Chicago Blackhawks First Quarter Grades: Defensemen

Earlier today, we graded the forwards on the Blackhawks roster in the wake of their victory in Nashville.

Now, let’s turn our attention the defensemen.

There is one significant aspect to the play of the Hawks’ defensemen early this year that cannot be ignored: the ice time. Consider these ice time numbers from last year compared to the first quarter of this season:

2011-12 2012-13
Duncan Keith 26:54 23:57
Brent Seabrook 24:43 23:42
Niklas Hjalmarsson 20:11 21:02
Nick Leddy 22:05 15:53
Johnny Oduya 24:25 22:13
Michal Rozsival 15:09
Sheldon Brookbank 12:26
Sean O’Donnell 13:31
Steve Montador 14:46
Dylan Olsen 13:02
Sami Lepisto 10:34

As you can see, there are some significant differences between last year and the first 12 games of the current campaign. Leddy’s ice time has decreased by over six full minutes per game, and he has transitioned to being one of the team’s primary powerplay weapons.

And, while there are certainly aspects of Brookbank’s game that might frustrate many fans, considering the play he has provided next to the group of players that filled bottom-pair roles last year is a strong statement to the additions of both Rozsival and Brookbank last summer.

With that in mind, let’s grade the defensemen.

ADuncan Keith
12 games, 1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points
Keith has looked more like the Norris Trophy-winning player than at any point since the Hawks won the Cup in the early going this season. There has been more jump in his game and his 17 blocked shots have been a stronger aspect to his game. He has four power play points this year.

BBrent Seabrook
12 games, 1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points
Seabrook has taken some time to get his legs under him to begin the season, but his numbers are strong across the board. His 35 blocked shots rank second in the NHL, and his 16 hits are tops among Hawks defensemen. Has he been perfect on every shift? No. But has he been the most consistently physical player on the Chicago blue line again this year? Absolutely.

ANiklas Hjalmarsson
12 games, o goals, 2 assists, 2 points
Hjalmarsson’s 29 blocked shots are tied for 10th in the NHL and he has earned the only increase in ice time among the five returning defensemen on the roster. We have been very critical of Hjalmarsson’s play in the past; in the two seasons after the Cup, he didn’t appear to take “the next step” in his development. Whatever he did during the lockout is paying incredible dividends now, though, and he’s been a rock all season.

BJohnny Oduya
12 games, 0 goals, 3 assists, 3 points
Oduya is among the league leaders with a plus-nine rating, and has been a steady compliment with Hjalmarsson on the Hawks’ second pair. There have been times that his passing has left some to be desired, but his shot blocking (25 to date) has added another dynamic to the Hawks’ group of defensemen.

ANick Leddy
12 games, 1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points
One of the great complaints many fans have had about Blackhawks coaches over the last two years has been the utilization of personnel. This season, an incredible change has taken place and Leddy has benefited from being used more appropriately. Leddy (3:20) is averaging almost as much powerplay ice time per night as Keith (3:22), and has looks more confident with the puck later in games. He can fly, and is developing into a weapon on special teams.

rozsival

AMichal Rozsival
4 games, 0 goals, 3 assists, 3 points
Rozsival missed a number of games because of a “lower-body injury” already this season, but he’s fit in very well as a #5 defenseman. He has been a good, physical addition to the back end and has the capability to increase his ice time as the season progresses. He’s already plus-four in only four games played.

CSheldon Brookbank
8 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points
Brookbank has played more games than many would like because of the injury suffered by Rozsival, but has been serviceable to date. He is the only Blackhawks defenseman with a negative plus-minus rating (minus-one) and is one of only three players without a point this season.

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11 Responses to Chicago Blackhawks First Quarter Grades: Defensemen

  1. Mike says:

    The D is much improved over last year. Rosival and Brookbank replacing Lepisto and O’Donnell has been huge. Leddy is a little stud. Those 3 or 4 fewer minutes a game has helped Kieth. Seabrook will pick it up. Hammer seems like a new man. Guess the big contract pressure is behind him. Hope he keeps it up. Oduya is steady.

    Tab, that said, what the heck do you do with Montador???? Especially with Olsen awaiting his turn…..

  2. Dave says:

    I don’t think we can do anything with Montador right now, Mike, since he’s still on IR.

  3. Tab Bamford says:

    Burying a player = cap hit, so I don’t see that happening. And amnesty is a possibility, but with each organization limited to 2, I’m not sure it would be used if there are other/better options to make his cap hit disappear. As long as the NHL allows contracts of players on IR to be removed from the cap, the best option for the Blackhawks (and Flyers w/ Pronger) is to keep a guy on IR as long as you possibly can.

  4. Brad Stevenson says:

    Again, another excellent analysis Tab…the only one I disagree on is Keith…like Seabrook he has been a “B” at best…but both players show signs, when rested, that they are getting better…I think to be 10-0-2 with Hammer being our best DMan says powerfully that this run can continue.

    I agree that the 5 minute cut in Leddy’s ice time has helped him and team a lot…Leddy isn’t just good on the PP, he is giving us first rate ice time on the 3rd pairing. Rozy and Brookbank are simply LIGHT YEARS ahead of Lepisto, Montador, etc…Bowman made some brutal decisions in those cases…

    And I really appreciate what Hammer has been doing…he will never become the next Nick Lidstrom, as per the Bowmans, but he is a very good NHL DMan right now, and it is one of the biggest reasons for our record thus far.

  5. Ryan says:

    Great analysis Tab.

    Look I understand some people might be frustrated with Brookbank, but I am not in that group. I think Rozy is a better pairing with Leddy but Brookbank/ Leddy as the 3rd D pairing is so far ahead of any 3rd D pairing we had last yr I can’t complain too much.

    Bottomline we have 7 D-men that I feel very comfortable with and that depth is awesome.

  6. Joel says:

    Dont forget we get 2 buyouts with the new CBA. So one could be used for Montador if need be.

  7. ozzzie19 says:

    One really important piece you failed to point out in the change in utilization of the D men is Q’s reliance of Oduya/Hammer against the other teams top lines. Their CORSI Rel QoC is off the charts compared to the rest of the D corp (even 7-2) AND they are most often starting off in the Defensive Zone.

    I’d have to think the only reason you’ve given Oduya a B is due to two passes to nowhere in the last game, but IMO (and the stats certainly back it up) 4-27 has been our best pair to date by a wide margin.

    Also interesting is that 4-27 have been paired up the most with the 2nd line, and we’ve seen that 88 is typically cherry picking and on the rare occasion he is in his own D zone is good for at least 2 bad turnovers a game, so the pressure on 4-27 is that much more with the spotty defensive play of their wingers (although Bolland certainly helps).

    Q has completely changed his mentality of D usage, line matching (our 3rd line is now playing against the easiest competition), and obviously line juggling. And what’d you know, look at the results.

  8. ozzzie19 says:

    Joel, you can’t buy out a guy who is on IR. I don’t really know if there is some third party evaluating the veracity of these IR assignments (I’m guessing there isn’t), but I think (unlike Pronger who will go off quietly into the sunset considering his age), a guy like Montador who I’m sure would like another contract after the Hawks, isn’t going to be happy to just sit on IR once/if his concussion symptoms are relieved.

    LTIR is the new (well not new, but now only) cap circumvention, and I’m sure it will be used by the majority of the teams/players who signed Luongo/Hossa contracts rather than retiring. BUT, I don’t seem players who are in the middle of their career, sitting on the sidelines happily collecting a pay check when it’ll be costing them the rest of their career.

  9. SouthSideHawkMan says:

    Steve Montador is 33 yrs old and has been out for about a yr due to a concussion, I seriously doubt he will be playing NHL hockey anytime soon. I’m not sure the CBA rules on buying an injuried player out but its doubtful( in my opinion) he suits up for the Hawks this season.

  10. Tab Bamford says:

    Montador reportedly skated with Carcillo & Olesz this week.

    In related news, he doesn’t fit anywhere on the Hawks’ roster right now and is a doctor’s OK from finding himself in Rockford. My guess: he stays on IR for a while.

  11. Tab Bamford says:

    @ ozzie19 – you’re spot on about the quality of play from Hjalmarsson & Oduya. There’s no question they’ve been a big part of the early success for the Hawks, and you can tell they were both playing somewhere during the lockout. Puck movement – on more than 2 occasions – is indeed why I held Oduya back to a B. But the fact that the Hawks have three defensemen averaging >2 blocked shots per game is a fantastic trend. Seabrook hasn’t skated well, but he’s been physical and a great shot blocker in spite of his apparent need to skate himself back into game shape.

    The reason I emphasized the time on ice through the first quarter of the season is because, in the last 2 years, Quenneville was reluctant to skate his secondary defensemen in key moments (except Leddy?), but this year the coaching staff has opened the door for the top 4 to skate big minutes already (as noted in ozzzie’s mention of CORSI Rel QoC). This has to be an encouraging trend for fans.

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