Because the Chicago Blackhawks’ season has come to end, now is the time for reflection. There have been so many changes to the roster since their last true playoff appearance four years ago. There are plenty of new faces, as well as the players that have been leading the charge. The ones that have been the backbone of the team continued to prove why this season. For this edition of ‘Blackhawks’ 2020-21 Player Grades,’ we are going to focus on one of the players that embodies that sentiment: Connor Murphy.
Murphy’s statistics in 50 games played this season were right on the money for where he normally lies. In a regular 82-game season, he averages 18 points. In 2020-21, he collected 3 goals, 12 assists, and a plus-1 rating.
Moreover, he ranked second-best on the team in hits (102) behind Nikita Zadorov (190). He also ranked second in ice time for defensemen on the Blackhawks with his ATOI (average time on ice) being 22:09. Only Duncan Keith had more than him with his ATOI being 23:25, which led the entire team. Murphy also led the team in blocks with 123.
When the Blackhawks traded Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Murphy back in the summer of 2017, he faced a lot of pressure because of the player he was traded for. However, he seemed up to the task immediately. Since the trade, you can see the growth. The 28-year-old is getting better and better as the years go on. Going into next season, he is undoubtedly one of the team’s most important pieces. He is a player where offensive production will be very limited, but that’s quite all right. As a defenseman, he isn’t exactly a speedster, but he is still mobile enough to make those greasy plays. Whether it’s helping the team maintain possession on the power play or stopping the opposition in overtime, he can provide whatever role is asked of him.
Meanwhile, his defensive contributions are very underrated. Especially this season, you could see him sacrificing his body during most of his shifts. That is very Hjalmarsson-esque. In almost every play that I saw Murphy in this season, he was blocking huge shots in front of the net to help the goaltenders out, or was killing momentum-rallying plays for the opposition. As a bigger guy at 6-foot-4, I never considered him to be a physical presence, but he has really tapped into that side of the game – particularly during the last two seasons. Now, he is a player that you can expect to deliver big hits and checks.
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Besides his contributions on the ice, he has also been making an impact off the ice. He was made an alternate captain this season, alongside Keith, Patrick Kane, and Alex DeBrincat. That shows how much he is valued in the locker room. He was also nominated for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, which is the award given to “the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” He has been the Blackhawks’ representative for Chicago’s COVID-19 vaccine advocacy campaign, delivered meals to local hospitals during the pandemic, and more – way to go, Murph!
Without a doubt, Murphy has become a No. 1 defenseman for this team. Before Brent Seabrook retired, there was more depth available to assign to the defense pairings. Now, the defense relies heavily on Murphy’s contributions. Before, he could be paired with Keith. But Keith had to be spread out for balance. Because of that, Murphy has been paired with just about everyone this season.
Murphy has been paired with Zadorov, Calvin de Haan, Wyatt Kalynuk, and Riley Stillman. The one partner he seemed to have the most success with was Zadorov. The pairing actually had the second-best goal differential in the league with 13 goals for and just six against (68.42%). Outside of the good that came of that duo, there wasn’t a whole lot that worked for that group. The Blackhawks ranked sixth in the league for goals against per game with 3.29 goals against while allowing 33.7 shots per game.
The Hawks have 99 problems with their defense, but Murphy isn’t one. If anything, he is one of the few that is keeping the ship afloat and is carrying the team on his back. He isn’t perfect. He can get lost in his own zone and turn the puck over with the best of them. He likely won’t ever be regarded in the “elite” category. However, what he has provided has been more than enough. General manager Stan Bowman said himself that Murphy is the most consistent defenseman on the team. Reliability means more to them than anything right now. If Chicago can get back into contention, surely, he will be a factor in that. He can provide big hits, big shots, and big blocks. What more could you ask for?
Our Blackhawks team will be grading each player’s individual performance throughout the offseason. Be sure to refer back to this page to see our grades given to the roster. It will be updated frequently, so be sure not to miss your favorite player!
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Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.