Storylines continue circulating around the Chicago Blackhawks‘ defense and what it will look like by the start of next season. Not just in terms of those who may be subtracted from their current makeup, as several rumours also suggest Chicago is looking to add star power to their blue line. Yet, now’s not the time for that approach.
Although it may seem like a general rule of thumb that infusing talent into a lineup is typically a good thing, there are other factors to consider. There’s a difference between a roster that’s looking for that final piece to complete their plan and one that has just begun to write theirs.
Being that the latter better aligns with Chicago’s current state, it’s difficult for them to justify what it would take to land a proven blueliner. Regardless if they happen to be the most sought after in years.
Avoiding Those in Play
A number of marquee players have already thrown their names into the offseason sweepstakes. Whether because their current term is up or they are ready for a relocation, it would seem we can expect a flood of player movement this summer.
Two such athletes have already been linked to the Blackhawks. While Seth Jones and Dougie Hamilton are in very different situations as far as the business side of the sport is concerned, what they have in common is league-wide interest.
However, despite there being a rationale to suggest Jones or Hamilton would improve any organization they join, the Blackhawks aren’t currently in a position to take on their type of talent. Not because it wouldn’t help Chicago’s immediate outlook, but as a result of what it would cost to make it so. Both in a literal sense and how it could risk regressing their rebuild.
Time to Save, Not Spend
28-year-old Hamilton is coming off one of his best seasons to date, statistically speaking. Averaging 22:43 per night, he accumulated 10 goals and 32 assists for 42 points through 55 games played. One of today’s best examples of an offensive-defenseman, he finished tied for seventh in production among all defensemen.
What makes Hamilton that much more special is his ability to still perform his main functions as a defender. Achieving a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 58.7 through all situations in 2020-21, it’s obvious that his team had the advantage whenever he was on the ice. Incorporate his 64 blocks, 52 hits, and plus-20 rating and it becomes even more clear how well-rounded he truly is.
With all that in mind, being that he’s still south of 30 works in his favour when it comes to negotiating power. His peak continues to rise, as he’s nowhere near falling from it. Coming off a six-year contract with a $5.75 million AAV, no one can blame him for expecting a raise. After all, many are making a lot more for doing much less.
That’s where this conversation has to stop for Chicago. Although Hamilton will be worth every penny he’s able to secure, the Blackhawks shouldn’t be the ones signing that cheque. They need to be fiscally responsible through this rebuild. Especially since a large segment of their active roster, including many who are currently 25 or younger, are up for contract renewals over the next two years.
Too Soon to Trade Assets
Approaching his 27th birthday, Jones has the age advantage over Hamilton. However, that’s about the only edge he owns between the two. Another model of the modern-day defenseman, who seems to place just as much importance on production as he does defensive coverage, Jones has been known to put up points more readily than his counterparts.
Unfortunately, his tally of five goals and 23 assists last season would suggest he’s on a decline in that regard. A points pace of 0.50 per game was his lowest since 2015-16 and a CF% of 48.2 was the worst of his career. While those blemishes could ultimately become outliers within his overall body of work, recent results have to be considered when it comes to a player’s value.
With that said, where he still shines is his reliability. It’s one thing that Jones participated in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ entire 2020-21 schedule, but the recognition he’s due goes up a notch when you add that he averaged 25:14 of ice time all year long. Good for fifth-highest in that column, among NHL defensemen. He also accumulated 102 hits and 101 blocks, helping further his worth as a balanced presence on the blue line.
With one year left on his contract, Jones can only currently be acquired via trade. As much as onlookers may anticipate that he’ll get back to peak playing form, the supposed return the Blue Jackets are expecting is beyond what the Blackhawks should be willing to consider. Depleting a talent pool of its potential stars, and including a first-round pick, is counterproductive when it comes to a rebuild.
Doubling Down on This Defense
It’s no secret that Chicago’s defense is far from where it needs to be before it’s one that the opposition worries about. Behind only the Buffalo Sabres, the Blackhawks allowed the second-most shots against throughout 2020-21, permitting 1,888 pucks towards their net.
However, it’s not as though they are a lost cause. This group is simply working to define what they are capable of, as they focus on further development alongside one another. Plus, they have a healthy mix of veterans already there to mentor any newcomers and expedite their evolution.
28-year-old Connor Murphy continues to make his case as the next leader of Chicago’s defensive core. All the while, their youth are heading in the right direction with him at the helm.
Adam Boqvist (20) improved through his sophomore campaign. Ian Mitchell (22) displayed spurts of what the Blackhawks hope becomes his norm. Nicolas Beaudin (21) proved to be a mature presence beyond his years. Wyatt Kalynuk (24) was ready when called upon. While Riley Stillman (23) fit right into the fold, following his late-season acquisition.
While many of these names may not yet have the same cachet carried forward by Jones and Hamilton, not giving them the chance to prove their worth is a disservice to everyone involved. Again, the focus of this franchise should be allowing their athletes to develop. So, let them. Only then can we accurately gauge the capabilities of each, let alone the part they’ll play when it comes time to compete again.
Let the Youth Lead the Way
Considering the highlight reels written out for both Hamilton and Jones, it may seem counterintuitive to be on the side that argues against seeing either of them end up in Chicago. However, it all boils down to the respective outlooks of each party involved.
Hamilton is going to want as much money as possible, secured throughout the longest term his new team is willing to provide. Whereas Jones will fetch a trade package that works to fulfill a variety of needs for the team he’s set to depart.
All the while, Chicago needs to simply stay the course with the plan they set in motion prior to the start of last season. They finally told the world that they were committed to providing opportunities for their youth to develop and keeping their word is key.
“We’re committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster,” the Blackhawks said Tuesday in an open letter to fans posted on social media. “We want more than another window to win; we want to reach the summit again and stay there — an effort that will require a stockpile of emerging talent to complement our top players. The influx of youth and their progression will provide roster flexibility and depth throughout our lineup.”
Besides, it’s not as though the Blackhawks are a player or two away from becoming contenders. There is still a fairly high hill to climb in that regard. Yet, the players already there have been doing their part to collectively push this team forward. Now isn’t the time to disregard those efforts by affecting the spotlight they’re each working to earn. Rather, the franchise needs to be allowing its potential stars to shine.
Their surprising push throughout last year proved that they’re on the right track with the direction they’re currently following. Why re-route that path at this point, given the associated cost and risk?
Chicago needs to cater to its current roster and let things unfold before they can justify additional action. Leveraging their impressive rookie class will only propel this rebuild. Then, when they are in a position of being a piece or two away from capitalizing on this plan, the Blackhawks can more accurately assess what they have, what they need, and what they can justify spending to push it even further along.
Until then, Chicago needs to steer clear of Hamilton, Jones, and any other all-star who hits the open market this offseason. Just because they’re available, doesn’t mean acquiring them makes sense.
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