Chicago Blackhawks Defensive Core


Now that the Blackhawks have officially parted ways with Johnny Oduya and brought in Trevor Daley, we have a more complete picture of what the 2015-2016 Chicago Blackhawks defense core will look like.

Currently, the Blackhawks have six defensemen under contract: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor Daley, Trevor Van Riemsdyk, and David Rundblad.

I think the most intriguing question coming into training camp is what the defense pairs are going to look like.  Despite Oduya and Daley’s somewhat dissimilar skill sets, the roles they performed weren’t that different.

Oduya’s role in Chicago, as with Hjalmarsson, was to almost act as a human shield – taking the tough assignments and acting purely in a shutdown role.  This allowed Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to do what they do best, push the play in the offensive zone.  This is evidenced by the fact that Hjalmarsson and Oduya where No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in quality of competition and had hardest zone starts for defensemen on the team.


As you can see from the chart, Daley actually had a slightly harder quality of competition than Oduya, although he enjoyed the benefit of slightly easier zone starts.  However, and this is the really troubling thing about Daley, his possession numbers in this similar role were much, much worse.

Oduya’s corsi for percentage was 51.2% – while second worst on the team, very solid considering the fact that he played in mainly a shutdown role.  Daley’s on the other hand was a putrid, team worst by a mile 45.8%.  This would have placed him 28th in the NHL on a team wide-basis – between the hapless Leafs and the PDO driven Flames.

With Daley’s struggles last year, it may be more prudent to use him in a less challenging role.  Unfortunately, this leaves some confusion as what to do with everyone else.

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It may be as simple as moving Keith up to play with Hjalmarsson and letting him take the top assignments once again.  However, with Keith just turning 32, do you really want him burning himself out night after night in the regular season?

Another option would be to let Seabrook replace Oduya and let a Seabrook – Hjalmarsson duo become the shutdown pair, something which has worked in the past.  In fact, since 2010 Seabrook and Hjalmarsson have held a CF% of 51.2 when working together.

This would also allow Keith to continue to take easier assignments and continue to absolutely dominate play the other way (55.9 CF% last year, 9th in the league for defensemen who played more than 20 games.  Seriously, Duncan Keith is so, so good.)

Despite David Rundblad’s shortcoming in his own zone, he and Keith worked fairly well together with a dominating CF% of 57.4, though this does come with the caveat that they started an enormous share of their shifts in the offensive zone (67.3% a number which would have been 4th in the league this year for defensemen who played more than 20 games).

This would then leave Daley to get the easygoing third-pair minutes that may be able to get him going again.  However, babysitting a young defenseman isn’t really in Daley’s phrase book as he usually looks for any opportunity to shotgun up the ice and join the forwards on the rush.  Would this expose Trevor Van Riemsdyk on the back end?  With easy zone starts and facing only third and fourth-line guys it might not matter much.

Nick Leddy was once on that Blackhawks third pair and while his early career shortcomings in his own zone sometimes put him in Joel Quenneville’s doghouse, his drive from the back end allowed the Blackhawks’ depth guys to pummel other team’s bottom six on a regular basis.

The one thing that could throw a wrench in these early projections is Stan Bowman’s propensity to sign veteran defensemen to very cheap deals in free agency i.e. Sean O’Donnell, Sheldon Brookbank, Michal Rozsival.

Some possible candidates this year include Tim Gleason, Anton Volchenkov, and even a possibly returning Michal Rozsival.  However, with only $350 thousand of cap space left and Marcus Kruger still needing a new deal, it is going to take more jettisoning of the current roster to fit that depth veteran guy in.

In the Blackhawks bid to be the first team since the 1997 and 1998 Red Wings to go back-to-back, many questions are going to have to be answered.  How their defense pairings line up is just one part of the puzzle.

(All stats come from and

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