Why the Chicago Blackhawks defensive core needs improving

Duncan Keith #2, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Duncan Keith #2, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

The Blackhawks’ defense needs improving if they want to maximize Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews windows.

During the Chicago Blackhawks glory days, one thing everyone could count on was their defense. In 2010, their top four defensemen consisted of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, and Niklas Hjalmarsson.

In 2013 and 2015, their top four were Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya. All of these players were bonified top two/four defensemen which played a big part in the Blackhawks’ success.

In 2010, the team allowed 2,058 shots against in 82 games for an average of 25 SA per game. In 2013 the ‘Hawks allowed 1258 SA in 48 games for an average of 26 SA per game. In 2015, the team allowed 2477 SA in 82 games which averages out to 30 SA per game.

Currently, the Blackhawks defense consists of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Adam Boqvist, Connor Murphy, Calvin de Haan, and Slater Koekoek. During the 2020 season, the Blackhawks allowed 2458 SA in 70 games averaging 35 SA per game. This number will likely stay in the same area if the defense doesn’t change much. The SA needs to drop to 25 or 30 per game or the Blackhawks will continue to struggle in the standings.

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Now, the Blackhawks only qualified top-pairing defensemen is Duncan Keith. Keith isn’t getting any younger, but he is also on a team-friendly deal with his cap hit at $5.5M. Murphy and de Haan are good #4 defensemen but I just do not see them being much more than that. Murphy’s speed and de Haan’s durability have been question marks with both of these players making $3.85M and $4.55M, respectively.

The rest of the defensive core are third pairing defensemen. Boqvist has a high ceiling after being drafted 8th overall in the 2018 draft and played well when called upon this season. Seabrook is making too much for being a third pairing guy $6.875M. Koekoek has been a solid add for his price as he only counted for $925k last year.

The silver lining is the potential future defensive core of Alex Vlasic, Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, and Nicolas Beaudin. If the Blackhawks want to maximize the Toews and Kane era, they’ll need to go out and acquire two, top four defensemen. They’ll first need to clear cap space, with Zack Smith and Dylan Strome being rumored to possibly leave.

First, I would take a look at New York Islanders defensemen Ryan Pulock. The Islanders have only $9M in cap space with Mat Barzal, Devon Toews, and Pulock to sign. The 6’2, 25-year-old right-handed defenseman put up 35 points in 68 games playing on their top pair. If the Blackhawks could clear some cap and make an offer sheet or trade work, the right side of Pulock, Murphy, and Boqvist/Mitchell would be a lot better.

Second, I would look at Mikhail Sergachev from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Just like the Islanders, the Lightning have Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak to sign with only $5.5M in cap space. The Lightning already have two left-handed defensemen above Sergachev and just like the way Tampa acquired Sergachev, to clear cap, they could do the same here. If that is the case, the Blackhawks could move Boqvist, due to Mitchell signing and bring in the 6’2, 22-year-old defenseman that had 34 points in 70 games this season.

I know a lot of fans would not be pleased to trade Boqvist, but a defense with Sergachev and Pulock would be a lot better now and in the future. It would allow the Blackhawks to compete on a nightly basis and keep the Kane and Toews window open longer.

The hard part about this is making the cap space work due to the cap not increasing and both players earning somewhere in the $5M-$6M range. I think if the Blackhawks cleared enough cap space and the right offer sheet or trade were presented, something could be worked out.

The Blackhawks defense is in need of upgrading right now, but with the right additions, it could once again be a force throughout the league. I’ve always believed defense wins championships and if the Blackhawks defense stays remotely similar to what it is, they will not be competing in the Stanley Cup Final for a long time.