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Chicago Blackhawks’ Oduya Experiment Must Trigger Youth Movement

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Apr 17, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville Predators left wing Filip Forsberg (9) takes the puck from Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya (27) in game three of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators won in overtime 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville Predators left wing Filip Forsberg (9) takes the puck from Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya (27) in game three of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators won in overtime 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /
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Apr 17, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville Predators left wing Filip Forsberg (9) takes the puck from Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya (27) in game three of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators won in overtime 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville Predators left wing Filip Forsberg (9) takes the puck from Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya (27) in game three of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators won in overtime 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman had great intentions when he traded a conditional fourth-round pick and prospect Mark McNeill to the Dallas Stars for defenseman Johnny Oduya.  Unfortunately, Oduya’s familiarity with the ’Hawks’ system wasn’t enough for him to make an immediate impact on the team

The word “retread” gets thrown around quite a bit when it comes to fans talking about the Chicago Blackhawks roster.  In the last eight years, the Blackhawks have cycled through numerous players, and some have been fortunate enough to be a part of one of the three championship seasons.

But just because you were good then doesn’t mean you’re good now.  GM Stan Bowman traded for players like Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell and Andrew Ladd hoping to recapture the magic they had with the team as far back as 2010.

At this year’s trade deadline, nobody knew what Bowman was going to do with the “win-now” window still open.  Bowman built a reputation of making a big trade-deadline splash over the last few years and pushing for another Stanley Cup run.

This year, Bowman didn’t want to sacrifice more young prospects to trade for a rental, but he did make some small trades.  Bowman brought in Tomas Jurco from the Red Wings and brought back former Blackhawk Johnny Oduya, who had spent the previous two seasons in Dallas.

Nov 3, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya (47) during the game against the St. Louis Blues at the American Airlines Center. The Stars beat the Blues 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 3, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya (47) during the game against the St. Louis Blues at the American Airlines Center. The Stars beat the Blues 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Failed experiment shows importance of youth

Lower-body injuries bothered Oduya all year while he only played 37 games for Dallas.  He had just been activated from the disabled list when the Blackhawks decided to take a chance on the 35-year-old Swedish defenseman.

Oduya had always kept himself in good shape and was the perfect fit on the Blackhawks, although many Blackhawks fans were looking for an upgrade at the forward position.  He was never a big scoring defenseman, but he did soak up significant minutes which took a load off of the big three in Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook.  The addition of Brian Campbell this year was also supposed to spread the minutes around.

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In the remaining regular-season games with the Blackhawks, Oduya tallied one goal and one assist and was a minus-2.  It was apparent that the Blackhawks were getting him back into playing form, but saving his best efforts for the playoffs.

Once the playoffs began, it was clear Oduya had either lost a step or was still laboring from lower-body injuries.  He was beat several times in the Blackhawks’ zone by the young, speedy Nashville forwards to the point where ’Hawks’ fans were calling for him to be benched.  His worst performance was in Game 2, when he was a minus-2 in an embarrassing 5-0 home loss.

One of the many lessons we can learn from this series is that the Blackhawks need to get younger on defense.  Bowman has traded away defensive prospects Klas Dahlbeck, Stephen Johns and Adam Clendening, among other promising young defensive prospects, and hasn’t promoted any young defensemen into a permanent role.  They also have locked up aging players to long-term contracts with no-trade clauses that has limited their flexibility to retool the player personnel.

Next: Rasmussen Earns Average Marks

It’s easy for us to criticize the work Bowman has done with managing this difficult salary cap, especially in retrospect.  Think of the ridicule Bowman would have gotten if he let Bryan Bickell walk.  Or how about not locking up Corey Crawford?  Either way, nobody is perfect, but the ’Hawks need to start looking to the future and quit dwelling on the past.

It’s a “what have you done for me lately” business, isn’t it?

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