Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks: No Defending Team’s Defense Decisions

By Tim Lively

There are just a few days left until Christmas, which means one last chance to finish up your Christmas shopping. In the spirit of last-minute shopping, I thought I’d spout off with a last-minute rant about the current state of our beloved Chicago Blackhawks and their defense.

For starters, Blackhawks’ GM Stan Bowman may have three Stanley Cup rings to his hand, but I’m sorry, the recent trade of Trevor Daley for Rob Scuderi is glaring evidence that he completely botched the inevitable Patrick Sharp transaction he had to make this past offseason. (Unless Ryan Garbutt suddenly starts lighting the lamp on a regular basis, but I doubt anyone in Chi-Town is holding their breath for that.)

So with Daley traded in essentially a salary cap dump, not only does it mean the Blackhawks gave Sharpie and prospect defenseman Stephen Johns away for practically nothing, but it also led to the unfilled hole Johnny Oduya left in the Blackhawks’ defensive corps.

That being said, my initial impression was that Daley’s departure would mean the likes of the Blackhawks’ defensive hopefuls currently skating with the Rockford IceHogs, such as Erik Gustafsson and Ville Pokka (and, to a lesser extent, Viktor Svedberg), now have ample opportunity to step up and shine bright given the ‘Hawks are running even lower on permanent defensive solutions than they were at the beginning of the year (as hard as that may be to believe).

For whatever reason however, this hasn’t happened yet, and the fact that 36-year-old Scuderi has been in the lineup as often as he has been since arriving in Chicago, and paired with Michal Rozsival of all people, warrants some head scratching. To take a step back though, perhaps these past few games are simply to get Scuderi quickly acclimated to the Blackhawks’ style of play via the franchise’s usual trial-by-fire orientation for new personnel, and certainly coach Joel Quenneville’s penchant for big-bodied, defensively-minded players is playing its usual role.

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Nevertheless, Scuderi is already a minus-2 (which looks just lovely next to Rozsival’s minus-4 rating), so I simply can’t imagine the present state of the Blackhawks’ defensive ranks is the long-term setup at the blue line.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Daley-Scuderi trade is the additional $1 million it frees up in cap space for the ‘Hawks, which has caused many in Chi-Town to speculate Bowman’s got another trade left up his sleeve before the deadline.

The problem is defensemen, especially good defensemen, are expensive. Even with the extra chunk of change this trade brought the ‘Hawks, it’s hard believe they have enough funds to go out and get a viable defenseman, unless perhaps they throw in some of their forward prospects to sweeten such a deal (which may be one reason so many forwards from the ‘Hawks farm system have had brief “showcasing” stints in Chicago thus far this season). Even then, it’s still a roll of the dice (don’t forget it took Oduya a few years to carve out his role on the ‘Hawks).

At the very least, Bowman made the Scuderi trade to put his franchise’s finances in a slightly better position to take advantage of potential opportunities further down the road. In my opinion however, this is far from an ideal situation.

Perhaps I’m being a bit of an alarmist here, but the fact the ‘Hawks don’t have their defensive house in order with almost three months of the regular season under their belt is a serious concern. While I typically don’t like to hang my hat on stats, one statistic that is very telling is this: 90 percent of the Stanley Cup champions within the past 10 years (and probably much further back than that, if you have time to look) have had defenses that are in the top 10 in the NHL in terms of the fewest goals allowed during the regular season. In other words, defense does win championships.

Thus far the ‘Hawks are hovering around 15th in terms of goals allowed this season, which is good, but not great, and it’s a safe bet that they’ll fall even further down the GA stat ladder should they maintain the status quo on the blue line.

So what’s the best, immediate course of action? In my opinion, now that he’s got more than a few reps with the team, scratch Scuderi and insert one of the Blackhawks’ more promising defensive prospects into the lineup for some serious learning on the job, Trevor van Riemsdyk-style. This modus operandi has far more benefits than simply using Scuderi as a placeholder until a better solution can be found.

The good news is that there is still quite bit of regular season left, and (knock on wood) the Blackhawks’ offense seems to be hitting its stride on all four lines. Still, as we all know, gaining leads in games doesn’t matter if you can’t defend them.