As we continue reviewing the Blackhawks and the decisions they need to make this offseason, one of the biggest deficiencies on the ice has been the play of their Defensemen as a group. In this review, we will take a look at the future of that position group, and whether they are prepared to field a playoff-caliber defensive roster.
When the ‘Hawks won their 3 Stanley Cups, there were a number of reasons for their success. But without solid play from their defense, those Cups would have been a lot harder to win, if they were to win them at all. There were high-end defensemen on those teams. The names are discussed in reverent tones: guys like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
There were several players who filled key roles, guys like Johnny Oduya, Dustin Byfuglien, Brian Campbell, and I am sure others who I am leaving out. Having 3 capable pairs of defensemen is critical to maintaining competitiveness. But you also need that “shutdown” pairing, that can frustrate and limit the top lines of your opponents.
As an example, let’s look at the defensive pairings of the Tampa Bay Lightning, last year’s Stanley Cup Champion, and a favorite to repeat this season. Their 3 LD all played over 21 minutes per game this season, while alternating partners in some cases, while their RD ranged from 13:33 (Rutta) to 19:40 (Cernak) of ice time
Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonough, and Mikhail Sergachev anchor this defensive unit. Any one of the three could be considered a top 4 Defenseman on most teams, and one of them is always on the ice throughout the game. All 3 of them contribute in all 200 feet of ice and make the Lightning extremely tough to play against.
Their counterparts on the right side are not nearly as well-regarded. Jan Rutta, Erik Cernak, David Savard, Cal Foote, and Luke Schenn have all played a role this season, plus a few other short call-ups. None of them would be players that other teams would seek out to bolster their Defensive group, but it helps illustrate the point that if you have an elite D-man, their partner can be average, and the pairing can still perform at a high level.
To get back to perennial contention, the ‘Hawks need to have 2-4 very good-to-elite defensemen on their team. Right now, they would struggle to meet that criteria. So what do they have on the roster currently, and what’s coming through the pipeline that can help them get to this level? Or will they need to bring in more talent to the organization to get to that level?
We will take a look at all of the key Defensemen in the Blackhawks organization, and determine whether they are future building blocks, future role players, or if they will find themselves elsewhere, either in Rockford or with another organization.