Just prior to the season beginning, the Blackhawks brought back a familiar face in defenseman Erik Gustafsson. He had recently been let go by the Islanders after failing to make their team and was brought back on a super cheap deal.
Gustafsson spent the first four and a half years of his career with the Hawks with his best season being the 2018-19 campaign where he finished with 60 points, which ranked near the top of the league in terms of defensemen.
For his entire career, he has been known as a tremendous offensive player but is very lazy on defense. This is holding up to still be true today. In the first four games of the season, he has been nonexistent on offense and putrid on defense.
While the Blackhawks don’t have the greatest defensive core in the league by far, they do have a lot of guys who could’ve been given the roster spot over him. Ian Mitchell was recently sent down to AHL Rockford, but I believe he provides more defensive value than Gustafsson by a pretty wide margin.
Head coach Jeremy Colliton has been receiving as much criticism as anybody in the NHL to this point, and it is not even close. A lot of the blame for the horrific start has fallen on Colliton, but something needs to be said about assistant coach Sheldon Brookbank. He is responsible for the defense on the Hawks, and has been very bad at in zone defensive coverage to begin the year.
While Brookbank isn’t the leading cause for Gustafsson’s bad play, he is certainly not helping him play any better than he is capable of playing. While there weren’t any big-name defensemen on the market right before the season, this signing is proving to be an unnecessary one that shouldn’t have happened. If the Blackhawks don’t figure out what to do defensively in the next few games, this team is going to be in real trouble going forward.