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Blackhawks all-2010s lineup challenge: Defensemen

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The top two pairings were unanimous selections, but what was the best third pairing?

2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Four Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The second installment of Second City Hockey’s all-2010s lineup challenge focuses on defensemen, with each writer selecting three pairs that were Blackhawks teammates from the past decade. Much like the goaltenders, there’s a theme among all the selections: the top two pairing are unanimous. But the third pairing? That’s where the intrigue developed.

Brandon

First D pairing

Duncan Keith (2010s regular season statistics: 816 GP, 70 G, 412 A, 25:12 ATOI)
Brent Seabrook (800 GP, 77 G, 273 A, 22:08 ATOI)

Keith/Seabrook pairing (2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs): 22 GP, 241:16 TOI (5-on-5), 55.75 CF%, 56.60 xGF%, 57.38 HDCF%

Second D pairing

Niklas Hjalmarsson (589 GP, 22 G, 117 A, 20:47 ATOI)
Johnny Oduya (234 GP, 10 G, 35 A, 20:20 ATOI)

Hjalmarsson/Oduya pairing (2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs): 22 GP, 227:58 TOI (5-on-5, 43.70 OZS%, 51.85 HDCF%

Third D pairing

Brian Campbell (213 GP, 17 G, 65 A, 21:21 ATOI)
Dustin Byfuglien (82 GP, 17 G, 17 A, 16:25 ATOI)

Campbell/Byfuglien pairing (2009-10 regular season): 325:42 TOI (5-on-5), 54.49 CF%, 58.79 xGF%, 59.46 HDCF%, 53.01 OZS%

The top two pairings were clear-cut choices, but a pairing of Hjalmarsson and Campbell wouldn’t be the worst option one could come up with either. You can figure out what a third pairing option might be for that situation. Byfuglien — a Chicago Mission alum — and Campbell seemed like the logic third pairing choice for me because of special teams play and the need for “Mario Kart” battles between Campbell and Hjalmarsson.

Dave

Top two D pairings

Keith-Seabrook
Hjalmarsson-Oduya

Third D pairing

Campbell-Byfuglien

The third pairing was a little bit tricky, but I opted for the lesser publicized Campbell/Byfuglien duo for a few reasons. First, their possession numbers together were phenomenal. Of the D pairings Chicago used for at least 100 minutes during its first Cup season, these two had the fifth-best CF%, the third-best xGF% and the second-best HDCF%. Second, the top two pairings I have will also function nicely as the penalty killers for this hypothetical lineup — but what about the power play? That’s where this duo is really going to thrive. Campbell was the Blackhawks best power play QB during his tenure, indicated by the power play being ranked fourth during Campbell’s final season in Chicago (2010-11) and plummeting to 26th in the season after he left. Byfuglien’s massive frame was a menace to opposing goalies. Sheltering this pairing (because they’d need it) with more offensive zone starts would help account for this pairing’s potential liabilities in the D zone.

Anaheim Ducks v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

Matt

Top two D pairings

Keith-Seabrook
Hjalmarsson-Oduya

Third D pairing

Michal Rozsival (207 GP, 4 G, 45 A, 16:43 ATOI)
Nick Leddy (258 GP, 20 G, 73 A, 18:01 ATOI)

Leddy/Rozsival pairing (2013-14 regular season): 489:04 TOI (5-on-5), 61.61 CF%, 61.94 xGF%, 61.25 HDCF%, 66.94 oZS%

The Keith and Seabrook bromance was a given and Hjalmarsson and Oduya was also an easy choice, but the third pairing was the hardest decision.

I wanted to put Campbell there, but he isn’t a third pairing defenseman, so I went with a stay-at-home, patient defenseman in Rozsival — who rarely got demoted to Joel Quenneville’s doghouse — and the speedster in Leddy. During the 2013-14 regular season, the pair spent nearly 500 minutes together and compiled impressive possession metrics, including only giving up 16 goals and a measly 62 high-danger scoring chances against. Their 61.25-percent high danger scoring chance share was best on the team for pairings with more than 100 minutes played together.

Albeit, nearly 70-percent of their zone starts were in the offensive zone, but when they had to defend, the combination of Rozsival’s experience, sound defensive techniques and long reach, as well as Leddy’s elite skating and ability to push the play out of the defensive zone with strong puck protection skills or stretch passes made for a successful pairing.

Shepard

Top two D pairings

Keith-Seabrook
Hjalmarsson-Oduya

Third D pairing

Rozsival-Leddy

I went with which pairings were better as partners and the three best pairings of the decade, not necessarily the six best defensemen. While Byfuglien and Campbell are better individual players, Rozsival-Leddy was the better pairing and made a significant difference on one of the best teams of the decade even in protected third-pairing minutes.

Matt noted how impressive Rozsival and Leddy’s numbers were in terms of possession, and that was the prime factor for me in opting for them. They’re the better all-around pairing and dominated the puck. It’s easy to forget, with Rozsival being in Chicago past his expiration date and Leddy’s mistake on the overtime Game 7 goal in the 2014 Western Conference Final, to discount each of them, but they were truly impressive together and completed each other like the other two pairings on this dream team.

A quick note: Hjalmarsson and Oduya were the better pairing of the top two in my belief because while Keith and Seabrook were both excellent in their primes, that second pairing was better at actual defense and shutting down opposing top lines. That’s what I want on ice most of the time.