Chicago Blackhawks: Time To Lock Up Big Four

By Tim Lively

Since they’re still sweeping up the confetti at Soldier Field after Chi-Town helped our beloved Chicago Blackhawks celebrate their third Stanley Cup in 6 years, this may be a bit premature, but whether we like it or not, the celebration is over and offseason has officially begun, which means it’s time to start asking tough questions.

For the past couple years the Blackhawks have been able to keep their roster for the most part intact. However, as we all know that’s about to change.

For Hawks fans, we’ve been fairly lucky for the past five years, but this offseason with the contracts, cap space, and timing of both, we’re likely to witness a shift in player personnel on a scale we haven’t seen since the Great Roster Purge of 2010.

While there will be plenty of discussions about which individual players should remain and which should bid Chicago tearful farewell, before any of those dialogues can begin, the Blackhawks’ front office needs to agree upon the priorities for team. Once again, there are plenty of rumors milling about which Hawks forwards have skated for the last time in red, white, and black, but that’s a conversation for another day.

While offense may win games, I’m a firm believer it’s defense that wins championships. The question now is how much stock the Hawks will put into this adage.

Perhaps the biggest storyline out of the Blackhawks 2015 Stanley Cup run was the success of the their top four defensemen aka the Big Four: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya. With the injury to Michal Rozsival and the underwhelming performance of Kimmo Timonen, the Hawks (admittedly by their own making via regular season wheelings and dealings) were suddenly only able to reliably roll four defensemen.

Thus, the Big Four were leaned on heavily at the blue line, and answered beautifully with inhuman endurance and determination of the mind, body, and soul. What remains to be seen now is how they’ll be rewarded.

Jun 13, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) battles for the puck with Tampa Bay Lightning right wing J.T. Brown (23) in the second period game five of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

To back up a bit, let’s just reaffirm that given their contracts and the commitment that’s been made to them in years prior, Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson aren’t going anywhere. It’s Johnny Oduya (a free agent) and Brent Seabrook (a free agent after next season) who have the big question marks over their heads.

For starters, keeping Seabs and Oh-I’d-Duya will be expensive, plain and simple. Seabrook currently takes nearly $6 million out of the cap and Oduya will certainly fetch a high price on the market with two Stanley Cups to his credit, which will force the Blackhawks’ brass to probably cough up a lot more than they would like to keep him in Chicago.

Secondly, the longevity of Seabrook and Oduya is also becoming more of an issue than before. At 30 and 33 respectively, Seabrook and Oduya certainly have a decent amount of years left in their careers. However, both these D-men have played a lot of hockey while in Chicago, and especially after enduring long playoff series against physical teams like the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks in years past as well as meeting up with the bruising St. Louis Blues at least five times a year, you have to start to wonder exactly what toll all that wear and tear will eventually take.

We know both Seabrook and Oduya are tough and have been relatively injury free for most of their careers, but then again it only takes one injury to make for an expensive empty roster spot.

All that being said however, I’m firmly in the camp that the Blackhawks’ need to do everything financially and humanly possible to keep Seabrook and Oduya in Chicago.

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Let’s look at the facts: Both Rozsival and Timonen have played their last games as Blackhawks, and Coach Joel Quenneville has never been 100% sold on David Rundblad or Kyle Cumsikey. Behind them is Trevor van Riemsdyk and a swath of other young defenders in the Chicago farm system that are all very promising but also have yet to play a full NHL season.

In other words Hawks may have a lot of fire power, but it was repeated time and again by every commentator and their makeup artist during the post season that the Hawks lacked the same kind of depth at the blue line, and for good reason: it’s true.

The Blackhawks have solidified offensive pillars to build from for many years to come in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, now the same is needed on the defensive end of the ice. Yes Keith and Hjalmarsson are locked up, but after yet another successful Stanley Cup run, it should go without saying at this point that Seabrook and Oduya are the other half of that winning equation.

Furthermore, the Hawks would be considered wise to keep the Big Four intact because with emergence of young forwards like Brandon Saad and Teuvo Teravainen, the offensive side of the roster can withstand more veteran departures than the defensive, especially since it’s a well-known fact that defensemen take longer to develop than forwards, and as mentioned earlier, the Hawks’ defensive reserves are awful green.

This brings me to another benefit keeping the Big Four would yield: leadership. You simply won’t find the vast wealth of experience of Stanley Cups Olympic Medals wins the Big Four possess anywhere else in the NHL, period. With TVR and company poised to finally make their mark on the Hawks’ roster, who better than to help aid their development than the Big Four? It would be quite interesting to see what their influence would help blossom on the blue line…

Once again, this will be an offseason of priorities for the Blackhawks, and I sincerely hope that maintaining a rock solid defensive foundation to build upon for the future is one of them.


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