The biggest reason the Chicago Blackhawks missed the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs was because of their defense. They came up just six points short of a postseason berth because they gave up the second-most goals in the entire National Hockey League.
General manager Stan Bowman starting rebuilding his blue line when he acquired Olli Matta from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Dominik Kahun. Just a few days later, Bowman pulled off another deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. This time he landed defenseman Calvin de Haan and forward Aleksi Saarela in exchange for fellow blueliner Gustav Forsling and goaltender Anton Forsberg.
De Haan Fills a Huge Void
The Blackhawks have had a huge void in their defense ever since they traded Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes prior to the 2017-18 season. While Connor Murphy has been decent, he is not near the level of play that we grew accustomed to seeing out of Hjalmarsson.
Some within the organization will tell that if you squint hard enough, Maatta looks a lot like Hjalmarsson, but that remains to be seen. Now, the addition of de Hann gets you a proven stay-at-home defender that shores up the back end.
It is hard to argue with the price the Blackhawks paid for de Hann’s services either. It has been clear for quite some time that neither Forsberg or Forsling are in the team’s long-term plans. Forsberg has been great for the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League but has never translated that success over the NHL. Forsling was high on the Blackhawks’ prospect list just a couple of years ago, but he never lived up to his full potential and was a hot mess in his own zone while he was in Chicago.
De Haan had a very good season with the Hurricanes, but he became expendable due to a log jam of young defensive talent in the Carolina system. He is signed through the 2021-22 season with a $4.55 million cap hit, which is fair market value for a reliable defenseman.
He spent one season with the Hurricanes after six with the New York Islanders, who drafted him 12th overall at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He appeared in 74 games and scored one goal while adding 13 assists. His lone goal was the game-winner against the Blackhawks on Nov. 8, which happened to be Jeremy Colliton’s first game behind the bench.
Stats Prove de Haan’s Worth
De Haan was just about an even possession player with the Islanders averaging a 50.4 Corsi For percentage (CF%) in his six seasons there. His CF% jumped up to a career-best 55.5 with the Hurricanes. A major reason for the big spike was the fact that he started 55.9% of shifts in the offensive zone; only the second time in his career in which a majority of his starts came in the attacking zone. This was a big jump from the previous season where he had 45.2% offensive zone starts.
His goals-for percentage was not very good for a player who had so many offensive zone starts. 52.3% of the goals scored while de Haan was on the ice were goals against. This stat falls in line with plus/minus as there are a lot of team factors that go into a goal against, but you’d think that number would be better with the amount of time he spent playing offense last season.
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The 28-year-old defender will bring a physical presence to the ice. He dished out 187 hits last season, which is 63 more than Brent Seabrook who led the team in that department. He also blocked 106 shots, which would have been good enough for fourth on the team in 2018-19. That output was rather low as de Haan had two seasons of at least 190 blocked shots with the Islanders. Again, part of that can be attributed to the spike in offensive zone time.
The biggest reason he had so many offensive zone starts was that he spent a lot of the time paired with Justin Faulk. When he wasn’t with Faulk, he was next to former Blackhawk Trevor van Riemsdyk. As analytics expert Corey Sznajder points how in the chart below, despite being paired with two risk-takers for much of the season, de Haan was still a very good defender.
De Hann averaged 18:31 of ice time per game last season, which was down about a minute and a half from his average with the Islanders. He was a big part of the penalty kill in Carolina, averaging nearly two minutes of shorthanded time per night. Anybody who can help the Blackhawks kill penalties is a welcomed addition to the roster.
The Chicago Debut Could be Delayed
Opening night is in jeopardy for de Haan after he had surgery to repair a shoulder injury in May.
“I’m about five weeks into rehab, I think it’s five weeks today since I was under the knife. Things are progressing well,” he said in late June. “I’d like to think I’m ahead of schedule. I’ve had surgeries in the past, so I know how this goes. I’m going to make sure I’m ready for camp, and then it’ll be up to the doctors and such whether they want me to play or want me to take a few weeks and progress slowly. My main goal is to be ready for camp. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines. I want to be on the ice, grinding away and trying to help this team get back into the playoffs.”
No matter when de Haan makes his debut, he will make the Blackhawks a better defensive team. This could easily turn out to be the best offseason move this summer and one of Bowman’s best since being named general manager when you consider what was given up.