Is Connor Murphy getting the Trevor Daley treatment from Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville?
What’s going on with the Blackhawks new young defenseman?
The Connor Murphy era in Chicago is not off to a roaring start.
Acquired in the trade with the Arizona Coyotes that sent Niklas Hjalmarsson away, Murphy was expected to, at least, be a solid contributor for the 2017-18 Chicago Blackhawks if not replace Hjalmarsson altogether.
That hasn’t happened yet.
Chicago has played six games this year and Murphy has been a healthy scratch in two of them. He’s averaged 16:09 of ice time in those four games, posting a poor 39.5 CF% that is 2.1% below the team average with no goals or assists.
Side note: Hjalmarsson has a 43.9 CF% in Arizona (better than Murphy, but not great) that is 8.8% below the team rate (far worse than Murphy).
The Trevor Daley comparison is unavoidable
Corners of Blackhawks fandom have already started comparing Murphy to 2015 acquisition Trevor Daley, who never fit in with coach Joel Quenneville’s system and was traded by December of that season.
I’m not so sure that’s the case — yet. To the public, Quenneville has never expressed dissatifaction with Murphy’s performance. This was his comment on Monday:
Q reiterated that he thinks Connor Murphy has been "fine" and that it's just a numbers thing, a good problem to have. A bit of spin.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) October 16, 2017
Q could very well be telling the truth here. The Hawks are carrying eight defensemen right now (they only had seven when Daley was on the team) and players are going to be scratched because of that. But when you acquire a player for such a franchise fixture like Hjalmarsson, the expectation — fair or not — is that he’s going to contribute on the ice. Jan Rutta has emerged in the first week of the season and looks like a keeper already. But his development should’ve made the Hawks deeper, not supplant Murphy from the lineup. Murphy isn’t doing enough to stay in the lineup right now, and that’s the problem.
How does that compare to what Q’s handling of Daley?
As I said above, Q has never publicly called out Murphy for poor play. Or at least call him out in the manner that Q typically does when he’s not happy with a player.
But Daley drew Q’s ire in his very first game with the Hawks: a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers. Daley’s turnover led to New York’s third goal of the night and it was the second one the Rangers scored with Daley on the ice:
Q was not pleased after the game.
Q on Daley, TvR and Rundblad: "Just OK." And that's all he said. That's QSpeak for "not very good." #Blackhawks— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) October 8, 2015
A few weeks into the season, Quenneville offered these words in a story from the Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus:
Quenneville likes the offensive weapon that Daley is, but cautioned that defense comes first. Daley has been paired with the more defensive-minded Trevor van Riemsdyk — the Hawks, led by Bryan Bickell have taken to calling van Riemsdyk “Travis” to avoid confusion — and the two have had good nights and bad nights so far this season. Daley doesn’t have a point yet as he focuses more on his defensive game, but he’s manning the point on the second power-play unit.
“Trevor gives us a nice dimension from the back end, off the point,” Quenneville said. “He’s got some quickness joining the rush and jumping through, and even off the point, as well. Defensively, it’s something where, every day, I think we’re seeing improvements in his game, his stick, and his positioning, as well.”
Compare that with this quote from Quenneville after Monday’s morning skate, again from Lazerus at the Sun-Times:
“Everyone wants to make a contribution, not just one guy,” Quenneville said. “But it’s still part of the decision-making process, and some nights, [those decisions] are easier. I like when we have to make tough ones.”
Yes, in an ideal situation, Murphy would be playing and producing for the Blackhawks. But any comparison to Daley seem premature, as Q has publicly stated his support for Murphy on multiple occasions. Keep in mind that Murphy is only 24 years old and has played just over 250 NHL game (Daley was an 11-year veteran with over 750 games played when he joined the Hawks at the age of 33).
But Murphy’s play needs to improve to justify the steep price the Blackhawks paid in acquiring him.