Chicago Blackhawks Defense: An Early Look

By Gail Kauchak
Dec 29, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) celebrates with defenseman Duncan Keith (2) and right wing Patrick Kane (88) after scoring a power play goal in the first period against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 29, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) celebrates with defenseman Duncan Keith (2) and right wing Patrick Kane (88) after scoring a power play goal in the first period against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s never too early to begin projecting the starting lineup for the Chicago Blackhawks

At the Chicago Blackhawks Convention a few weeks ago, coach Joel Quenneville sat on one of the panels and discussed his options on defense for the upcoming season. He expressed his desire to keep Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson together on the top pairing, as they had been so successful together this past season.

Brian Campbell, who came over from the Florida Panthers, is the newest addition to the blue line, having signed with the club in early July. He is being touted as the fourth defenseman that the Chicago Blackhawks haven’t had since the departure of Johnny Oduya to the Dallas Stars in 2015.

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So naturally, it can be deduced that Campbell will pair up with Brent Seabrook on the second pairing. It helps that assistant coach Mike Kitchen confirmed this at the convention as well.

This leaves the third pairing open for Trevor van Riemsdyk, who was thrown into the top four because of lack of depth last season. But he could do quite well with more experience and being under less pressure this year.

And then there is Michal Kempny, a defenseman from the KHL who many have high hopes will make an immediate impact. Not to mention numerous youngsters who will be trying to crack the lineup this year (Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, Ville Pokka). Oh, and we can’t forget Michal Rozsival, who the ’Hawks just recently signed for another year.

So there you have it.  Social media and fans alike have it all figured out. The D-pairings for this coming season will be:



New person-Van Riemsdyk

I don’t believe this for a second. Now don’t get me wrong; this might very well be the lineup at some point. But to say these pairings are set in stone would be ludicrous, especially with Coach Q at the helm. Let’s face it; this man can’t leave much of anything alone (with the exception of Panarin-Anisimov-Kane). He is constantly experimenting to see if there is something better out there.

Some people can’t stand this about him. “Leave well enough alone,” they say. “Let the boys develop some much needed chemistry.” But one must remember he’s the second winningest coach in NHL history, and he’s won three Stanley Cups in the last six years.

Besides, it would be so boring to watch the same pairings night in and night out. It’s one of the reasons being a Chicago Blackhawks fan is so much fun! The players expect it, and the fans should expect it as well.

With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at some other possible defensive combinations

Remember the 2014-15 season? The D-pairings for the Chicago Blackhawks were Keith/Seabrook, and then Hjalmarsson/Oduya. And this is the year they won the Stanley Cup.

Keith and Seabs have great chemistry together. Seabs didn’t have the best year on defense last year, but he also wasn’t with Keith most of the time. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Seabs will probably benefit from being paired with Keith.

Heck, anyone would benefit from being paired with Keith. But Keith and Seabs have been paired together for years — since they started in the league, as a matter of fact.  Maybe it won’t work out in the long run, but I can’t imagine why Q wouldn’t try to go back to the well on this one.

In the meantime, Hjalmarsson is arguably the second-best defenseman on the team (behind Keith, of course). With a few more viable defensemen to work with, it makes sense to spread the wealth a little bit. Why not put Hjammer on the second pairing with say, Campbell?

Campbell shoots left, as does Hjammer; but Hjammer is one of those versatile players who seems to thrive on going outside the box. The whole time he played with Keith, he was on his off side. If anyone can do it, Hjammer can.

Campbell has, very smartly, expressed that he is willing to skate with anyone Coach Q wants to pair him with. He’s no dummy; he’s been down this road before. I could even see Q putting him on the third pairing. This way, he could mentor someone younger and less experienced, and Hjalmarsson could do so as well. Fellow staff writer Mike Brennan recently wrote a post discussing how Hjammer is in a prime position to play this role.

If Keith, Hjalmarsson and Campbell were spread out among the pairings, Coach Q could also have the luxury of spreading out their minutes, and everyone could ease into the season. There would be less chance of injury, and nobody would get burnt out.

So, instead of the pairings further above, this is how I would like to see the defense look to start the season:


Hjalmarsson-van Riemsdyk


I chose van Riemsdyk for the second pairing because he shoots right, so both players would be on their natural sides. TVR also has the most familiarity of all the other D-men in this role, having played in the top four at the end of last season. And he could gain a lot from the tutelage of Hjalmarsson.

Conversely, if Kempny lives up to his expectations, it seems that he will be the best bet to take the last open spot in the lineup. Being the newest member, he would line up on the left (his natural side), and Campbell, the veteran, would play on his off side.

Now, of course, Campbell and van Riemsdyk could always be swapped if Coach Q wants to lean more heavily on his top two pairings. And the same holds true for Hjalmarsson and Seabrook being switched if there is a need for a stronger first pairing. And obviously this is all quite premature to speculate too much before training camp even starts. Perhaps someone else will step up and earn a spot.

The Chicago Blackhawks usually carry seven defensemen, with the sixth and the seventh guy essentially sharing the final spot. My vote here would be for Gustafsson; as he showed the most promise and got the most playing time of all the youngsters last season. I certainly hope it’s not Rozsival; can the ’Hawks be done with that experiment, please? Let’s hope he’s just been kept around for insurance purposes in case of injury.

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The long and the short of it is there are so many more viable possibilities than last year. Having to figure out the best defensive pairings is a good and exciting problem for the Chicago Blackhawks to have. Hang in there, folks! Only 65 more days!