And Now For Something Completely Different: Defensive Pairings, Part 3

 

Expect to see a lot of these three on the ice together. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images NA

 

Today I’m going to take a stab at potential defensive pairings we might see this coming season for the Blackhawks. Yes, this is coach Q were talking about, so you can often throw things out the window after the 1st period of game 1, but it’s also August and this is what we do to survive a long summer (no thanks to the Cubs and Sox).

Here are three configurations that make sense to me (shutdown line is in bold):

Option 1: Offensive Pairings (offensive top pair, shutdown 2nd pair, solid 3rd pair)
Keith-Leddy
Hjalmarsson-Seabrook
Montador-Lepisto

Option 2: Defensive Pairings (defensive orientation, all three lines)
Keith-Montador
Hjalmarsson-Seabrook
O’Donnell-Lepisto/Leddy

Option 3: Neutral Pairings (mix of offense and defense on all three lines)
Keith-Seabrook
Hjalmarsson-Montador
Leddy-O’Donnell/Lepisto

 

First, you need to free your minds of 2010 and before, when Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were inseparable. Sure, we’ll still see that pairing, but Q broke the two up about half the time last year. This year it will make even more sense to do so. Second, I categorized each configuration by situation for the sake of discussion, not because I believe Q will be shifting lines for every opponent or situation. He tends to stick with his defensive pairings longer than his forward lines.

 

Option 3: Defensive Pairings
Keith-Montador
Hjalmarsson-Seabrook
O’Donnell-Lepisto/Leddy

This set of pairings is also something I haven’t personally seen discussed elsewhere yet. Here are my reasons that we might see this configuration at times:

Monty is a defense-first defender, but he does have some offensive potential as his past two seasons have shown. A combo of Keith-Monty would be defensively strong, yet skilled enough to generate offense while skating with the Hawks top forward lines.

Seabrook and Hjalmarsson are the Hawks’ best pure shutdown defenders, so pairing them primarily with the checking line would be a tough combination to score against. Again, I don’t foresee a Seabrook-Montador pairing in this role is because they’re both right-handed.

One could argue that the Neutral Pairings example is similar to the Defensive Pairings, but Monty is still a poor man’s Seabrook until he proves otherwise. I anticipate Leddy getting at least 70 games season and this configuration would be ideal if Q wants to sit Leddy here and there.

 

Option 2: Neutral Pairings
Keith-Seabrook
Hjalmarsson-Montador
Leddy-O’Donnell/Lepisto

Against stronger, balanced opponents, a neutral orientation would make sense. Each line is defensively sound, yet can also take advantage of offensive situations. The setup should look familiar from 2010. Basically it’s Q’s “go to” lineup with Steve Montador taking Brian Campbell’s spot and Nick Leddy and Sean O’Donnell taking the place of Jordan Hendry and Brent Sopel.

Although Monty is a very different player than Campbell, he is capable of producing some offense. Seabrook and Montador are the Blackhawks’ only right-handed defenders, so it makes sense to always put them on different lines. The 3rd line also has a good balance with Leddy being the only defender in the lineup whose defense is in question. But that’s why he’d be there in these games.

The problem that I have with this configuration is that there is no clear shutdown line. It’s really shutdown by committee as Q will need to get 7-2 their share of offensive zone draws with the top 6 forwards. If Seabrook’s minutes paired with the checking line in a shutdown role aren’t maximize, you’re doing the defense a disservice.

 

Option 1: Offensive Pairings
Keith-Leddy
Hjalmarsson-Seabrook
Montador-Lepisto

Now that the Hawks have a solid and versatile 5th defenseman in Montador and more defensive depth overall, something they lacked even in 2010, coach Q can free up Keith to play a more offensive role – and with the departure of Campbell, he’ll have to.

Want to get the most out of Keith’s offensive abilities, bring back up his scoring totals, AND simultaneously reduce his minutes? Pairing him with Leddy probably does all of these things. And against opponents that lack forward depth, Leddy and Keith would be effective bum slayers.

We saw a lot of the Leddy-Keith pairing last year, both during the regular season and the playoffs. According to Dobber Hockey, Leddy spent 47% of his TOI paired with Duncan Keith. Over the last 10 games of the season, Leddy was paired with puck-moving defensemen almost 87% of the time (Keith, Campbell, and Campoli). In the playoffs, Leddy skated with Keith exclusively from Game 3 on.

Many argue that a Keith-Leddy pairing is redundant. Why put your two best puck-movers on the same line? My question for them would be “Why put your best offensive forwards on the same line then?” You do this to take advantage of situations. Remember how good Keith and Leddy looked in games 3 through 7 against Vancouver? It’s quite likely Q will at times turn to that pairing again for offensive zone draws and Seabrook-Hjammer as his shutdown duo.

Defensive pairs don’t play in a vacuum; you have to consider how each pairing works in tandem with the forwards. Basically it’s all about zone starts and which forward line the defense is matched with. You want your most offensively skilled defenders skating with your top forwards when it 1′s vs 3′s. So it comes down to either Keith-Seabrook or Keith-Leddy skating with Toews’ line. But Keith-Seabrook has mostly skated with the Hawks checking line in the past or with the 1st line when the opposing coach was matching his 1st line against the Hawks 1st line. So I think we’ll see a lot more of Leddy-Keith than people expect. Plus, Toews is the “3rd defender” in this configuration, so it’s still defensively sound.

Montador-Lepisto/O’Donnell is as talented of a 3rd line as any and should be able to do some bum slaying as well. Plus, due to the talent on the 3rd line, the ice time will be more evenly distributed. I believe this is the configuration we’ll see Quenneville start the season with. During tight games, Leddy might still get demoted to the 3rd pairing though.

 

So to wrap things up from my three part series…

Leddy improved as the year went on and looked good for a young defensive rookie used in a roll very similar to Campbell. Leddy might be flipping between the 1st and 3rd lines, so I expect he’ll average around 18 total minutes of ice time per game; about 18-20 mins when paired with Keith and 14-16 if/when he’s skating on the 3rd line. Whether we see him regularly on the 2nd team PP depends a lot on his development. Monty and Lepisto have seen PP time in the past, but Leddy will be more suited for the PP as he develops. It will be interesting to see whether or not Q plays Leddy on the 2nd unit PP right off of the bat or slowly works him into the system.

 

John Schultz
Lead Writer, BlackhawkUp
Follow me on Twitter @ChiNativeSon

Related articles:

Nick Leddy: A Perfect Ten, Or Even Higher?

Leddy Gaga, Part Two

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  • cliffkoroll

    looks like you have everything but the actual pairings:

    Keith-Seabrook

    Leddy-Hammer

    Lepisto/O’Donnell-Montador

  • http://BlackhawkUp.com/ ChicagoNativeSon

    @cliffkoroll Heh. Man, you’re on a roll lately. Sure, that could easily be the lineup for game1. There are a number of other configurations that make sense. I just don’t see this one, at least early on.

    With this setup, 7-2 is your shutdown line and therefore 4-8 is skating with the 1st or 2nd line. Leddy and Hjammer are both young, prone to mistakes (Hjammer likely much less than Leddy), and not the best offensive combo.

    Hjammer-Soupy worked because Campbell was experienced enough to take control and create momentum. I don’t see Leddy having that kind of confidence or ability yet. Plus, his defensive game isn’t anywhere near Campbell’s. That forces Hjammer to pick up a lot more slack than he had to when paired with Campbell.

  • cliffkoroll

    @John Schultz I know you don’t trust Hammer-Leddy, and it might blow-up, but I think Q gives ‘em at least 10 games.

    Most teams have one top line- I want 36-2-7 out there against that line.

    If Hammer-Leddy draq ice with Toews, the Capn’s all-around awesomeness will help, and they’ll be going against #2s or #3s anyway.

    I actually hope Keith de-emphasizes the offensive game this year, and Marlboro 72 goes back to being a true shut down pair, with 40-50 point offensive upside each.

    Scoring should not be this team’s problem, it was not a big “hole” left by Campbell, the Hawks added a top-6 forward in Brunette.

    Against deeper offensive teams, Q might want to protect Hammer-Leddy more, but not against the run-of-the-mill, IMO.

  • DaleHalas

    @cliffkoroll Why does everybody think the Hawks are going to go with those lines? Hawks have all these examples this past season on how the Hawks could and did use Leddy. In almost 2/3rds of them, Q split Hjammer and Campbell. When he did, he paired Hjammer and Seabrook and used Campbell as a 5th D-man.

    72 is one of the best two-way pairs in the league. It makes sense to have them play with checking lines of Bolland/Havlat or Ladd and Versteeg. Lines that can also score.

    It makes a whole lot less sense when they are paired with Bickell and or Olesz. Remember Bickell’s offensive numbers this year had a whole lot of PDO “luck” associated to them. Even with that luck the Hawks scored a half goal less per 60 minutes of ice time with their checking line this last season compared to the previous.

    And for all the “complaining” about Keith’s “horrible” season, his goals against per 60 was eerily similar to his Norris winning season. It was his offensive numbers that were down.

    And remember all the complaining about “how Kane didn’t take the next step last year and become a serious Hart candidate?” Well adding Brunette/Sharp and Leddy/Keith to the top line on a consistent basis will give Kane the best chance to be more then a PPG player. I’m going to write about that one of these days…

  • DaleHalas

    @cliffkoroll Sorry, should have said Brunette or Sharp and Leddy/Keith

  • cliffkoroll

    @DaleHalas I don’t speak for “everyone”- the pairings above are based on my opinion alone. Montador was a 3rd pairing guy in Buffalo- putting him in the top-4 in Chicago doesn’t speak well to the Hawks defensive depth.

    Just like the Hawks have a “hole” in the top-6, they have a “hole” in the top-4 d-pairings. Leddy gets first crack, IMO- simple as that.

    I don’t put too much weight in Qs scrambling of the d-lines last year, because he was holding different cards.

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  • TMFF

    These make sense, so naturally the Stache will not use them until game 75.

    But I would expect to see alot of Marlboro 72, as logical as it may be to pair D2K and Biscuit with others, I think Q digs their Bromance.

    I agree fully Montador and Keith I think will turn into the #1 pair in shut down time with TOFTBO and Seabs taking the checking/third assembled scoring lines late in the game.