Chicago Blackhawks Summer of Uncertainty Part Two – Defence

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 05: Brent Seabrook #7 of the Chicago Blackhawks is congratulated by Duncan Keith #2 after scoring a third period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the season opening game at the United Center on October 5, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Penguins 10-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Chicago Blackhawks defence was a problem much of last season, especially after Corey Crawford went down with an injury in December. Crawford’s level of play before his injury made up for most of the defence’s shortcomings. Once Crawford was lost for the season, that exposed the Blackhawks defence as being very poor at times.

Chicago Blackhawks Defence

In Part Two of the “Chicago Blackhawks Summer of Uncertainty” series we will look at what happened last season and what the Blackhawks did to improve their defence going forward. We’ll also focus on the lack of NHL ready defencemen that have been drafted by current Blackhawk general manager Stan Bowman since 2010. This is one aspect that has left the Blackhawks short on defensive talent as they’ve dealt away several quality defencemen due to salary cap issues over the years.

Blackhawks Defence 2017-18

The Blackhawks fell out of playoff contention as the season went on last year. The defence corps consisted mainly of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta, Gustav ForslingJordan Oesterle, Michal Kempny, and Erik Gustafsson. They were a very raw defence group with only Seabrook and Keith having veteran experience. This lack of experience showed as the goaltenders faced an onslaught of prime shots night after night.

In Part One of “Chicago Blackhawks Summer of Uncertainty” series we looked at the goalies who replaced Crawford last year. They were reliable backups thrown to the wolves once Crawford went down. Unfortunately, they could not provide the team Vezina quality goaltending like Crawford, which led to many disappointing nights as the team fell from playoff contention early in the spring.

Blackhawk Defence Moves

As their season spiralled out of control, the Blackhawks traded Kempny to the Washington Capitals in February. The Blackhawks acquired a third-round draft pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Shortly after Kempny was traded, Stan Bowman locked up his six starting defensemen for the upcoming season. He signed Jan Rutta and Erik Gustafsson to extensions in April. These signings were questionable after watching the same defence struggle so badly last season.

NHL Draft & Free Agency

With the 8th and 27th overall picks, hopes were high that the Blackhawks would draft a defenseman with size who could start in the NHL sooner than later. Stan Bowman chose to stick to his usual defence mould and drafted Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin in the first round. Both of the highly touted prospects are mobile puck-moving defencemen but lack size. Despite the Blackhawks overall draft being given high marks, free agency was the next chance to improve the defence for next season.

On July 1st, the Blackhawks made three free agent signings. They signed Cam Ward, Chris Kunitz, and Brandon Manning setting off an uproar on social media. These lack-lustre signings by the Blackhawks dismayed many fans who unleashed a torrent of venom against the direction taken by their favourite team. The addition of Manning did not impress anyone expecting serious improvement on defence next season.

Another defence move by Stan Bowman was to trade Jordan Oesterle to the Arizona Coyotes as part of the Marian Hossa salary dump. The move was welcomed due to the salary cap relief, but losing forward Vinnie Hinostroza in the deal is a risk. The Blackhawks now have $5.495 million in cap space for the upcoming season per CapFriendly.com

Blackhawks Defence 2018-19

The current defence lineup, set to play next season includes Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Connor Murphy, Brandon Manning, Jan Rutta, and Erik Gustafsson. The Blackhawks also have highly touted Henri Jokiharju in the minors as well as Gustav Forsling, Blake Hillman, and Carl Dahlstrom. This defence corps is raw and unproven. This leaves many wondering what Bowman’s plans are for the future as Keith and Seabrook continue to age.

Blackhawks Defence Decline

Since the last Stanley Cup in 2015, the Blackhawks defence has been in decline. After the 2015 season, they let Johnny Oduya leave as a free agent. After the 2017 season, they traded Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk as part of the expansion draft/salary cap dilemma facing the team. Another large part of the decline is that both Duncan Keith (35) and Brent Seabrook (33) are getting older. This past season was a warning sign to the Blackhawks that these two warriors may not be able to carry the load much longer.

The next obvious question is where are their replacements over the past few seasons? Stan Bowman has called the shots on Blackhawk drafts since 2010. Unfortunately for Blackhawk fans, Bowman’s record in drafting defencemen since 2010 leaves a lot to be desired. In draft years 2010-2014, Stan Bowman drafted 14 defencemen in total. You would think that at least one or two of Bowman’s draft picks on defence would be currently contributing for the Blackhawks. Unfortunately, only one of Bowman defence picks is currently playing at the NHL level. This is Stephen Johns, who now plays for the Dallas Stars. Bowman ended up traded Johns to the Stars along with Patrick Sharp after the 2014-15 season.

2010-14 Blackhawk Defence Draft Picks

(Click on each player’s names to see their career stats)

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

The 2010-14 defensemen drafted by Stan Bowman have not been able to consistently play at the NHL level for the Blackhawks. Some of them have NHL games under their belts, but none have stood out and played their way onto the team as a regular yet. With the number of years involved, these draft picks are not going to improve the Blackhawks defence any time soon. Especially since eight of them are no longer in the Blackhawks organization.

Blackhawks Defence Potential

Listed below are the defence draft picks for 2015-16. These picks are still in development and may provide a player that could help improve the defence soon. Four of them will be playing for the Rockford Ice Hogs this season. They still have another year to two before their fate will be determined.

2015-16 Blackhawk Defence Draft Picks

2015

2016

Blackhawks Defence Hype Time

2017 first round pick Henri Jokiharju is getting heavily hyped after his second season playing for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. Jokiharju had 12 goals, 59 assists for 71 points in 62 games last year. His offensive skills are well proven. The only concern is that he still needs to up his defensive game if he’s going to play regularly in the tough Western Conference.

Here’s this from Satchel Price of the Chicago Sun Times:

“Outside analysts don’t refer to him as a potential No. 1 defenseman given he’s not super flashy and needs to polish the defensive side of his game, but there’s so much to like about his game as a contemporary NHL blueliner. He’s the most talented young defenseman this organization has had since at least … Nick Leddy?

Jokiharju’s potential is one of the bright spots for Blackhawk fans. The fear is the team may be rushing his development due to the dismal defence play last season. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks need help on the back-end now.

Blackhawks Defence 2018-19 Prospects

Jokihjarju and the other defence prospects will get their shot at the Blackhawks training camp next month. Their ability to create offence and defend well while in camp and in any preseason games they play will most likely decide whether any of them make the opening night roster or not.

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