The Chicago Blackhawks defensive pairings have seen a lot of different players combined through the majority of the season. One pairing that stands out amongst the rest to me is Connor Murphy and Nikita Zadorov.
Zadorov is always mentioned as a player that can play with the smaller rookie defensemen on the team, but when you have a guy with 30 giveaways it might be best to play him alongside someone like Connor Murphy instead of a rookie defenseman trying to figure out how to be an NHL defenseman.
Connor Murphy is by far the most impressive member of the Blackhawks blue line. A few years after the team traded Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona for Murphy, the trade is paying off as the 27-year-old is becoming a great player all around.
The Blackhawks have to hold on to Connor Murphy for a long time. With two more years on his contract, Murphy is going to ask for a pay raise when his deal is up, and Chicago needs to give it to him. However, he would be most effective with a great partner on his line.
Murphy and Keith together worked but wasn’t perfect, in fact, I would argue the Hawks could play Murphy with anyone on the Hawks and they would still be rather productive. That is why I believe the next shutdown pair could be Murphy and Zadorov together.
Zadorov is not going to get a big pay raise this offseason. His numbers just do not show it. Chicago needs that next contract to not be too high as they do not have unlimited cap space.
Zadorov is a big physical player that sometimes is caught out of his own end in the defensive zone. While he is a liability at times, pairing him with Connor Murphy gives Chicago that physical defensive pairing that can shut down opponents. Plus as of late Zadorov has looked better on the ice.
Another defensive pairing option for Murphy with the Blackhawks.
Chicago could also pair Murphy with Calvin de Haan. de Haan and Murphy are two of the Hawks most sturdy defensemen and because of that pairing them together does give the team a great shutdown group, but it does not really fix the problem because it would hurt the rest of the defense.
For the Hawks to be competitive, they kind of need Murphy, Keith, and de Haan to be on different pairings on the blue line. This is not the old days where Chicago could rock with just four defensemen as they did with Keith, Oduya, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson.
Pairing the young players with de Haan and Keith leaves Murphy open to be the top guy, and plus with just 19 games to go this season, letting Murphy and Zadorov see if they can build some chemistry will help the Hawks know whether or not Zadorov is really worthy of an extension with the team this offseason.