The Chicago Blackhawks spent over a year looking for a No. 4 defenseman to replace Johnny Oduya, and they may have finally found one by bringing him back. After re-acquiring Oduya from the Dallas Stars in a pre-deadline deal, there’s a very good chance the Blackhawks will go back to the top four that powered them to a Stanley Cup in 2015.
Joel Quenneville discussed the addition of Oduya to the lineup after practice Wednesday, and said that he anticipates putting the 35-year-old back on a pairing with old partner Niklas Hjalmarsson. That would be the team’s lockdown defensive duo, and allow Quenneville to put Brent Seabrook next to Duncan Keith.
Yes, yes, now stop salivating for a moment. Here’s what the Blackhawks’ defensive group projects to look like once Hjalmarsson returns from injury and Oduya joins the lineup:
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson-Johnny Oduya
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk
Pretty good looking, huh?
The Blackhawks have spent most of the past season-plus with Keith and Hjalmarsson as their top duo, which made it difficult for Quenneville to balance his other two pairings. New partners for Seabrook have rotated in and out to varying success, and the same instability affected the third pairing as well.
With the addition of Oduya, the Blackhawks should be able to go back to their old pairing structure. That means Oduya and Hjalmarsson together taking on some of the toughest defensive assignments, which frees up Keith and Seabrook to wring the life from lesser opponents. That’s ideally what’ll happen going forward, with a solid Campbell-TVR third pairing providing a major upgrade from Erik Gustafsson and Michal Rozsival a year ago.
For the Blackhawks, this could be the last step that puts them over the top. The defense has been roughly average this season other than stellar goaltending, and there have been a bunch of reasons for that. But by adding Oduya and potentially putting Keith and Seabrook in a position to thrive, this could be a significant change that has benefits across the defense.
The biggest uncertainty may be the form of Oduya. He’s battled injuries this season, and his 18:10 average time on ice is on pace to be the lowest of his 11-year career. The defenseman has never been a big scorer, so his low point total is no surprise, but he’s also posting his lowest even strength Corsi (47.5 percent) since 2010-11 with the Atlanta Thrashers.
So we don’t know quite yet whether the Blackhawks are getting an Oduya who could do what he used to do, and it’s possible this deal ends up being like Kimmo Timonen 2.0, where the Hawks add an experienced defenseman on his last legs who just can’t quite step it up. But the fit here is a total no-brainer, and it comes at a price the Blackhawks couldn’t turn down when someone like Brendan Smith costs multiple high picks.
The Blackhawks spent the past year looking for a new No. 4 defenseman to replace Oduya, and now they may have one. His name is Johnny.