After a 2018-19 season where the Blackhawks allowed 291 goals, the second most in the NHL, the Blackhawks had some work to do. They started by acquiring defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta. Both players had an unfortunate history of injuries, but when healthy they each played a defensive style of play the Blackhawks could use.
One of the major storylines this season was Erik Gustafsson’s future with the team. After scoring 60 points last season, his offensive abilities were overshadowed by his defensive flaws this season. Trading Gustafsson was partially due to the call up of rookie Adam Boqvist, who offered a similar style of play.
Blackhawks fans also saw the demise of a once dominant player. Brent Seabrook’s contract does not help the situation, a major splinter to Stan Bowman’s tenure as GM. The 35-year-old Seabrook didn’t just lose a step, he lost multiple steps. With four years left on his eight-year deal, Seabrook’s albotraus will only get bigger.
The one constant on the blue line remained the same this season. Duncan Keith once again logged big minutes, still had his quick first step, and used an active stick successfully. With three years left on his contract, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to continue leading the team in ice time.
12 different defensemen played in at least one game this season, and here’s how they did.
While his partner of a decade struggled, Duncan Keith continued to play at an elite level. In 61 games this season, Keith averaged 24:33 minutes of ice time, just .78 seconds fewer than his career average. The offense may have declined with just 27 points, but his ability to close gaps and use his stick to take away time and space is as good as ever.
Keith’s role this season was to help rookie Adam Boqvist adjust to the NHL game. The pair struggled at times, but still had a positive goal differential at 5v5.
With three more years on his contract, Keith will continue to be an important piece of the Blackhawks’ blue line as he will be counted on to play big minutes while grooming younger players.
In his third season with the Blackhawks, Connor Murphy finally began to show signs of being a top-four defenseman. In 58 games this season, Murphy averaged a career-high 21:15 of ice time while dishing out 14 assists. Where his play has improved the most is in the defensive zone. Murphy uses his big frame effectively while oftentimes playing against the opponent’s top line. In nine postseason games, Murphy was depended upon even more, and by most accounts rose to the task.
Arguably one of Murphy’s biggest strengths this season was his ability to play with different partners. As players were out with injuries, Murphy was an anchor on the second pair.
He has become a very important player and the Blackhawks will need to decide if he stays around longer. He is an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season.
It took some time, but Olli Maatta showed signs of being exactly what the Blackhawks need. In his first season in Chicago, Maatta averaged 18:25 of ice time while putting up 17 points. Halfway through the season, Maatta was one of the more dependable defenseman.
Once partnered with Slater Koekkoek, Maatta excelled. The pair played the second most minutes of any pair on the team and finished the regular season with positive possession numbers in every category.
If people hadn’t noticed Maatta during the regular season, they definitely did during the Blackhawks’ Qualifying Round series against the Edmonton Oilers. He contributed offensively while playing a smart and efficient game in his own end. He is signed through the 2022-23 season.
If anything, the Blackhawks’ short postseason showed fans who Slater Koekkoek is. Finally being inserted into the lineup halfway through the season, Koekkoek appeared in 42 games while averaging a career-high 14:09 of ice time. He was put on the right side (as a lefty) to play with Maatta and the two flourished.
With his contract expiring this offseason, it will be interesting to see if the team signs him for another year.
Adam Boqvist made his NHL debut faster than the team would have liked. Due to injuries, Boqvist was called up in November and ended up playing in 41 games. He was paired with Duncan Keith and was given every opportunity to succeed. For the most part, it was a successful rookie campaign.
Some of his flaws showed front and center in the postseason, as he was a -5 through eight games, but at least he gained the experience and can learn from it. He has a year left on his entry-level contract and the Blackhawks hope that he earns himself a healthy contract.
This season Brent Seabrook averaged the fewest minutes of ice time in his career. His decline seems to have accelerated in the past year and it was unfortunately very apparent on the ice.
Seabrook was healthy scratched this season for the second time in his career. It finally happened. What Blackhawks fans seemed to have been hoping for. Brent Seabrook had a rough year. Fans were free to spew their hockey “knowledge” about how horrible Seabrook’s contract was. Four more years of this!? But enduring injuries that required three surgeries within two months will effect just about anyone.
Since Seabrook decided to not participate in the postseason, he has time to recover and prepare for next season. He will get his chance to play, that comes with being a three-time Stanley Cup winner, but just how good his play will be is the question?
Calvin de Haan
In his first season with the Blackhawks, Calvin de Haan was exactly what the team expected. He had the fourth most blocked shots on the team during the regular season while playing in just 29 games and led the team with 27 in the postseason.
de Haan becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season. If he can stay healthy, the team will want to keep him around as they insert rookies such as Ian Mitchell, Alec Regula, and Wyatt Kalynuk into the NHL lineup.
After his NHL debut in 2018-19, Dennis Gilbert appeared in 21 games this season. He brought a physical brand of hockey, recording 74 hits, that the team desperately needed. But his big hits didn’t hide his faults defensively. He had the second worst goals for percentage on the team with 22 goals against in 21 games. It’s hard to see Gilbert getting another chance next season with the talent the Blackhawks have coming.
Lucas Carlsson made his NHL debut this season as well as playing in one postseason game. In his six games with the Blackhawks he held his own, but didn’t produce as well as he had with the Rockford IceHogs.
He was voted the IceHogs’ Defenseman of the Year for the second straight season, putting up a team-high 21 assists. He replaced Adam Boqvist in Game Two of the Blackhawks’ First Round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, but played just over 10 minutes. He is a restricted free agent after next season and the Blackhawks will have to decide if there is a need for him in the lineup.
Nick Seeler was claimed off waivers from the Minnesota Wild in February. He was inserted into the lineup shortly after and ended up playing in six games for the Blackhawks. He brought an element of quickness and physicality that the team didn’t have, but he was unable to sustain long-term success. He is signed through next season and a future with the Blackhawks doesn’t seem likely.
As a first round draft pick, Nicolas Beaudin has yet to prove his worth to the Blackhawks. He made his NHL debut in the final game of the season after recording just 15 points in 59 games in Rockford.
Beaudin’s entry-level contract expires after the 2021-22 season and it will be interesting to see how many opportunities he is given to earn his place in the team’s future.