The Chicago Blackhawks have been incredibly busy over the last few weeks. The offseason kicked off when the team moved Duncan Keith to the Oilers, a trade he asked for in order to be closer to his son. However, the Blackhawks followed that up by trading for Seth Jones, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Tyler Johnson, as well as signing Jujhar Khaira and Jake McCabe.
Each move certainly addresses a need and serves a purpose for the Blackhawks. However, when doing a deeper dive into things, perhaps the player that fits a need the most is Jake McCabe.
Sure, Fleury adds a proven, top-tier presence in net and Tyler Johnson is an experienced forward who can play throughout the lineup. Even Khaira serves a purpose as a fourth-line player after the departure of David Kampf. But for a defense that allowed the most shots per game (tied with Buffalo) last season, McCabe is a massive addition.
So, what does McCabe bring to Chicago? Let’s examine the curious case of Jake McCabe.
Obviously defensemen are brought in to play, well, defense. There are unique aspects of McCabe’s game that make him an intriguing player. For example, the Blackhawks had an OK defensive corps on paper last season, but they proceeded to lead the league in shots on goal against per game. Ironically, the Blackhawks were tied with the Buffalo Sabres, McCabe’s former team, but McCabe only played 13 games before suffering a knee injury.
When looking at the body of work for McCabe, his top-level stats don’t jump off the page, but his underlying numbers are very good. Not only are they good, but his numbers have improved every season.
McCabe is in the 96th percentile for his defensive ability at 5-on-5. As the chart indicates, he’s also improved on those figures every season. In addition, McCabe is also in the 71st percentile for offense as well, indicating he’s a very strong two-way presence at this point in his career.
We’ll get to his offense in a second. However, McCabe has some impressive numbers on the defensive end. When most Blackhawks fans think about true defensive defensemen, they think of former Blackhawk Niklas Hjalmarsson. While McCabe isn’t Hjalmarsson 2.0, he brings a set of skills that the Blackhawks’ defense has lacked since Hammer’s departure.
McCabe blocks a lot of shots, eclipsing the century mark twice in his career. He was one block short of having a third 100-block season in 2018-19. In addition, McCabe has had three seasons with over 100 hits, something the Blackhawks don’t feature much of beyond Connor Murphy on the current roster. McCabe brings the exact presence the Blackhawks need from their blue line given the structure of their roster.
Despite never posting more than 20 points in a season, McCabe is not short of skill as a blue-liner. He has shown plenty of ability to jump into the play and provide offense from the back end. Here’s one clip of his offensive skill to illustrate that sentiment:
McCabe picks his spots. Although he isn’t an offensive juggernaut on the blue line like Seth Jones can be, he still has plenty of skill where teams should respect him. He’ll provide offense when needed, but he’s getting paid $4 million per season to be an excellent defender.
When defining “presence” in relation to McCabe, this has a few levels of meaning. For starters, as seen in the clip above, McCabe wore a letter while in Buffalo. It is clear that he is a leader, and that is something this young Blackhawks team (aside from Kane, Toews, and Fleury) can use.
Additionally, McCabe has quite the “presence” while on the ice. Over the years, McCabe has collected a pretty impressive amount of hits, some of which end with the entire opposing team trying to take a piece of him.
For the record, it looks like a pretty clean hit. Just hard. Take whatever stance you will, but McCabe is far from afraid of contact. Also, he has been known to throw hands with opponents as well. Feel free to search “Jake McCabe fights” and you’ll have a plethora of clips to sort through.
Why is this important? Well, the Blackhawks have been criticized for years now that their blue line is soft. Outside of Connor Murphy, very few Blackhawks defensemen have come to the aid of either their goaltender or another teammate. Now, the addition of McCabe ensures there is another player who isn’t afraid to rustle some feathers.
Possibly the most appealing attribute about the signing is his connection to Chicago. Although McCabe is originally from Wisconsin, his wife is from the Chicagoland area, and they spend a lot of time in the city. When asked about choosing the Blackhawks in his first press conference, McCabe labeled him signing with the Blackhawks as a “dream come true”. He added that his wife is from Downers Grove, and Chicago has been an “adopted home” of sorts for the last few years. Now, he gets to call the city he’s come to love home.
Even while in Buffalo, McCabe mentioned his connection to Chicago. In this clip from the Buffalo Sabres YouTube channel, the video opens in Chicago.
Overall, Jake McCabe may have come at a four-by-$4 million price tag, but he’s likely worth every penny. McCabe brings a little bit of everything that the Blackhawks need defensively on their blue line. Between quality defensive play, physicality, leadership, and a touch of offensive skill, McCabe feels like the complete package for the Blackhawks. Pairing McCabe with his right-handed clone, Connor Murphy, would make for a hell of a shutdown pair this season.
I’m willing to bet that Jake McCabe will quickly become a fan favorite amongst the Blackhawks fan base this fall. He is a perfect “Chicago”-style defenseman who has ties to the local area. He’s from Wisconsin, and his wife is from Downers Grove, meaning he’s already seen Chicago as a second home. Now, he gets to call the Windy City home for at least four years, capturing the hearts of Blackhawks fans everywhere.
It may be safe to say: Jake McCabe is a perfect fit for the Chicago Blackhawks.
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