(Ed. note: Hey folks, Adam Hess is one of our new contributors at Second City Hockey for the upcoming season, and here's his first feature on the Quenneville/Bowman dynamic re: the Nick Leddy trade. We're happy to have Adam aboard, and I'm sure he's thrilled to be here as well!)
We're nearly a week into the NHL season, long past the Blackhawks trade of Nick Leddy, and yet I still cannot get over it. In my opinion, the trade of Leddy was the wrong move made for the wrong reasons. You might remember that at the draft in June, there was speculation that it was actually Johnny Oduya who was going to be going to be traded -- and not just from bloggers. We're talking Bob McKenzie reports here, people.
So what changed? What happened that made the Blackhawks decide to keep the 33-year old Oduya, who will be a UFA next summer, rather than the 23-year old Leddy? Sure, Leddy is an RFA at the end of the season, but what you'd have to pay him to stay may not be nearly as much as you'll have to give Oduya. That's the whole point of the restricted free agent status.
Again, so what changed? In my opinion, nothing. And that's the real issue here.
Last year, one of the biggest frustrations for many 'Hawks fans was the inexplicable use of Brandon Bollig in all 82 regular season games and most of the playoff games. It was more than just a bad coaching decision by Q; it was a statement to Stan Bowman: what I think about who should be on this roster matters more than what you think.
And then at the draft, Bowman traded Bollig for a third-round pick. This was more than a trade; it was Stan telling Q who wore the pants. And we thought that order was restored. We were wrong.
It was never really a secret that Coach Q wasn't the biggest fan of good ol' No. 8. It was understandable for a while. Leddy was brutal at times in the 2011-12 season; his defensive positioning was horrible, and that meant so was his defensive play. He was a turnover machine as well, often making mistakes with the puck. With that said, when he made responsible, good plays with the puck, you knew he was something special. He improved his defensive play a lot in 2012-13 and was instrumental in the 'Hawks winning the Cup. And this past season, he was a nightmare for opposing teams' bottom 6 forwards. He was a good possession player, posting a 57.4 CF% and a 2.78 relCF%. He was also one of best defensemen in the entire NHL at controlled zone entries, according to those who tracked that statistic.
So why trade a much-improved 23-year old defenseman who is essentially the defenseman of the future in the NHL rather than the 33-year old vet with only one year left on his deal?
It's tough to compare the two based on statistics because they were used in two very different ways. Leddy is the offensive, puck moving defenseman: he's the guy who had the confidence to take the puck behind his own net, then skate it all the way up the ice into the offensive zone all by himself. Who needs teammates? Oduya, on the other hand, was usually paired with Hammer on the "shut down" pair, often going up against the opponent's top forward line.
So if we can't compare the two on stats, we have to assume there was something else to it. McKenzie was quoted a few weeks ago saying that Leddy was more likely to go because Oduya was a part of the Blackhawks top-4. The only problem with that is that Leddy never got the chance to be a top-4 defenseman, even though it probably would've made sense for him to get at least some time there. Earlier this week I wrote on my own site, Feathers in the Hat:
I find it hard to believe that Nick Leddy's defensive game couldn't have improved drastically while playing with Hammer. I find it harder to believe that Joel Quenneville honestly thought that it couldn't - he had to know it would have.
There is absolutely no reason to believe that Leddy would've been hopeless on the second pair with Hammer. In fact, playing with Leddy could've helped take some pressure off Hammer, because he would've had a partner who know how to get the puck out of the zone, quickly. In time, having a top pair of Keith-Seabrook and a second of Hammer-Leddy would've essentially given the Blackhawks two defensive pairs that could both produce offense and play sound defense. Depending on how well Leddy develops his defense, it's possible that he develops into another Duncan Keith. Having two of him sounds OK to me.
The truth of it, though, is that nothing has changed in dynamic between the team's head coach and GM. Joel still drives the boat, Stan just picks out the crew. Stan needed to get under the salary cap, and had only a few real trade options, Leddy and Oduya being the most attractive pieces he had. At the draft, Stan made a power move in trading Bollig and took back the crown from Joel. But since then, things have returned to normal. Joel decided that he wanted Oduya over Leddy; he wanted the familiar over the unknown, the comfortable over the scary, the now instead of the future. Those things are fine. Stan obliging is not, because as GM, you're supposed to embrace the unknown, the scary, the future. That's how you develop players.
And it's okay for Cup contenders like the 'Hawks to look at the now, because that's when they're trying to win. But the future should always be a part of the plan. Because this re-set in power hurts the 'Hawks outside of just this Leddy trade. Look at the stockpile of defensive prospects in Rockford right now while Michal Rozsival and Kyle Cumiskey bafflingly fill NHL roster spots. Look at Teuvo Teräväinen, who is absolutely NHL ready, stuck in Rockford as well while useless meathead Daniel Carcillo and turnover machine Kris Versteeg are in Chicago, even though Teuvo is already miles better than both of them. These aren't Stan decisions. These are Joel decisions.
Joel is back on the throne, folks. And that's probably not a good thing.
(Statistics via Progressive Hockey)