Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks Sci-Fi Part VII: Ehrhoff On 2nd Pairing

By Tim Lively
Mar 2, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (55) skates with the puck chased by Detroit Red Wings center Gustav Nyquist (14) in the first period at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 2, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (55) skates with the puck chased by Detroit Red Wings center Gustav Nyquist (14) in the first period at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /
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Chicago Blackhawks Sci-Fi is a mini-series I do periodically here at Blackhawk Up, reserved for fantastic hypotheticals. I consider the following speculation science fiction at this point because, as of now, it’s pure fantasy, but who knows what the future will bring …

It’s hard to believe that our beloved Chicago Blackhawks, who are currently struggling so mightily, are the same team that won 12 straight games earlier this season.

So what happened? The trade deadline happened. ‘Hawks’ GM Stan Bowman brought in new personnel, who, while upgrades in most regards, shook up the Blackhawks’ offensive chemistry. Thus, as the offense is taking the time it needs to redevelop its synergy, the pressure has fallen squarely on the defense to keep the ‘Hawks competitive in the meantime, and needless to say, it has failed to do so rather epically.

While we can pick apart the Blackhawks’ defensive woes all day, one standout blemish I’d like to focus on is the lackadaisical play of Brent Seabrook. Mr. Overtime has been a shadow of his formal self as of late, and for good reason.

For the bulk of the season now, Seabs has been paired with either Trevor van Riemsdyk or Erik Gustafsson on the second defensive pair, and this has clearly begun to take its toll on No. 7. While these types of parings have been understandable, guiding the development of these younger players (whether deliberate or not) has put a strain on Seabs’ game because of his need to frequently compensate for his linemates’ novice experience.

While van Riemsdyk and Gustafsson have shown promise here and there, their inconsistent play has required Seabrook to undertake more defensive responsibilities than usual. Keep in mind, Seabs has been paired with an established and proven defenseman like Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson or Johnny Oduya for the better part of his Blackhawks career, all of whom bring a certain degree of defensive stability to the blue line. So his new partners are a far cry from his accustomed modus operandi.

It’s this lack of stability that Seabrook has had to compensate for whilst skating with van Riemsdyk or Gustafsson that has diminished his ability to play at his highest level.

chicago blackhawks
Mar 16, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) and Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier (14) go for the puck during the third period at the United Center. The Flyers won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

So what’s the solution?

Given the defensemen available at the trade deadline and their price tags, Bowman opted to place his bets on upgrading the Blackhawks’ offense. Whether this was the right move remains to be seen, but it does mean that the ‘Hawks need to find a way to solve their defensive woes by best playing out the hand they’ve been dealt, and in my opinion, the only card they have left to play is Christian Ehrhoff.

Pairing Ehrhoff with Seabrook might just be the radical solution the ‘Hawks need to get their defense back on track, and here’s why.

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Given what the ‘Hawks gave up for him, no one expects Ehrhoff to set the world on fire, but the one asset he does have that can be readily utilized is NHL experience. While his defensive capabilities may not be as high as coach Joel Quenneville likes (hence why he’s been a healthy scratch more often than not), the miles Ehrhoff has logged with other teams in the NHL has arguably given his play the level of consistency Seabrook is currently lacking in a defensive partner.

Thus, playing alongside a player immune to rookie mistakes like Ehrhoff would allow Seabrook to completely focus on his own game, as well to create the opportunity for a type of bond to develop on the second pairing that can only be formed between two veteran blueliners.

This arrangement would not only benefit Seabs, but also potentially boost Ehrhoff’s play.

Look at it this way: On paper, Ehrhoff and Oduya came to the ‘Hawks with pretty similar backgrounds. Both came to Chi Town in their early 30s after varying degrees of success while skating for multiple teams for various durations. I’m not saying Ehrhoff is the same caliber defenseman as Oduya, but you have to admit, the jury was still out on Oduya until he was consistently paired with Hjalmarsson and the level of his play spiked dramatically. In other words, never underestimate what a little stability can do for a D-man.

chicago blackhawks
Dec 22, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk (57) defends against Dallas Stars right wing Valeri Nichushkin (43) during the second period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Of course, moving Ehrhoff to the second line on a regular basis would mean Quenneville would be forced to entrust his third defensive pairing completely to neophyte defensemen in van Riemsdyk and Gustafsson at times when he’d be inevitably be forced to rest 37-year-old Michal Rozsival, a prospect everyone knows rookie-hating Coach Q would be loath to consider.

However, as far as I’m concerned, Q-stache is out of options. His current defensive lineup is clearly not getting the job done, and is in fact dragging down the play of one of his top D-men in Seabrook. So while giving van Riemsdyk and Gustafsson free reign on the third line from time to time may be a bigger roll of the dice than Coach Q would like to stomach, it can’t be any worse than the current arrangement.

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In the weeks leading up to the deadline, Quenneville infamously stated he thought the Blackhawks’ blue line was fine with its current personnel. Well Coach Q, now more than ever it’s time for you to put your money where your mouth is, so start by playing Christian Ehrhoff on the second pairing.

FOR THE DAGGER!

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