Prior to the lockout, I started doing player evaluations for Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp. While the evaluations still remain valid, please keep in mind the predictions must be prorated due to the shortened season. Now that a new CBA has been agreed upon, I decided to continue this edition right where I left off, which means Swedish defenseman Johnny Oduya is next up in line.
Many people shook their heads in confusion after Stan Bowman spent a 2nd and 3rd round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft on Oduya at last years trade deadline. There were two reasons for that: No one knew where he would fit as the 5th left-handed defenseman on the roster and no one thought Stan could re-sign him at the end of the season for a reasonable amount. Bowman answered the bell when Oduya took a pay cut in order to stay in Chicago, but it’s still hard to tell if Oduya is the right fit for the Chicago Blackhawks puzzle.
Oduya is slightly more difficult to evaluate compared to the “core players” mentioned above since there is only a small sample size that we can look at. His tool set seems to rival Niklas Hjalmarsson’s positioning technique, the classic Swedish shot-blocker, however he lacks physicality to remain an effective/consistent top-four defenseman in match-ups that involve bigger, more physical forwards. He seems to have some creativity with the puck, but not exactly what Blackhawk fans were hoping for when he was acquired, especially if they expected him to fill the void that Brian Campbell left behind when he was traded to the Florida Panthers.
It should go without saying, but anyone expecting him to fill Campbell’s shoes is sadly mistaken. Anyone thinking Hjalmarsson is expendable as long as Oduya is a Blackhawk will be severely disappointed with the result as well.
Where duya fit this year?
Oduya can be an asset to the Blackhawks if he is properly slotted in the line-up. Comparing him to Brian Campbell or Niklas Hjalmarsson just isn’t doing him any favors to win over the fans in the stands, and quite frankly it’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. He might struggle in a top-four role but there’s no reason he couldn’t handle a third pairing role on the left side with a bigger player that can cover his deficiencies in Sheldon Brookbank or possibly Michal Rozsival. Let’s face it, Nick Leddy wasn’t doing Johnny Oduya any favors in the defensive end last year and vice versa.
Brookbank and Rozsival were signed during the off-season. Both are right-handed shots and both were brought in to off-set the plethora of left-handed defenseman on the team. As it stands, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook should anchor defensive core on the top pairing, Niklas Hjalmarsson is the next best left-handed defenseman so he should grab that slot on the 2nd pairing, and that leaves the left side on the 3rd pairing open for Oduya.
The future of Johnny Oduya
Thankfully, the Blackhawks are sitting comfortably in cap space this year so his contract means very little at the moment. However, next season there is a possibility that they could use an amnesty buyout on him. Nearly $3.4 million of cap space is hard to swallow when you’re paying for a 3rd pairing defenseman. With that in mind, there are still other contracts that are worth shedding before even thinking about axing Oduya. If I had to guess, I would say he will finish out his contract — and that doesn’t necessarily mean in Chicago.
The way his contract is structured is brilliant if you look at how affordable it can be for a team struggling to reach the cap floor. Although his cap hit is nearly $3.4 million, his salary goes from $4,000,000 this upcoming season (not prorated), dips to $3,300,000 next season, and finally all the way down to $2,850,000 in the final year of his contract. Good value for a small market team and it looks like Bowman set himself up for a future trade if he chooses to go that route.
The bottom line
Oduya hardly came as advertised and while he does have some use in the Blackhawks line-up, he (and management) will face a ton of scrutiny if he keeps playing top-four minutes over Niklas Hjalmarsson. He should see some ice-time on the 2nd PK unit and 3rd pairing. This isn’t a knock on his game, rather a testament to the Blackhawks defensive depth in left-handed shooters.