Blackhawks Offseason Outlook: Defenseman

Keith/Crawford 1/27/13 The road to the Stanley Cup Championship was not very bumpy for the Chicago Blackhawks. The team dealt with very few injuries, which allowed Coach Joel Quenneville to keep his lineup consistent. The defensive pairs in particular were kept the same for two months before ‘Q’ decided to mix things up.

The goalie tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery won the Jennings trophy for the allowing the fewest goals throughout the regular season. They deserve the credit, but the players in front of them played very well too. As it stands now, there won’t be any new faces when the season starts in October.

Duncan Keith leads a versatile group. Like Jonathan Toews, he is counted on in all situations. Because the group played so well, Keith was allowed to rest more during the season. His time on ice was lowest it’s been in half a dozen years. It crept up a bit in the playoffs and he made it worthwhile.  He had 13 points, with 9 of them coming in the first two series. That was good for third best among defenseman in the playoffs.

Brent Seabrook may have had the worst season of his career. The former first round pick struggled against teams with speed. That being said, a bad season for him is still pretty good. He was a plus-12 and scored 20 points in the shortened season. He hit a low-point in the playoffs when a skated for 12 minutes in Game 4 in the series against the Red Wings. Fortunately for him and everybody involved with the Blackhawks, he saved his best for last. He had overtime goals against Detroit and Boston.

Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya are a very solid reliable pair. ‘Hammer’ picked up his play after a crummy 2011-12 campaign. In fact, when Quenneville switched up the pairing in March, Hjalmarsson was bumped up to the top pair with Keith. He and Oduya were reunited in the playoffs and Quenneville used them in key situations. They certainly saw their fair share of the opposing team’s top line and both saw action on the dominant penalty kill.

Nick Leddy continues to grow into a solid NHL defenseman. I’d like to see him get more time on the power play. When that group struggled in the postseason, Leddy seemed to be the only played who was able to enter the offensive zone with ease. He may have been running out of gas at the end of the year.

Leddy was one of just four players to play all 48 regular season games. In addition to that, he played 31 games for Rockford during the lockout. Leddy skated less than 15 minutes combined in the final three games against Boston. The organization still has confidence in him though, as they signed him to two-year deal this offseason.

Michal Rozsival also signed a two-year contract. Surprisingly enough, he had the highest plus-minus rating among Blackhawks’ blue-liners. He and Sheldon Brookbank were brought in last summer with the hopes of shoring up the sixth spot on the team’s defensive depth chart. They combined to score 13 points and allowed the coaching staff to breathe easy when they were on the ice.

The team has had trouble with that spot in years past. Nick Boynton, John Scott and Sean O’Donnell are names that make most ‘Hawks fan shutter. Rozsival and Brookbank played well enough to go unnoticed, which is exactly what you want from the sixth defenseman.

The team has some players in the pipeline, but unless there is an injury to someone listed above, the youngsters will most likely stay put. Keep an eye on the Stephen Johns situation. He has yet to sign his rookie contract after being select with the last pick in the second round of the 2010 NHL draft. He is a player that every team would love to have and he may choose to go the same route that Justin Schultz elected to go. Ryan Stanton and Shawn Lalonde both played in the final game of the regular season, but they will most likely start the season in Rockford so that they can continue to develop.

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