Looking Forward: Is the Blackhawks Blue Line Better?

As the dust settles from a wild weekend of free agent movement and trades around the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks have been quietly active. While they haven’t spent millions of dollars, or (more importantly) committed multiple years to many players, they have made some moves in hopes of improving the roster for the 2011-12 season.

In the wake of some of the moves the Hawks have made, let’s look at the teams’ group of defensemen, both last year and the group heading into the new season.

Have the Blackhawks improved?

What exactly have the Blackhawks done this summer? Well, if we assume that the blue line is now full, and that Chris Campoli is the odd man out, here are the moves on the Blackhawks blue line:

Steve Montador Brian Campbell
Sean O’Donnell Chris Campoli
  Jordan Hendry
  Jassen Cullimore
  Nick Boynton*

We included Boynton because he was on the roster on Opening Night last year.

Based on this, it appears the Blackhawks unloaded a lot of players – five – and have replaced them with two. That can’t be good, right?

Ever heard of addition by subtraction?

While the hatred most of the Hawks’ fan base directs atBoynton can be comical at times, and while so many people thought Cullimore was a decade past his prime, they were still parts of last year’s roster.

And so many fans are thrilled to be rid of Campbell’s salary without recognizing his contributions on the ice.

How on earth are Montador and O’Donnell going to replace these five guys? And, more importantly, what did the Blackhawks need to improve when they made these roster moves?

Already, a great deal has been said and written about the Blackhawks needing to get tougher. But where the Blackhawks needed to improve on the back end was clearing the crease, keeping pucks away from Corey Crawford, and penalty killing depth. Let’s investigate whether or not, on paper, they have.

The first key statistic we’ll look at is blocked shots.

If we combine Campbell, Boynton, Hendry and Cullimore, those four defensemen blocked 179 shots in 238 games. If we combine Montador and O’Donnell, they blocked 154 shots in 214 games. While the gross numbers may look like the net impact on the roster is a loss, the averages show that the Blackhawks are replacing four defensemen that blocked 1.32 combined shots per game with two defensemen that blocked 1.38 shots per game.

We didn’t include Campoli and Leddy in the shot block evaluation because each averaged roughly one blocked shot per game in Chicago: Leddy blocked 46 shots in 46 games, while Campoli blocked 21 in 19. If Leddy maintains the play we saw last year, he should make up for any loss felt by Campoli in the shot blocking department.

Secondly, let’s look at penalty killing duties.

This break down should bring great comfort to Blackhawks fans. Montador and O’Donnell combined to skate 65:37 more short-handed than Campbell, Boynton, Hendry, Cullimore and Campoli did combined.

And, despite playing more than an hour of additional time on penalty killing duty, the combination of Montador and O’Donnell were on the ice for 24 power play goals for their respective opponents last year, while the five departed Blackhawks were on the ice for 26 opponent tallies.

If Montador and O’Donnell can bring more reliable, responsible pieces to the penalty kill for the Blackhawks this season, the team can look to focus the energy of Nick Leddy and even Brent Seabrook on the power play and five-on-five time. By spreading out the minutes in special teams, the Blackhawks will be better throughout the game not only because they aren’t relying too heavily on the same three or four players, but they have also brought in better players than they had last year.

Obviously a large portion of any projection looking forward to this season emphasizes improvement from Nick Leddy. When Stan Bowman dealt Brian Campbell, he was putting a great deal of pressure on the 20-year-old to continue his incredible ascent into the regular NHL rotation; consider that, on the 4th of July last year, Leddy had plans to be back at the University of Minnesota and not the United Center in October.

But where Hawks fans can find confidence in the moves Bowman has made so far this summer is the reality that Leddy won’t have to personally replace Campbell immediately.

By adding veterans O’Donnell and Montador, Bowman has changed the depth on the blue line to give the coaching staff confidence that they can utilize players and focus on matchups that put the Hawks in the best position to win games.

5 thoughts on “Looking Forward: Is the Blackhawks Blue Line Better?

  • July 4, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    In addition, the Hawks can bring up Shawn Lalonde, Ryan Stanton or maybe even Dylan Olsen when opportunities arise. Although it’s likely that Olesz may not be more than a 4th line skater, moving Campbell shaved $27.375 million off of the cap over the next five years and, as you say, the Hawks are better off.

    Now, about Carcillo…..

  • July 4, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Every move Boman has made has added to the tarted goal of making the Hawks a tougher team to play against. The player moves he’s made have not only improved the blueline, bottom line, character/protection for our scorers, but the result will be some very real positional battles decided in camp.

    Not only will that type of competition develop the strongest roster going into the season, but it will provide a good look at how the Hawks’ young talent measures up. I’d love to see them put Olesz on waivers to see if any interest surfaces. If not they’ll still be able buy him out before his birthday complicates that move.

  • July 4, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    I really think that Campoli will be back

  • July 5, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Good post. I’m liking the looks of the blue line this season. I’m assuming campoli turned down Bowman’s offer, so hopefully no team signs him to an offer sheet. If they could have O’donnell as the 7th defenseman it would really increase their depth.

    That being said, O’donnell as the 6th would also be great. I would just prefer some insurance incase keith or seabs goes down. Also he would be good trade bait for a team desperate for a big defenseman before the trade deadline, perhaps with some depth at center.

  • July 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    I think Campoli will be back for sure too. I really liked him and thinks he adds great depth to our defense. I like the additions too, but they are really one year guys that aren’t going to be with the team for a long time and Campoli could stay for a while.

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