Brent Seabrook: Great Past, Uncertain Future

Any glimpse through the stories listed among various Chicago Blackhawks online publications these past few weeks will reveal at least two or three stories with respect to the future of Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook. On Thursday, the Blackhawks cleared things up — a little.

Chicago Blackhawks Brent Seabrook: Great Past, Uncertain Future

The club announced Thursday that Seabrook will be out the remainder of the 2019-20 season, placing him on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). While the injury report indicates a right shoulder injury, Seabrook is scheduled to have surgery on his right hip in early January, followed by left hip surgery in early February.

Seabrook’s Toughness Unsurprising

Seabrook playing through nagging injuries was no secret to Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. However, his longtime teammate needing three surgeries over a three-month span wasn’t really expected. But the captain wasn’t surprised that Seabrook pushed through the pain over the years.

“That’s just the way he is,” Toews said. “He’s earned that reputation as a guy who puts the team before himself, time and time again. Obviously a great leader in this locker room. Across the board, he brings it all — plays through a lot of issues and pain obviously, and he’s done that in the playoffs and regular season over the years. It’s kind of crazy to look at how many games he’s played in the playoffs and regular season. That adds up. Give him credit for what he’s been able to do. Just hope everything goes to plan and he gets healthy and fresh and ready to go whenever the recovery period is up.”

Jonathan Toews (#19) and Brent Seabrook (right) (Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)

While questions remain with regard to the Blackhawks defensive stalwart moving forward, there is no question that Seabrook will undoubtedly be regarded in Blackhawks’ history as one of the franchise’s all-time greats.

One of the most durable athletes in hockey history, Seabrook’s absence from the ice will mark the first time in his 15-year NHL career that he will be out of commission due to a significant injury. He has appeared in at least 95 percent of the Blackhawks regular-season games during 13 consecutive seasons. Over that span, only three players in the league have appeared in more combined regular season and playoff games than Seabrook’s 1,237 – Joe Thorton (1,239), Alex Ovechkin (1,250) and Patrick Marleau (1,273). However, with nearly 27,500 minutes, Seabrook ranks in the top 10 all-time of NHL skaters in ice time.

Seabrook was a first-round selection by the Blackhawks in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft out of the Western Hockey League, chosen 14th overall. Prior to donning the Blackhawks sweater in the 2005-06 season, he played four seasons with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Fast forward to 2015 — Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman awards Seabrook a contract that includes a no-trade clause, in addition to a $6.85 million per season payout. While respectable in regard to rewarding one of your franchise’s most decorated players, the move resulted in a salary-cap issue that would dog the Hawks for years to come.

Now a three-time Stanley Cup champion and Olympic Gold medalist, Seabrook, along with former Norris Trophy winner and likely Hall-of-Famer Duncan Keith, were the anchor of a Blackhawks defense that guided the club through the most successful period in the team’s history. Over the years, Seabrook has amassed 103 goals and 361 assists.

Duncan Keith
Duncan Keith (Icon SMI)

Keith entered the league along with Seabrook in 2005-06, and the blueline duo have been best friends ever since.

“We sit beside each other in every locker room,” Keith said. “It’s different not having him on the bus and things like that. He’s definitely missed. He’s battled through these injuries for a long time. Anybody else, they probably would have been missing a lot more time than that over the course of the last several seasons. Shows the mentality and the type of person that he is.

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“Maybe it’s a little bit stubborn and some people might say maybe it’s not smart in some ways to battle through that, but that’s the type of attitude you need. You win with guys like that, who are willing to play through pain. The thing about him, too, is you never heard it. It wasn’t like it was at the forefront of anything. He just went about his business and was never complaining about certain things that sometimes people do over time.”

What’s Next

A longtime fan favorite, Seabrook will face a flurry of speculation after his recovery with respect to his future. His albatross of a contract obligates the Blackhawks to keep Seabrook on their books through the 2023-24 season, leaving the organization’s brass the task of navigating the delicate balance between upsetting their fan base, remaining loyal to one of the franchise’s all-time great players and putting their best team on the ice.

It’s far too early to have any reasonable idea of what this could mean for Seabrook’s long-term status. In April, he will turn 35, and any trade involving Seabrook would require him to waive his no-trade clause. Any transaction would likely be a complex mix of high-end prospects, current roster players and some responsibility for Seabrook’s salary. The buyout option on Seabrook’s contract would cost the Hawks $6.583 million against next season’s cap and in 2022-23, $3.583 million in 2021-22, $5.083 million in 2023-24, and $708,333 from 2024-28.

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For Bowman to make any type of move given the Blackhawks current state in the standings, there would need to make a dramatic turn for the better. So, unless something turns around for the Hawks, expect the questions and speculation on Seabrook’s future to continue.

Brent Seabrook
Brent Seabrook (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

But one thing is certain: there will come a time that a No. 7 Blackhawks banner will be hoisted into the rafters of the United Center in honor of “Seabs”, and all will be as it should be.