Connor Murphy will always be remembered as the guy the Chicago Blackhawks got for Niklas Hjalmarsson. Has Murphy lived up to his expectations, and what grade did he earn for his 2018-19 season?
Connor Murphy is a former 2011 1st round draft pick (20th overall) of the Phoenix Coyotes. After four seasons with the ‘Yotes, he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for standout defenseman, Niklas Hjalmarsson. ‘Hawks general manager, Stan Bowman, assumed he wouldn’t be able to re-sign Hjalmarsson when his contract expired in 2019. This assumption led to Bowman trading away the team’s best defensive defenseman for a younger, cheaper defenseman who was signed through 2022.
One of These Things Is Not Like the Other
It is unfair to Connor Murphy to compare him to the stalwart defenseman he was traded for, so let’s take a look at his 2018-19 season on its own merit. Murphy began the season on the injured list, recuperating from back surgery. We looked at Murphy in-season with mixed feelings. In 52 games played, he tallied 5 goals, 8 assists, 13 points, a plus-12 goal differential, 91 blocked shots, 119 hits, and 40 penalty minutes.
Murphy spent most of his minutes paired with Carl Dahlstrom. The odd part of this pairing was that they are both your stay-at-home type who are not that fleet of foot. The pair posted some decent statistics together, but what did not show up in the overall stats were the multiple times they were flat out beaten by speedy forwards. The next graphic paints a decent overall picture. While they took a majority of their starts in their own end, they were naturally on the wrong side of Corsi, but on the right side of plus/minus.
On a team that struggled all season to defend the home plate area in front of their net, Murphy did not distinguish himself as a difference maker in suppressing shots. Take a look at the charts for 5-on-5 play with him and without him on the ice. Not much difference here.
Murphy is not a standout defenseman. He is not quick enough to be a true shutdown defender. In Corsica’s Star Rating, he ranks 136th in the NHL with a rating of 0.7261. This rating system places him just above Kris Russell and Jason Demers. By comparison, Brent Burns leads all defenders with a rating of 9.6969. However, what Murphy does bring to the rink is size, physicality, and the willingness to block shots. For a team that lacks in all three categories, he brings value. Take a look at this example of his physical play.
Offensively, Murphy doesn’t show up as a difference maker. The following heat charts don’t show him really having an impact in offensive shot generation.
Another thing that often goes unnoticed is the fact that he does have some chemistry with Patrick Kane. The eye test tells us that he likes to look for Kane on zone entries and in offensive zone puck possession. The feeling appears to be mutual, as Kane has found Murphy slashing into the zone on occasion. Here is an example of that chemistry.
Where Is the Love?
It was surprising that Murphy was never paired with Brent Seabrook. That pairing was one of the better combinations in the previous season. It appears that coach Jeremy Colliton preferred to keep Murphy on right defense with a right-handed stick. The improvement that Murphy did show this season was that he could tilt the ice away from his net, no longer shackled under the old system of strictly passing his way out of the defensive zone. What Murphy needs is a partner who is better at pursuing and puck retrievals than Carl Dahlstrom.
In a season that was a defensive mess, Murphy should be given credit for doing everything that was asked of him. He returned from injury 30 games into the season and carried a heavy load of responsibility. His zone starts were mostly in his own end and managed to push the play the other way. He was physical in his own zone, was willing to block shots, and was effective in pinching in the offensive zone. I give Murphy a B for the season.
At age 26, Murphy should be coming into his prime as a defenseman. In his season exit interview, he had a positive outlook for the summer and next season. If he’s deployed properly next season, I would share that positive outlook.