The Chicago Blackhawks gave up on defenseman Trevor Daley in a terribly quick fashion two seasons ago, and he’s now a win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final
On July 11, 2015, the Chicago Blackhawks acquired defenseman Trevor Daley in a trade with the Dallas Stars. Also coming to Chicago was forward Ryan Garbutt, while forward Patrick Sharp and defenseman Stephen Johns were sent to Texas.
Toady, neither Daley nor Garbutt is with the Blackhawks. Garbutt got a brief shot at playing on the Blackhawks’ top line during the 2015-16 season, a result of the team not having a top-line left wing to replace the also-departed Brandon Saad.
Garbutt’s shot didn’t last long, as he was traded Jan. 21, 2016, to Anaheim. But even before that, Daley was already out the door in Chicago. And it’s his story that is far more interesting.
Daley was moved to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 14, 2015, for aging defenseman Rob Scuderi. That worked out about as well as you’d expect for the Blackhawks, as coach Joel Quenneville eventually had Scuderi playing with equally-old Michal Rozsival. Scuderi was out the door by Feb. 26, 2016, though still on the books the following season.
Meanwhile, Daley was joining the Penguins at a time when the team was in flux. He arrived two days after coach Mike Johnston had been fired and replaced with Mike Sullivan.
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Fast forward to today, and Daley is a win away from a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final with Pittsburgh — and five victories from being a repeat Stanley Cup champion.
So it seems as good a time as any to look back and see what could have been had the Blackhawks not soured so quickly on Trevor Daley.
Tale of two players
The story of Daley in Chicago is certainly a confusing one, and it has two sides to it. First, there was the side involving a player who didn’t seem totally comfortable with the Blackhawks’ system. Daley finished with six points — all assists — in 29 games with Chicago.
He fired tons of shots at the net, with 43 actual shots and a whopping 101 shot attempts in less than 30 outings. It just appeared that he was rushing the action whenever he got the puck, trying to impress Coach Q and the rest of the staff. The result was a lack of offense Daley was brought in to provide as a puck-moving defenseman.
The other story still shows some impressive statistics, though, and suggests the Blackhawks gave up far too quickly on the then-32-year-old. Daley posted a Corsi-for of 58.98 across all situations, providing a possession factor the Blackhawks’ defense lacked outside Duncan Keith.
This was achieved with extremely sheltered zone starts (66.5 percent in the offensive zone) and with Daley playing well below his average time on ice (14:46 in Chicago versus 20:40 for his career).
So why didn’t this translate to more immediate success in Chicago? Well, Q never seemed comfortable himself in deploying the defenseman. Daley was initially figured to be the fourth D-man, but when he didn’t shine right out of the gate, Q was quick to offer a hook while taking a look at youngsters like Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg. While not entirely misguided — it’s important to see what your young guns have at the NHL level — it was an odd use of Daley.
Fewer opportunities on ice meant 1) fewer opportunities for Daley to produce and 2) Daley pressing like crazy whenever he actually was on the ice, trying to prove his worth. The Blackhawks didn’t deem his great possession stats important enough to spend more time on him, as they were in the midst of a heated Central Division battle. So they dumped him to Pittsburgh.
What could have been in Chicago
What if the Blackhawks had hung on to Daley, though? What could have been for a Blackhawks team that was undone in many ways by lackluster defense each of the last two seasons?
Well, we certainly wouldn’t have had to see David Rundblad on the ice in an opening-round playoff series against St. Louis. More importantly, the Blackhawks would’ve had a veteran puck mover when they desperately needed one against a Blues squad that rushed the Chicago D-men like it was all that mattered (maybe it was).
A weary and worn Brent Seabrook could’ve had some more controlled minutes. The Blackhawks could have rolled with Keith, Seabrook, Daley, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Rozsival and some combination of Gustafsson and Christian Ehrhoff. Not ideal, but still better than what we actually got.
Would having Daley around have gotten the Blackhawks closer to a repeat Cup performance? Perhaps, but that defense still had some serious holes. Daley would’ve been a much better stopgap than some of the others who were utilized, though. I don’t think it’s crazy to say he would’ve been addition enough to get Chicago past St. Louis, at least.
Beyond that, it’s tough to say. There would have been one more year of a $3.3 million cap hit on the books with Daley in the fold for 2016-17, so Daley may not have stuck around past 2015-16 anyway. It certainly would’ve made for an interesting defense, especially if the Blackhawks had still found a way to sign Brain Campbell in the offseason.
Maybe Daley’s inclusion on that blue line, creating three puck movers in Keith, Daley and Campbell, would have balanced the pairings a bit more and not caused the Blackhawks to rely so much on Trevor van Riemsdyk and Campbell.
It’s doubtful Michal Kempny would have been signed in the offseason if Daley was still here. That’s interesting, because Kempny essentially finds himself in the same bind as Daley was in Chicago, though Kempny is missing the North American experience Daley has. I’m hopeful the Blackhawks don’t give up on Kempny as quickly.
Who knows if Daley being around causes Johnny Oduya to show up in Chicago or not at the trade deadline. And would having another puck mover have at least created a wrinkle against the Nashville Predators in this year’s playoffs?
So many questions, and very few can be answered. What I will say is I now believe, unlike in the post I linked above, the Blackhawks gave up too quickly on Daley. While his cap hit would have made for some complications down the road, from a purely on-ice standpoint, Daley would have helped the Blackhawks last season, as well as this season if he was still around.
Daley, though injured at times this season, has contributed 50 points across the regular season and playoffs since arriving in Pittsburgh. He hasn’t been as possession-dominant as a result of being utilized more in the defensive zone, but we all know the ability is there. Who knows what he may have produced had he been given more rope in Chicago.