Offense wasn’t a problem for Brent Seabrook, but the Chicago Blackhawks defenseman did have some issues
This is a Chicago Blackhawks grade segment I haven’t been looking forward to writing. I like Brent Seabrook. His name is on the back of one of the Blackhawks jerseys I own. I think I’ll always remember his series-winning overtime goal in the 2013 playoffs against Detroit, as well as his talk-it-out moment with Jonathan Toews in the same year.
But we’re talking about the 2015-16 season alone, and it was a weird one for Seabrook. He had a fine offensive campaign, but he noticeably struggled in important areas. It appeared the number of games the Blackhawks have played in recent years really caught up to Seabrook as this previous season went on.
Seabrook’s best stretch may have come in the 10 games Duncan Keith missed due to injury early in the season. After that, however, it was a slow and precipitous decline for Seabrook.
2015-16 regular-season stats: 81 games, 14 goals, 35 assists, plus-6 rating
2016 postseason stats: 7 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, minus-2 rating
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The biggest positive for Seabrook on the season was his offensive output. Seabrook cracked double-digit goals for the first time with 14 and added 35 assists, his second-best career mark. it led to a career-high 49 points, fourth-best for the Blackhawks. He found a good niche on the powerplay, with 25 of his points coming in that role.
Seabrook was also responsible for a career-best 9.2 point share. This statistic looks at the estimated number of points a player contributed to his team’s regular-season total. That 9.2 number was well above his previous high of 7.9, and much of it can be attributed to his offensive output.
Seabrook was especially strong when Keith was sidelined by his meniscus replacement surgery. The very first game Seabrook played without Keith, he posted one of his three three-point games on the season, on Oct. 22 against Florida. He scored at least one point in seven of the other nine games he played without Keith in that stretch.
The 31-year-old (30 during the season) also provided his usual solid physical contributions, posting 121 hits and 150 blocked shots. He also ate plenty of ice time, with his 22:49 ATOI his highest mark since 2011-12.
Most anyone who watched Blackhawks games regularly last season saw Seabrook was a step slower than in previous seasons. The wear and tear guys like Seabrook, Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson had gone through in past years took a more noticeable toll on Seabrook.
He saw 55.3 percent of his shifts begin in the offensive zone, which is a pretty high total. Despite this, however, Seabrook posted a Corsi-for rate of 48.2 at evens, by far his career worst. So, even though Seabrook was starting shifts with the puck, he was often losing it.
This is obviously a problem for a defenseman, especially one who’s expected to be the No. 2/3 defenseman and who was essentially tasked with babysitting the likes of Trevor van Riemsdyk and Erik Gustafsson.
Seabrook’s possession struggles manifested in a ton of giveaways. His ratio of 19 takeaways to 89 giveaways was abhorrent, with the latter number far exceeding his previous career high. Hockey Reference also estimates Seabrook’s expected plus/minus rating at near minus-13 — obviously far different from the plus-6 he ended up at. Seabrook’s offensive production indeed masked some of his defensive struggles.
But they couldn’t be masked forever, as the Blues exposed Seabrook throughout the first-round playoff series. He lost board battles consistently and couldn’t keep up with the forwards flying by him. At a certain point, being stuck in the defensive zone ensures your offensive impact is minimal as well, which created a big problem for the Blackhawks in their short playoff run.
This may seem like a harsh grade considering Seabrook’s career year offensively. But Seabrook was so woeful in his own zone throughout the season and into the postseason that it ultimately hurt the Blackhawks’ chances at playing longer.
Now I’m not saying Seabrook was the reason the Blackhawks didn’t beat the Blues in the playoffs. There were plenty of reasons for that. But Seabrook’s legs may have just been too tired to keep up the level of play we’re used to seeing from him.
The hope will be that a longer offseason this year revitalizes Seabrook come next season and improves his play in the defensive end of the ice.