The Blackhawks’ defensemen group was dealt a tough hand this season. There wasn’t much done in the offseason to bolster the most glaring need on the roster and a coaching change one month into the season forced them to play a new defensive system on the fly.
In going from a zone coverage under Joel Quenneville to man-on-man under Jeremy Colliton, the transition took a little longer than expected and was more difficult for the veteran players that had spent 10-plus years playing one way.
“I think we definitely got better the second half of the year,” Brent Seabrook said. “Jeremy coming in, changes some things up, especially defensively. For myself, I played for Joel for 10 years and the system that he wanted to play and as a defenseman, it definitely took me some time to adjust for sure.”
The Blackhawks gave up the most 5-on-5 high-danger chances per 60 minutes (13.66) this season and also ranked 31st in expected goals against per 60 minutes (2.68), according to naturalstattrick.com. Last year they were 28th in 5-on-5 high-danger chances allowed (12.09) and 26th in expected GAA (2.46). So they trended in the wrong direction.
The one bright spot was the emergence of Erik Gustafsson, who finished third among defensemen with 17 goals and sixth with 60 points. He changed life for the Blackhawks by generating offense from the back end and was a huge reason the team turned around their power play.
But the Blackhawks need to address their defensive unit this summer. A full training camp to get everyone on the same page will be crucial, but the personnel must get better as well.
"I think you need a mix," Colliton said. "We can’t all play like Gus, you know? But at the same time, we want guys who can transition the puck. If you’re able to break out clean and once you win the puck back, if you can make a tape-to-tape play and break out clean and get going the other way, then it helps you defensively, too. So if we’re looking to improve, again, it’s defending hard whether that’s up the ice at their blue line or at our blue line or getting out of D-zone, that’s probably the No. 1 priority for us now.
"And I think it’s the easiest to improve on, too. It’s just bearing down and finding a way, whether it’s defending the rush, defending the line, forcing a turnover, or in D-zone coverage, finding a way to get a stop, finding a way to create a loose puck and then winning the battle going the other way."
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