Chicago Blackhawks Defence Decline Starts At The Top

Stars of Chicago Blackhawks Defence Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
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 decline has been ongoing since they won their last Stanley Cup in 2015. That season, the Blackhawks Corey Crawford shared the Jennings Trophy with the Montreal Canadiens Carey Price for the least goals-against with 189. The Blackhawks had a great defence that season, a group that played a huge role in Crawford’s share of the Jennings. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks defence began to decline soon after, sparking a continued a downward spiral that’s played a big part in the team’s absence from the last two years’ playoffs.

Chicago Blackhawks Defence Decline

Today, we are going to look at the defence corps from that Cup-winning team and what happened to them. We will also review the defencemen drafted by Hawks general manager, Stan Bowman, between 2010 and 2015. Those all-important six draft years should have stockpiled defence prospects for the Blackhawks as they won their three Stanley Cups in six seasons from 2010-15. Adding good defence depth is a crucial key to continuing a strong team year-after-year. As we will see, Bowman’s draft record on defence from 2010 forward leaves a lot to be desired.

2015 Blackhawks Stanley Cup Playoffs Defence Corps

2015 Playoff Game Totals and Points

Decline Begins

The Blackhawks came off of their last Stanley Cup in 2015 with one of the better defence corps in the NHL. The group led the team to the Cup after helping to allow the fewest goals-against in 2014-15. Once the Cup was hoisted and the parades were over, the Blackhawks defence underwent several changes. Here are the players who made the Cup run so memorable and what happened to them.

Kimmo Timonen

Timonen retired following the 2014-15 season as a champion after achieving his dream of winning a Stanley Cup. He spent 16 seasons in the NHL playing 1018 games and scoring 117 goals and 571 points.

Johnny Oduya

Oduya was allowed to leave the Blackhawks as an unsigned free agent after winning the Cup in 2015. Oduya would sign a two-year contract with the Dallas Stars and later be traded back to the Blackhawks at the NHL trade deadline in February 2017. The team had to be hoping that Oduya could help fuel another Cup run that year after winning two previous Cups with the Blackhawks. Alas, the Cup run ended early that season in an embarrassing first-round sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators. Oduya would finish his NHL career after the 2017-18 season playing 850 games, scoring 41 goals and 190 points.

Kyle Cumiskey

Cumiskey was re-signed by the Blackhawks in October 2015 after being offered a “Professional Try Out” contract before training camp. He was immediately placed on waivers by the team and sent to the Rockford Ice Hogs in the AHL. That year he played 17 games for the Ice Hogs. He followed that by spending time in Sweden, playing 12 games for Skelleftea in 2016-17. In 2018-19 he played 1 game for the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, 11 games for the Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL, and finally 35 games for the Providence Bruins of the AHL. As a Bruin he had his most productive season since leaving Rockford, scoring 3 goals and 18 points.

David Rundblad

Rundblad was an enigma during his time with the Blackhawks. Stan Bowman’s trade of the Blackhawks 2014 second round draft pick for Rundblad and Mathieu Brisebois is by far one of Bowman’s worst trades. Rundblad never earned the confidence of coach Joel Quenneville and was not played very often despite Bowman’s adoration for Rundblad’s “potential.” Rundblad would play only nine games for the Blackhawks during the 2015-16 season and would be placed on buyout waivers in July 2016. Meanwhile, Brisebois has been toiling in the ECHL and Europe since 2015. In hindsight, both of these players were never worth a second-round draft pick, yet here we are.

Michal Rozsival

Rozsival would struggle with injuries over the next two seasons playing a combined 73 games between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. He left the NHL after the 2016-17 season having played 963 games and scoring 68 goals and 309 points in his career. Rozsival was a key contributor on the defence helping the Blackhawks win Cups in 2013 and 2015. He was an old-school blue line warrior defending the slot with vengeance. A style of play which is something the Blackhawks could have used more of over the last two seasons instead of having a welcome mat in front of their net.

Decline Accelerates

The summer of 2017 was by far the most disastrous for the Blackhawks defence. During the NHL Expansion Draft involving the Vegas Golden Knights, the team lost Trevor van Riemsdyk. The Knights would trade him to the Carolina Hurricanes right after the expansion draft. Van Riemsdyk was a steady and young defender for the Blackhawks and has been definitely missed on the back end the last two seasons.

The next blow to the Blackhawks faithful was the trade of fan favorite Niklas Hjalmarsson in June 2017. The ultimate-defence-warrior was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin. In a blatant salary cap move, the Hawks dealt the three-time Stanley Cup-winning defenceman. The loss of Hjalmarsson has been incredibly noticeable in the last two seasons as the Blackhawks defence has struggled mightily in their own end. Murphy, meanwhile, is still trying to find his place on the team’s roster. At 6’4″ 212 pounds he is one of the few Blackhawks defenceman with size and he definitely needs to use it more when defending the net.

Defence Corps Anchors

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are the only two remaining defencemen still left from the last Cup winner in 2015. Keith will be turning 36 this July and has been reliable despite his age. He still plays a ton of minutes each game and skates well. Last season he had 6 goals and 40 points for the team. Seabrook is still a great leader but has been on a decline through the last two seasons, something that has not gone unnoticed by the Blackhawks faithful.

Both of these defence corps stalwarts also have anchor contracts that will become more of a problem as they keep playing. Keith is signed until 2023 at $5.538 million a year and Seabrook is signed until 2024 at $6.675 million a year. Both players have non-movement clauses that would require them to agree prior to any trades.

Truth be told, they both deserve to retire as Blackhawks, whether that happens or not is unknown. A recent head coach hiring in Florida may entice one or more to waive their no-movement clause in favor of heading south. Stranger things have happened.

Blackhawks Defence Decline Prevention

The Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups in six seasons. While a team has this kind of success it is normally expected that they would use the NHL Draft to restock prospects for the future. Prospects that would provide a buffer against the inevitable salary cap problems that accompany winning multiple Cups. As we covered in a recent piece, Stan Bowman has had little success drafting 1st and 2nd round prospects that made it to the NHL. His ineptitude also applies to drafting defencemen.

Bowman inherited a franchise on the cusp of greatness in 2009. He managed the roster into three Stanley Cups, an amazing feat in the salary cap era. Unfortunately, his inability to draft well since 2010 has led to the storied franchise to miss the playoffs in both of the last two seasons.

2010-15 Blackhawk Defence Draft Picks

Listed below are the defensemen drafted by Bowman from 2010 to 2015. These six drafts should have provided several NHL ready defence prospects so the team could stay competitive. Unfortunately, as Bowman dismantled the last Cup-winning defence corps he was unable to bring in any NHL ready defence prospects. This list of draft picks has been nicknamed the “Bowman Busts” on social media. As you read on you will see why.

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

2010
  • 2nd Round – Justin Holl = Toronto Marlies (AHL) – 13 career NHL games
  • 2nd Round – Stephen Johns =  Dallas Stars (NHL) – injured reserve 2018-19 season
  • 6th Round – Nick Mattson = Indy Fuel (ECHL) – Now retired
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
  • 3rd Round – Dennis Gilbert = Rockford Ice Hogs (AHL) – 1 game 2018-19 NHL
  • 4th Round – Ryan Shea = Northeastern University (NCAA)
  • 6th Round – Joni Tuulola = Rockford Ice Hogs (AHL)

There you have six NHL Drafts bringing 17 defence prospects into the Blackhawks system. Of these 17 draft prospects, only one is currently a part of the Hawks roster. That one player is Carl Dahlstrom who played 38 games for the team last season. Drafted in 2013, Dahlstrom struggled to stay in the lineup and rotated as a fifth or six defencemen when he played last year. He still has a lot to improve on if he hopes to be a regular contributor next season.

The three drafts that preceded the Dahlstrom pick, 2010, 2011, and 2012, produced only Stephen Johns, who was traded to the Stars in 2015 alongside Patrick Sharp in a salary cap-related move. Unfortunately, Johns spent the 2018-19 season on long term injured reserve.

In the 2014 and 2015 drafts, Dennis Gilbert is the only player to have played a game with the Blackhawks. Only time will tell if he and the other prospects pan out. or get added to the list of “Bowman’s Busts”.

Last Word On Blackhawks Defence Decline

The Blackhawks are still recovering after another disappointing season. This off-season does bring one bright spot for their beleaguered general manager – salary cap room. The team has $18,819,872 in salary cap room. They are however dealing with several restricted free agent contracts that need to be addressed prior to free agent signing day.

Over the next two months, we will cover the team’s contract issues, potential free agents, and also feature potential draft prospects they may target. These draft prospects will be previewed by Last Word’s own draft guru Ben Kerr, so stay tuned.

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