Blackhawks Blue Line Depth Paying Big Dividends

Last spring, a poor series against Phoenix put Johnny Oduya in the doghouse with many Blackhawks fans.

But 12 months later, Oduya is having a fantastic start to the postseason next to Michal Rozsival, and the Hawks’ “third” defensive pair is a big reason Chicago keeps rolling.

Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, many have raised concern over the amount of ice time being given to Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook; Keith’s average ice time climbed to almost 27 minutes in each of the last two seasons. With Oduya returning and the addition of Rozsival this year, hopes were that ice time for the Hawks’ top pair would be cut back.

And they were.

Keith’s average of 24:07 was his lowest for a regular season since 2006-07 (his second NHL season), and Seabrook’s average of 22:00 was his lowest since 2007-08. Both players saw their average ice time per night drop by almost three full minutes during the regular season.

When coach Joel Quenneville mixed up the blue line during the regular season, he moved Oduya “down” to the “third” pair with Rozsival. Those two have been arguably the best pair for the Hawks against Minnesota and now Detroit, and they have allowed Quenneville to comfortably roll six defensemen on a nightly basis.

In this year’s playoffs, five Chicago defensemen are averaging over 20 minutes per night with Keith (23:31) being the highest average. Only Nick Leddy (18:31) is averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game, while Rozsival, Oduya, Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson are all averaging between 20-21 minutes per night.

Four defensemen – Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and Oduya – are averaging at least two minutes per game short-handed in the postseason as well; Chicago has yet to allow a postseason powerplay goal.

Through six playoff games, Oduya leads the Hawks with 12 blocked shots and seven takeaways. Rozsival, meanwhile, has 10 blocked shots and 13 hits. Oduya and Rozsival are plus-six and plus-five, respectively, and Oduya has added two goals and an assist.

Against Minnesota, Rozsival (91:48) and Oduya (88:56) led all Blackhawks skaters in 5-on-5 ice time, but the Wild scored only twice while either was on the ice; Chicago scored six even strength goals with either Rozsival or Oduya on the ice.

The reality for Hawks’ opponents is that there isn’t a “third” pair on the blue line for Quenneville. And that depth is giving the Hawks a significant advantage.


20 thoughts on “Blackhawks Blue Line Depth Paying Big Dividends

  • May 17, 2013 at 9:53 am

    There isnt a team in the league that features a d-core as deep as the Hawks. Q’s decision to keep Rozival fresh for the playoffs has been an outstanding decisions as he has not only logged minutes but has logged quality minutes. Oduya’s goal against Howard was a thing of beauty.

    I loved the Hawks game1 let’s see how they follow up in game 2. Go Hawks!

  • May 17, 2013 at 10:14 am

    The knock on Oduya is he wilts under physical pressure. While he has played very well, he hasn’t been subjected to the same heavy forecheck this postseason as he was against Phoenix last year. Minnesota and Detroit are not big teams that can lay the wood like Phoenix did and like LA will do if the Hawks and Kings advance to the conference finals. That will be the true test for our quick but undersized defense, especially Oduya.

    But as they say – you can only play the teams they put in front of you and so far the two biggest concerns going into the postseason – Crawford choking and Oduya/Leddy wilting – have been answered positively.

    Keep it going boys.

  • May 17, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Tab, or anyone who feels they can respond, what can Q do or say to the defensemen to prevent some of the D-Man giveaways. I think Seabs played well in Game 1 and clearly saved a goal, but his passing has not been crisp all season and was evident again in Game 1 which led to some giveaways simply because the Hawk Forwards couldn’t reach his passes (Seabs’ fault, IMO). Oduya rocked that goal home and I agree he played well, but he had a giveaway (stripped) in the 3rd period that led to a direct shot on Crawford. I know giveaways/takeaways are a part of hockey, but what can a Coach say to remind his players to be careful? Do the players instantly know when they make a mistake? This sounds like I am complaining, but I have loved this year and post season to date. Just wondering how Q pushes the team to be better after already playing well.

  • May 17, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Peter, that surely is a tough question to give an opinion on. With only split second time and space, mistakes are easy to make. My biggest issue with Seabrook is that he seems to have lost some confidence. A couple of times in G1 he backed off when it “appeared” he should have engaged in the defensive zone. He seems to be avoiding checks in the corners and thus coughs up a few pucks. But in the end IMO it is a confidence or mental thing.

  • May 17, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Its going to be hard to keep Leddy and Rozsival next season. Were going to se a lot of young kids try to step up or a core player ( Bolland, sorry a center who has back and cocussion problems and cant win a FO are expendable) needs to go.

  • May 17, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Leddy is a RFA, so it won’t be hard to keep him. Rozsival won’t be needed. Bolland is certainly expendable. I’m sure there is a line of teams looking for a center who has back and concussion problems that can’t win a faceoff. Should be easy to unload!

    I kind of get the feeling Seabrook isn’t as aggressive as he used to be because he’s been concussed so many damn times.

  • May 17, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    All teams have D-Man making some less then ideal decisions with the puck. The good thing about the Hawks is that they do it way less then most teams. That an the fact that they can keep their D-Man fresh since they split time fairly evenly gives them an advantage.

    As for next year, my guess is Kruger and Leddy are back and possibly Bickell. Stalberg is gone he will receive to much for the Hawks to pay for a 3rd line player. Rosy and Emory are probably gone unless they take cuts, which I don’t think will happen. They also will try and trade Bolland and Frolik, (hate to see Frolik go, but 2mil for a 4th liner is way too much to pay) to free up cap space.

    Well that’s enough about next year. Let’s hope the boys take it to the Wings early tomorrow and put them on their heels early. Let them know right from the start they have no chance to win this series.

  • May 17, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    I think it is safe to say that the Hawks are the deepest defensive team 1-7, probably even 1-4. Good on StanBow for acquiring Oduya, Leddy, Rozsival, and even Brookbank for virtually nothing.

    They were stronger 1-4 in 09-10, but how big of an improvement is Oduya/Rozsival/Brookbank over Sopel/Boynton/Hendry?!

  • May 17, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Haha, Sopel…I think he was the poster boy for “do more with less”. He might even be slower as a skater than Bruno, but jeez Sopel could kill a penalty.

  • May 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    I would like to keep Rosy… I think his presence would be great for a kid like Clendening, 2M is steep when we have to resign other players. If we can get him for a discount that would be great, but if another team gives him the same deal we gave him (which I think is likely) then he will be gone.

  • May 17, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Seabrook has progressed the last hand full of years. Was going to have an off one eventually. It happened to be this year and I think the lockout compounded it. Happens to a lot of athletes.

  • May 17, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Tim where does Clendening fit in if you have Keith, Seabrook, Leddy, Hammer, Oduya, and Rozy signed?

  • May 17, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Reminder: the Blackhawks also have Brookbank under contract for next year as well. So re-signing Rozsival would give the Hawks the same 7 defensemen on the NHL roster they have now, and effectively lock Clendening in Rockford until there were multiple injuries and/or a trade. While I’m not against Clendening developing more in Rockford, I’m not sure the organization brings Rozsival back for another year; with the cap going down, they already have a lot of money tied up on the blue line and Leddy is a RFA this summer. Leddy is the priority if/when money is spent on defensemen this summer.

  • May 17, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Interesting to look back at the 2010 blue line and consider this year’s lineup in comparison.

    In 2010, Duncan Keith averaged over 28 minutes per game in the postseason, while Brent Seabrook averaged over 24. Other than those two, only Niklas Hjalmarsson averaged over 20 minutes per game (he was 21:00)… and I would take 2013 Hjalmarsson over 2010 Hjalmarsson. The Cup-winning team had Brent Sopel skating 18:29 per night, basically what Leddy is skating on this year’s team. There is no question this year’s team has a deeper, stronger blue line than the team that won the Cup three years ago.

    Of course, this year’s team will ultimately be judged by the final score of their last game. The 2010 team won what this year’s team is still chasing…

  • May 17, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    The national media that I’ve heard lately always are quick to sing the praises of 2 and 7. They seem blind to the fact that many nights other d-men are performing as well or better than the ”top 2”.

  • May 17, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    This has been a break-out year for Hjalm in my opinion, definitely a top 3-4 D at this point and has shown some big hitting ability late in the year. Leddy is a keeper and will be signed. Bye bye Rosy and we may even have a trade in store for Oduya for cap space (if not this offseason, then next in order to keep #4.) Will see Clendening and Stanton and/or Olson in Chi next year along with Brookbank… Still deep and will keep getting better even with loss of Rosival (who I like), and/or Oduya (who can and should be moved at $3.4mil). Good situation for next 4-5 years..

  • May 17, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Oduya is a fantastic skater and moves the puck well. All 6 D know where each other are going to be on the ice at all times. It’s a great system (great coaching) and it’s a pleasure to watch.

    The knock on Oduya is that he wilts under physical pressure… I don’t know if you’ve every played hockey but ALL d-men wilt under physical pressure. That’s why teams like the Kings and the Bruins go deep in the playoffs. Not everyone has the skills of Keith, Suter, and Daughty to consistently avoid escape pressure like that.

    Moving the puck and being in good position (whether it’s D-to-D help or forwards curling deep) is what breaks the forecheck. That’s where speed and puck possession come into effect. So far all three pairs have been doing a great job of this.

  • May 17, 2013 at 11:51 pm

    Negzz, it has been a break out year for Hammer…like Tab said, I would take the 2013 Hammer over the 2010 player…which is nice to see, because by signing Hammer to that big contract we lost Niemi who is a Vezina trophy candidate again this year.

    JS is completely right about Sebs…he has taken a step back this year, because he is dealing with those big hits…lets just hope he’s better next season, because it would be a shame to see his great career restricted by those cheap shots.

    As for Oduya, he has been very good so far this post season, and through much of the regular season as well. But he wilted during a stretch where we played a lot of physical teams…and next round versus LA will ABSOLUTELY define Oduya’s post season. I don’t worry about Leddy at all, because he withstood the banging all season and played very, very smart hockey…and to those still speculating, Leddy isn’t going anywhere…guaranteed he’ll be a Hawk.

    As for Rozy, yeah it will be a shame to see him one and done in Chicago, because he’s been a great addition by Bowman…but there’s NOTHING for Clendening in Rockford. He’s mastered that level as a rookie…plus Clendening is a PP tour de force, which is going to help this team a ton….and to Negzz speculating on Stanton or Olsen, believe me it will be Stanton…he’s absolutely ready (probably was this season), but Olsen took a significant step back this season in Rockford, and IMO he isn’t close to being ready in Chicago which is sad to say for a 1st round selection, but all too common in pro sports.

    I think Keith/Hammer are your #1 pairing moving forward…Sebs/Leddy are your 2nd pairing, and the combo of Clendening/Stanton/Brookbank are your 3rd pairing next season, which will be a brilliant move by Bowman, because it puts both youngsters in a position to succeed. In 2 years time, both Clendening and Stanton will pushing into the top 4…and I really like Klas Dahlback in Rockford…in 2 years I think he is that 3rd pairing rotation guy…he’s Hammer 2.0

  • May 18, 2013 at 7:53 am

    @SrBrad: I have not seen Stanton play, I see he is good sized and was +16 with the Hogs this year.. What’s his game like?

  • May 18, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Negzz, he plays a stay at home, smart and PHYSICAL game…he had a 100+ penalty minutes this season as well. He will come in and perfectly fill that 3rd line role that Rozy and Brookbank were brought in to do. Pair him with one of our speed DMen, like say Clendening, and they will thrive together. What I like the most about Stanton is that he plays smart and he plays with confidence. It’s hard to teach those two things.

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