Tim Currell, formerly a writer here at BlackhawkUp who now writes with Jeffrey Bartl over at Cheer the Anthem, wrote an article two weeks ago regarding the Chicago Blackhawks blue line. In that article he stated that Nick Leddy would be best off getting 6-10 minutes of ice time per night.
Leddy is past that. He’s done with the AHL, he’s completed that step. He needs 6 – 10 minutes a night against world-class players in the NHL, surrounded by veterans, coaches and a support staff who can mentor him. He also needs to practice with an NHL team, get an NHL conditioning plan, work with NHL video coaches, and have a night off to watch every few games or so. Moving Leddy to the stage where he can put in 20 minutes a night can’t be rushed, or we’d be tossing a well-rounded talent out the window. The Blackhawks’ brass knows this, which is exactly why they brought in Montador to replace Brian Campbell.
I replied in the comment section that Leddy will get closer to 14-18 minutes per game. Tim refined his prediction to Leddy getting closer to 10 minutes, but definitely not over 14. I was going to reply further to him there, but I believe the topic needs a full article – or two. With Brian Campbell traded this summer, Leddy, more than any other returning player, will be in the spotlight and likely be the cause of much debate. So why not start it off here? What will be Nick Leddy’s role on this team, and what kind of minutes will that entail?
It ain’t Soup, but it says Leddy, Leddy, Leddy on the label, label, label…
Let’s first get out of the way the fact that I disagree Steve Montador was brought in to replace Soupy. This is also, in part, a basis for my opinion of how much TOI Leddy will get this year.
Initially, when Leddy started last season in Chicago, it made some sense for him in particular to get the call from Rockford. Campbell was going to miss the first month and the Hawks lacked a defender with offensive skills. But when Leddy was brought up permanently – after Campbell had returned to the lineup – it didn’t pass the smell test. The Hawks already had two puck-moving defensemen; no need for a 3rd. What they needed was a shutdown #6 defenseman who could contribute on the PK. Leddy by no means fit that description. It’s obvious now that he was being groomed to replace Campbell. Leddy’s development was rushed in order to make a potential trade this offseason possible. Leddy, not Montador, is therefore replacing Campbell.
What Montador is, is a huge upgrade to Nick Boynton. With Campbell’s contract off the books, the Hawks had room to again add depth to the defense. They used it. And defensive depth throughout all three lines is much more important than depth at forward.
In tight games where a coach wants to keep his 4th line forwards on the bench, he can do that and still limit his top forwards’ TOI to less than 25 minutes. Less than 10 minutes TOI for 4th line forwards is palatable – in fact, it happens all the time. They load up on extra minutes during clear victories and typically average between 8-12 minutes of ice time per game over the course of the season, the upper end reserved for centers who also get time on the PK. But these are the forward lines we’re talking about. There are 12 of them and only 6 defenders, which brings me to my next point.
10 minutes till Wapner
Maybe it was an exaggeration, or a misunderstanding of the standard distribution of TOI among defenders, but a hope of 6-10 minutes per game for Leddy, or even an expectation of around 10 minutes, just doesn’t jive with traditional norms. Even the worst defenders typically skate more than 10 minutes per game, and on teams that don’t have the likes of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook eating up big minutes, even the low man on the totem pole gets more, sometimes much more.
But we’re talking specifically about the Hawks, so let’s look at them. Since the lockout, Chicago has had only two defenders average less than 10 minutes TOI for the season. This number includes call-ups who only played a handful of games or less in the NHL. So, even “protected” defenders get over 10 minutes of ice time.
To illustrate this, let’s look at the actual TOI that the “worst” defenders on the Blackhawks have received since the lockout.
In six seasons, only Danny Richmond who played a total of 7 games in 2008 and John Scott have averaged less than 10 minutes. And John Scott is a special case (in more ways than one) because his time is skewed by the large number of games he (cough cough) skated at forward. Again, you can occasionally hide weak players at forward without stressing your top players. You can’t do that on defense, not regularly, and certainly not with more than one guy. And I definitely don’t believe Leddy will be “that guy.”
Unless Leddy completely craps the bed, he’ll be up for more than 30 games this season. That would put him in the first category which has averaged 14:08 mins/game over the past six seasons. But that figure is also again skewed by the likes of John Scott and his minimum wage cohorts last year. That won’t be the case in 2011-12. If I remove 2010-11, the #6 and #7 defenders averaged at least 15 minutes per game from 2005-06 thru 2009-10, well within my 14-18 minutes prediction. But Leddy won’t be the #6 or #7 defender, so his TOI should be even higher than 15 minutes.
That wraps up the first part of my two-part series on Leddy. On Monday, I’ll post part two where we’ll further refine Leddy’s projected TOI, take a look back at his 2011 campaign, and discuss his and Steve Montador’s roles this coming season.
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