<
>

Hawks mailbag: What's with the defense?

Johnny Oduya and the Blackhawks defense haven't performed at a high level consistently this season. AP Photo/Billy Hurst

This was a defensive-oriented Chicago Blackhawks mailbag. There were a number of questions about the defensemen this past week.

Q: Keith's play lately has been shaky at best. Turning over pucks, bad passes, not being able to handle passes or pressure. Do you think the number of minutes, higher than any time in his career, are starting to add up and affect his play? -- Brad Newell

Scott Powers: Brad, I don’t think it’s the minutes. I also don’t think his play has been that inconsistent. Considering the minutes he does get -- he’s averaging 25:41 for the season -- and that he’s been paired lately with David Rundblad, who has been shaky, and he spent Sunday’s game with Michal Rozsival, Keith has still been quite reliable. His points are down from a season ago, but he has a 56.8 Corsi percentage, has a plus-16 goal differential on 5-on-5 and is part of the reason why the penalty kill is so effective. He may not be in line for another Norris Trophy, but he’s still an upper-echelon defensemen and a key to the Blackhawks' defense.

Q: I think Oduya has really regressed this year (especially looking at his CF%). What have you noticed this year? -- Dave Raminski

Powers: Dave, there’s certainly been a dip in play for Oduya this season. He hasn’t been as reliable as in past seasons. Whether he’s played with Niklas Hjalmarsson or Rozsival, Oduya has lacked consistency. He’s caught out of position more often and has made some poor decisions with the puck in the defensive zone that have come back to haunt the Blackhawks. He had a 53.0 Corsi percentage last season and is down to 49.7 this season. He also had a plus-8 goal differential in 5-on-5 play last season and is at minus-12 this season. He’s also started less in the defensive zone this season than a season ago, so that’s not a good sign. Oduya was back with Hjalmarsson the last two games. Their Corsi percentages weren’t great, but they weren’t on the ice for any goals.

Q: What do the Hawks do about our rapidly declining D-core? Q can't skate three guys for 40 minutes apiece. Can we trade Rozsival or Oduya in a “hockey trade” where we can pick up another top-4 type player? What are the other options for Stan? -- CJ Heuman

Powers: CJ, there really aren’t many options. The Blackhawks are right up against the cap. They would have to move a current roster piece to obtain another one. When I spoke with Stan Bowman a few weeks ago, he said this was unlikely. The other issue is the Blackhawks would have to take on an expiring contract because they’re going to be in even worse financial shape in the upcoming offseason. The defenseman group did look better the past two games. Playing Hjalmarsson and Oduya together makes sense. Kyle Cumiskey was solid enough the last two games. If he keeps it simple, he’s fine out there. David Rundblad was showing some upside with his offensive ability, but he’s still a liability defensively. It wouldn’t surprise me if he remains a healthy scratch going forward. The wildcard is Trevor van Riemsdyk. He’s still a number of weeks away from returning, but he’ll get a chance to show what he’s capable of before the playoffs.

Q: What are the chances van Riemsdyk replaces Oduya or Rozsival when he gets back? I get that they are seasoned veterans, but they look bad and slow out there. -- Jeff Cleaver

Powers: Jeff, I don’t think there’s any chance van Riemsdyk replaces Oduya or Rozsival. He would likely fill that sixth defenseman spot. Oduya certainly isn’t leaving the lineup. Quenneville showed in the playoffs last season he was willing to scratch Rozsival, but Rozsival will have to do something horrendous in the playoffs this season for that to happen. The Blackhawks just don’t have the defenseman depth they possessed a season ago. Even with van Riemsdyk, he’s still a rookie. He had some inconsistencies early in the season, and it wasn’t until November that Quenneville started really trusting him. The other element to consider is how much Quenneville will actually to turn to van Riemsdyk in the playoffs. Quenneville played Nick Leddy a lot in the regular season and then sat him plenty in the playoffs. Quenneville is likely to lean a lot on Keith, Brent Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and Oduya in the playoffs.

Q: Why did the Blackhawks trade for Tim Erixon when they could have easily gotten draft picks for Jeremy Morin? –- Joe Mels

Powers: Joe, it is probably a deal the Blackhawks regret right now. I don’t think they regret trading Morin, but bringing on Erixon hasn’t helped them. At the time, Bowman was looking to trade Morin, and the Columbus Blue Jackets were looking to trade a defenseman. Bowman saw it as an opportunity to add someone who could help the team immediately. It obviously hasn’t worked out that way with Erixon being a constant scratch. I also don’t think there was a lot of trade value for Morin. He had shown promise at times, but he was far from a sure thing. I don’t think anyone was going to part with an early-round draft pick for him.

Q: Would the Blackhawks seriously consider moving their affiliate to the Chicago Wolves after their 10-year agreement with Rockford expires in a couple years? -- Michael Muenchow

Powers: Michael, I don’t foresee that happening. The Wolves would likely want to have too much control for the Blackhawks’ liking. It’s a business for the Wolves. It’s why they add a lot of veterans, such as their current batch of former Blackhawks. Winning and drawing fans is important to them. To the Blackhawks, it’s about all development. They want their prospects on the ice as much as possible. The fact Rockford isn’t that far from Chicago is another reason why I think that relationship will remain.

Q: The fact that the Blackhawks traded away Adam Clendening and kept Oduya sickened me. Why do they keep giving up on young players so quickly? I think an injection of youth could really benefit this team, but instead they stick with slow and turnover prone veterans. -- Shaun Partridge

Powers: Shaun, it wasn’t an either-or situation. I don’t expect Oduya to be with the Blackhawks next season, but he isn’t going anywhere this season. With Clendening, the Blackhawks decided he wasn’t going to fit in their future plans. They had plenty of time to assess what he was. He had some offensive game, but they didn’t like him overall. I also don’t think you can use the blanket statement of them giving up on young players too soon. It’s just certain ones. So far, Jimmy Hayes is the only player I see them possibly regretting they dealt. Bowman has made some mistakes with the defensemen, including signing Rozsival to a two-year deal after the Stanley Cup and trading for Rundblad and Erixon, but I don't think they have been too quick overall on their prospects. I do expect the Blackhawks defense to look differently next season. Aside from van Riemsdyk, I could see Klas Dahlbeck and Stephen Johns getting a chance to play. Ville Pokka and Mike Paliotta are two defensemen to watch a few years down the road.