Chicago Blackhawks’ Grades: Brent Seabrook In Decline
By George Clifford
Veteran defenseman Brent Seabrook posted a disappointing 2015-16 season, and his gold-plated contract keeps the Blackhawks in a salary cap bind
Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook would likely be the first to acknowledge his overall performance in 2016-17 fell short of his own high standards and the lofty expectations that come with an eight-year, $55 million contract. While the big blueliner can still ignite explosive scoring plays and project a heavy physical presence, his overall play on both sides of the puck last season indicates the 12-year veteran may be in decline.
With the Stanley Cup Final now reduced to a best-of-three series between Nashville and Pittsburgh, many Chicago fans are still searching for answers to the unexpectedly abrupt ending of the ‘Hawks’ remarkable season. At Blackhawk Up, we’re in the midst of evaluating each of the Blackhawks’ play last season. Here’s a look at Seabrook.
2016-17 regular season statistics: 79 games, 3 goals, 36 assists, 39 points, plus-5 rating, 50.1 Cors-for (even strength).
2016-17 postseason statistics: 4 games, 0 points, minus-3 rating, 48.7 Corsi-for (even strength).
There is no doubt Seabrook remains a potent playmaker and master of the stretch pass. Although his goal-scoring took a hit last season, Seabrook’s 36 assists ranked second among ‘Hawks defensemen and are the most he’s posted since a career-high 39 in 2010-11.
In Chicago’s early season 7-4 win over the Flyers, Seabs notched three assists, two of which highlight his elite passing skill. The first was a 100-foot, two-line stretch pass that ended with Patrick Kane’s first goal of the season. The second was a no-look shot pass that Artemi Panarin converted for a powerplay goal.
While Chicago’s puck possession numbers slipped again last season, Seabrook’s even-strength 50.1 Corsi-for was actually a modest gain over the previous year, another testament to his puck moving skill.
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Seabrook has remained remarkably durable throughout his 12-year NHL career. This season he played in 79 of 82 regular-season games, and has missed only four games over the past three seasons while playing in all situations. That’s especially impressive for a defenseman who plays such a hard-hitting, physical brand of hockey. Of ‘Hawks blueliners, Seabs was first in hits (111), second in blocked shots (147) and second in average ice time (21:53).
After posting a career-high 14 goals in 2015-16, Seabrook lit the lamp just three times last season, well below his career-average of 7.3 goals per season. Therefore, it’s not surprising that after leading ‘Hawks defensemen with 167 shots in 2015-16, he dropped to second with just 131 shots this past season and a miserable 2.3 percent shooting percentage. Seabrook’s last goal came in the 6-4 win over Colorado on Jan. 17, and he failed to score over the following 39 games of the season, including the four straight playoff losses to Nashville.
Seabrook has always displayed a deceptively deliberate skating style, but it’s become painfully obvious over the past two seasons that the 32-year-old defenseman’s legs are turning to lead. He’s slow getting to the corners and frequently emerges the loser on 50-50 pucks and board battles.
On the stat sheet, that shows up as a horrific 88:24 ratio of giveaways-to-takeaways for Seabrook last season. That’s actually a slight improvement over 2015-16, but by comparison, Seabrook had a much better overall giveaway-to-takeaway ratio of less than two-to-one over the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons combined. The recent numbers show a troubling, long term trend of increasing turnovers and declining performance, especially in his own zone.
Dollars and sense
Blackhawk Nation jumped for joy in September 2015 when Seabrook signed his $55 million contract extension, keeping him a Blackhawk thru the 2023-24 season. As Stan Bowman remarked at the time, “You can’t just go pick up a Brent Seabrook”. True enough, especially for a top-tier defenseman.
But with a no-movement clause and an average annual cap hit of $6.875 million, Seabrook’s monster contract pretty much clobbers the ‘Hawks’ salary cap for several years to come, and greatly diminishes the team’s ability to sign top free agents or keep talented younger players like Artemi Panarin and Ryan Hartman.
It’s tough to give a below average score to one of the Blackhawks’ most legendary stars, but Seabrook is trending in the wrong direction and appears on the brink of going “over-the-hill”. Right now, his big contract seems mostly a reward for past heroics — we’ll never forget any of his three Game 7 overtime game-winning-goals — rather than a true market valuation of what Seabrook will do over the life of the contract.
Next: Chicago Blackhawks Sign Jan Rutta To 1-Year Deal
The ‘Hawks have set Seabrook up for life financially. For the sake of the team, it’s time for Seabs to agree to a trade or find a way to deliver some of that Game 7 magic over the next few years.