Images

For the longest time the Blackhawks drafted players backwards. The foolishly misguided ‘Hawks brass went into each draft looking for defensive forwards and offensive defensemen. One by one the picks were wasted on players that had barely a snowball’s chance in hell of making the team. Dumbest thing I’ve ever seen, and it was a key reason for the Blackhawks missing the playoffs so many years in a row.

The Blackhawks have very few of the remnants of that offensive defensemen draft strategy with the team now. What we do have is a defensive corps that went from having arguably the most effective top-four D-men in the league last year, to a group of four underperforming and disjointed blueliners this year — without losing a single member of their top-four. Making matters worse, the bottom pairing went from bad to worse to downright heinous before two additions to the team stabilized the situation — albeit way too late.

This, more than any other area of the team, was a disappointment for the Blackhawks and their fans during the 2010-11 season, and we’ll take a look at all of the culprits one by one.

John Scott

Since John Scott spent more than a couple of games on the blue line, mainly to fill in holes when call-ups from Rockford were either financially impossible or logistically impractical, he deserves a mention here. His shining moment was when he grabbed a Canucks player by the throat and threw him to the ice flat on his back during the playoffs. That’s it. That’s all I got. He skates slower than some goalies, he is routinely laughed at by the forwards whizzing past him doing a triple salchow on their way to scoring a goal, and his hockey smarts rival those of most Pee-Wee girls’ teams. But fear not: we have him for another year! Somebody shoot me…

Jassen Cullimore

This seasoned veteran (or career minor-leaguer, depending on how you view it) saw 36 games with the big club this year, tallying 8 assists and finishing up a +4. At 6′ 5″ and 235 lbs. he’s a hulking veteran presence on the Ice Hogs roster, which is where he’ll stay if we decide to re-sign him. His lack of speed and overall shortage of initiative will prevent him from seeing much (if any) time with the Blackhawks.

Jordan Hendry

Hendry is another defenseman who filled in on wing from time to time, but he exited the season needing surgery on his knee having suited up for only 37 games. 1 goal, no assists and a -2 rating. Even with less than half the season to look at, those are mediocre numbers. Additionally, this was supposed to be Hendry’s show-us-what-you-got-kid season, and he whiffed like a 5-year-old trying to swing his daddy’s golf club. He falls into the what-do-we-do-with-this-guy category along with Jack Skille. And just like Skille, I suspect we’ve seen the last of Hendry in a Blackhawks uniform.

Nick Boynton

We would be remiss if we did not mention the thankfully-departed Nick “Clusterfuck” Boynton, whose specialty — the blind pass in front of his own net with an opposing forward waiting for the inevitable gift — was enough to make most Blackhawks fans kick the nearest child or family pet in frustration. Despite maintaining a reasonable (though not exceptional) plus-minus, he was good for one bone-headed play leading to a goal against about once every two to three games. Thank goodness for the waiver wire and the injury to Chris Pronger, as Boynton is now Philly’s problem to deal with.

Niklas Hjalmarsson

Hjalmarsson was re-signed under pressure from an offer sheet plopped on his lap by San Jose Sharks GM (and former Blackhawk) Doug Wilson. (We have long memories, Dougie. We’ll get you back ten times over, you festering suck-stain.) Hammer re-signed at $3.5 million per over 4 years, about $1 million per year more than I’m sure Stan Bowman was hoping to get him for. Hjalmarsson got off to a difficult start, as he was trying too hard to fill the shot-blocking void left by Brent Sopel. Once he got into a rhythm, his stay-at-home style yielded a +13 rating, and he managed to add 10 points as well. Unfortunately he couldn’t stop shooting the puck over the boards from the defensive zone, something that cost him penalty minutes, and cost the team goals against. Next season will need to be better, or the Blackhawks’ management will be re-evaluating whether they want Hjalmarsson as part of their “core” or not.

Chris Campoli

When Campoli joined the club near the trade deadline, he arrived in a town that was half-expecting Brent Sopel and half expecting Mark Stuart. Needless to say the cries of, “Who?” when the trade was announced could be heard across Lake Michigan. But as time progressed and fans got a look at his game, it was easy to see that (despite being yet another offensive defenseman) he was going to fit in nicely. He managed 1 goal and 6 assists after his move to Chicago, and kept a +3 rating. His puck-handling is what is going to prove his worth in the long run, as he is able to deftly protect the puck and swerve away from forwards while maintaining precise control. Let’s hope he is not solely remembered for the giveaway that bounced the Blackhawks out of the playoffs. I’d call this season “incomplete,” but what we did see wasn’t bad.

Nick Leddy

The club got a long look at what will likely be their future during the last third of the season, when the highly-touted prospect was brought up to the Blackhawks and stuck with the team for the remainder of the season. He got off to a tentative start, but it was apparent that beneath the scared kid there was a lot of raw talent and innate hockey smarts lurking there. Slowly Leddy’s nerves started to abate somewhat, and he even managed to get on the score sheet here and there as the season wrapped up. Some pundits are saying that he needs more time in the minors, but I think that’s crap. He can learn from the best in a Blackhawks uniform, and give the team a viable top-four option when the inevitable injuries occur. Leddy’s got a ways to go, but we may be looking at an up-and-coming Brian Campbell when we no longer have Brian Campbell being Brian Campbell.

Brian Campbell

Our 7-million-dollar-man was late to the party due to a knee injury suffered in pre-season, but in the 65 games he was with us this season he stuffed in 5 goals and added 22 assists. Now here’s the big number: +28. Holy crap, is that huge. Top-10 league-wide among defensemen, up there with players like Zdeno Chara, Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis. The jury is still out on whether Campbell is worth the money relative to other defensemen with similar stats, though I’m sure that debate will rage on until 2015. But with numbers like those, and a consistent level of strong play, salary is the only justification for trading him — as well as being the main reason he’s not going anywhere.

Later this week and early next we will be devoting more space to the biggest names on our blue line corps: Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. Seabs was 5th on the team in scoring, and had the third-most assists at year’s end. Duncan Keith ended the season just barely behind Seabrook in both of those categories, but it was the abysmal start of his season that will be most remembered about 2010-11. Be sure and watch for those posts in the coming days.

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