It’s no secret that the Chicago Blackhawks defense corps has been a huge problem this season. General Manager Stan Bowman made some contract moves that left many wondering whether the Blackhawks can be better next year. The Blackhawks also have a limited amount of defense prospects on their AHL team, the Rockford Ice Hogs. Most of them are young and inexperienced and will not give immediate help where the team needs to improve the most.
Blackhawks Defense Corps Struggles
The Chicago Blackhawks are limping their way to the end of the current NHL season. With a record of 30-34-8, hopes of making the playoffs faded a while ago. Losing Corey Crawford to injury in December affected the team’s ability to compete the most. However, the erratic and inconsistent play of their defense corps has been a bigger disappointment. Stan Bowman recently signed two defensmen to extensions with the hope of shoring up the team for next season. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks defense corps is on shaky ground with many fans who expected a different direction from Bowman.
There are two schools of thought on Bowman’s moves and whether the Blackhawks are going to be better on defense next season.
Glass Half Full
A more positive spin on the Blackhawks defense is that the they may be fine next season. The six defensemen are a good start and could be improved with a potential free agent signing in the off-season. For more on the potential good news and possible free agents, enjoy this from John Dietz of the Daily Herald:
“First of all, I believe the last four players listed have the potential to make significant strides. They all possess speed, good instincts and can contribute offensively, an absolute must in today’s NHL. All of them have gone through significant growing pains, but given more time and room to grow, they ought to give coach Joel Quenneville the consistency he’s looking for in the defensive zone. Next, the Hawks obviously need Murphy, Keith and Seabrook to play better — or at least not take a step back — and that’s certainly a decent possibility.”
Glass Half Empty
Another school of thought is the Chicago Blackhawks defense is in trouble next year. The six defensemen signed for next season are not going to be enough to make the needed improvements in defensive play. Check out this opinion from Tim Martins of Blackhawk Up:
“The area in particular that worries me is the same that worried many entering this season: the blue line. And while all of this optimism over the potential offseason moves has some ‘Hawks fans truly believing that the team will be able to compete again this time next year, the defense is an area that improving upon is much easier said than done.”
“The current roster is absolutely in tatters right now. Keith and Seabrook are the only two veteran defensemen, and both have struggled this season. Age and a large amount of games and minutes played in their careers can’t give ‘Hawks fans a lot of confidence moving forward.”
Blackhawks Defense Corps Experience
The potential for Keith and Seabrook to return to their high level of play next season is there. Their ages and career game totals raise concerns with that happening though. This season has been the worst ever for both players. There are many wondering how much longer they’ll be leaders of the Blackhawks defense corps.
Here’s a look at the current six Blackhawks defense corps and their career game totals:
- Duncan Keith age 34 – 985 games
- Brent Seabrook age 32 – 994 games
- Connor Murphy age 24 – 324 games
- Jan Rutta age 27 – 71 games
- Erik Gustafsson age 26 – 66 games
- Jordan Oesterle age 25 – 71 games
As you can see, the NHL game experience for the bottom four defensemen is limited. They will definitely be expected to make improvements and carry a bigger load next season. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook also need to have a bounce-back year in 2018-19 for the Blackhawks to turn things around defensively.
Rockford Ice Hogs Options
Fans in Chicago are hoping the Blackhawks AHL team the Rockford Ice Hogs may give the parent club some options on defense next season. Unfortunately, that help may come a little later on. In the latest Ice Hogs game against the Wolves, the Hogs defensemen reminiscent of the current Blackhawks defense corps. They struggled with D zone coverage and moving the puck. Without a tremendous game from Hogs goaltender Jeff Glass, they would have lost the game instead of winning 3-2.
Future Defense Star
The brightest future star that may help the Blackhawks defense is Henri Jokiharju, who was drafted in the first round of last year’s NHL draft. Jokiharju has played in the WHL for the Portland Winterhawks. While Jokiharju is a great prospect, it may be a some time before he can contribute and improve the Blackhawks defense. For a brief look at the play of Jokiharju in a recent tournament, check out this from Satchel Price of Second City Hockey:
“But around these parts, we’re focusing on the Blackhawks, and that means gushing over how good Henri Jokiharju looked in this tournament. Okay, it’s really about checking out how all five Hawks prospects did … but we’re gonna start by gushing over Joker.”
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