Brent Seabrook has not been at his best of late for the Chicago Blackhawks, but there are ways to fix this
As of this post, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks have allowed an atrocious 13 goals in their last three games, including four against the worst team in the league, the Colorado Avalanche. Granted this is just a stretch of a few games during the middle of the season, and the ‘Hawks are close to the top of their division, but this should be construed as a big red flag.
Last year, the Blackhawks defense was highly scrutinized as one of the team’s biggest weak spots, and though the personnel has been slightly improved this year, the ‘Hawks blue line is still going to perform like a Pinto with a Cadillac’s engine unless they address a lingering issue from last season, and that is fixing Brent Seabrook.
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Seabs is a keystone of the Blackhawks defense and staple of team leadership, yet he is coming off a career-worst season in terms Corsi (meaning opponents created more shots than the ’Hawks when Seabrook was on the ice) at 48.5 percent. To date, Seabrook is turning in another under-50-percent-in-Corsi season.
Suffice to say, Seabs has not been playing at his full potential, and this is something the Blackhawks sorely need him to do if there are any hopes for a deep playoff run.
So what’s the solution? It’s actually pretty simple. So simple that I brought this up last season, and so simple I can’t believe the Blackhawks’ coaching staff hasn’t figured it out already, and that solution is putting Seabrook back where he belongs, on the same pairing as Duncan Keith.
It should go without saying that when paired together, Duncs and Seabs are one of the best, if not the best defensive tandem in the NHL. Yet for the better part of the past year and half, these two have only skated together on special teams.
The reason for this has been the amount of green defensemen the Blackhawks have had to start in the wake of Johnny Oduya’s departure after the 2015 season. Since then, coach Joel Quenneville has flanked Seabrook with the likes of fledgling defensemen such as Trevor van Riemsdyk, Erik Gustafsson, Victor Svedberg and Michal Kempny.
Now the logic behind this is very understandable: Coach Q wants Seabrook to help mentor these up-and-coming blue-liners. The problem, however, is having Seabrook assume this role diminishes his play, as he’s required compensate for his linemates’ novice experience at times.
This wouldn’t create such an issue if the Blackhawks had enough defensive depth to compensate for Seabs not being able to function at 100 percent, but as we all know, this unfortunately just isn’t the case.
Perhaps the biggest loss from keeping Dunc and Seabs separate is defensive cohesion. Keith and Seabrook are identified leaders on the Blackhawks, and as such they need to lead by example. The best way for them to do that is to reignite their defensive chemistry and form a strong standard for the rest of the blueliners to model.
Also, lest we forget, Keith hasn’t been playing too stellar since being separated from Seabrook either. While he’s been tallying up quite a few assists, Duncs has been noticeably absent from the goals column on the scoresheet this season.
Now you could argue moving Seabrook back with Keith would hurt the defense’s lower pairings, but keep in mind the Blackhawks have a bit more balance in their defensive ranks this season with the improved play of TVR and the addition of Brian Campbell. Personally, I feel a more offensively-confident van Riemsdyk would pair nicely with a stay-at-home defender like Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Kempny would benefit from stability of a veteran rotation of Michal Rozsival and Campbell (heck, it worked out alright for Nick Leddy).
Even if you dismiss all the statistics, by the eye test alone, both Seabrook and Keith’s impact has been far less visible recently than it has been in years past. It’s obvious they have not been put in positions to play to their full potential these past two seasons, and if the Blackhawks want to raise the Stanley Cup again anytime soon, they need to address this very fixable problem on their defense.