Can Connor Murphy replace Niklas Hjalmarsson on the Blackhawks?
A fourth Stanley Cup may depend on it.
Lost in the mania surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks’ re-acquisition of Brandon Saad was the first trade made by general manager Stan Bowman on Friday: Chicago shipped defenseman NIklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin.
We could dedicate the entire front page at Second City Hockey to what Hjalmarsson has meant to the Hawks, but let’s briefly summarize it with this: he’s been the epitome of a shutdown defenseman and was a vital part of each of the team’s three Stanley Cup victories.
An already-depleted defense corps in Chicago just got thinner with the Hjalmarsson trade.
But did the Hawks get his potential replacement in Murphy?
Arizona thought enough of the young defender to hand him a 6-year deal with $23.1 million dollars ($3.85 million AAV) when his entry-level deal expired following the 2015-16 season.
Nothing about Murphy’s numbers will stand out, but what would you expect from a defenseman on a team that didn’t make the playoffs during his four years with the Coyotes?
One thing that does stand out is his size. Murphy stand 6-4 and weights 212 pounds, which would put him in a virtual tie with Seabrook as the biggest defenseman on the Hawks. But that size has not affected his skating ability, as every scouting report I found touted his skating ability.
And he’s only 24 years old.
He’s the big, young, physical defenseman that the Hawks were supposed to get before trading Stephen Johns to Dallas in the Patrick Sharp trade.
It’s worth noting that the Hawks added Ulf Samuelsson to the coaching staff, a long-time NHL defenseman who has preached the type of high-speed, high-skill game that the Hawks love to play and has a reputation for being able to get through to younger players.
And Joel Quenneville has a track record of getting the most out of his defensemen. It’s hard to give him too much credit for Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, who debuted long before Quenneville took over the coaching reins from Denis Savard. But those two found an even higher level of performance once Quenneville started. Hjalmarsson quietly became a full-time player for the Hawks in the 2009-10 season and became one of the league’s premier shut-down defenders. Johnny Oduya played his best hockey during his first stint with Chicago between 2012 and 2015.
There is precedent
Some other names could help fill the void, too. Players like Michal Kempny, Gustav Forsling and Ville Pokka, among others, will have a chance to earn the ice time that Hjalmarsson leaves behind.
But Bowman just sent a 30-year-old defenseman who was on the back half of a career that put a ton of miles on his body. And in return, he got a 23-year-old former first-round pick who spent the last season playing top-pairing minutes, albeit on a pretty bad team.
It may be nothing. But it could also be something.