Rozner: Healthy Seabrook could still help Blackhawks
Imagine the difference a healthy Brent Seabrook would have made in the Vegas series for the Blackhawks.
Sounds crazy having watched him the last few years, but that was a Seabrook that needed three surgeries and played in pain for several years. Not only did he have both hips fixed, but his shoulder injury was more than a decade old.
So the Seabrook who struggled mightily the last couple seasons was a Seabrook playing at probably 50 percent and it explains a lot about his game.
Seabrook plays big in the Hawks' end when he's right and if he can come back and look a little more like the Seabrook who was great below the circles during three Stanley Cup runs, that would be a big addition to the lineup.
"It was valiant effort for him to come back from his rehab and try to make it so that he could help us in Edmonton, but really there wasn't a lot of time for him," said GM Stan Bowman as the Hawks wrapped up the season with a Zoom conference. "By the time we get to training camp, we'll have a better feel for what his role on the team would be moving forward, what spot he's gonna play.
"I know he has high hopes for himself. He's put a lot of work in on the rehab front to get back to being an impact player. And that would be great if that's the way it plays out."
Bigger than just on the ice, Seabrook is the loudest voice in the Hawks' dressing room and it's difficult to be loud when you can hardly stand up.
"There's no question about his value to our team as part of our leadership group," Bowman said. "His influence on younger players has a positive impact. He's a big part of what we do.
"The next part is seeing how his health is and how our team looks in training camp and then we can speak more about his role in the lineup."
If you remove Seabrook's contract from your mind and consider his possible contribution, it frames the conversation about the Hawks' defense in a different way.
Duncan Keith looked worn out during the Vegas series and took a beating. Adam Boqvist, understandably, looked like a rookie trying to find his way. Connor Murphy looked better before the season paused.
But Calvin de Haan was consistent both before and after surgery and Olli Maatta found his offensive game in the playoffs, while Slater Koekkoek was a big part of the rush, discovering a confidence he had never displayed before. It's worth remembering Koekkoek has played just 149 regular season games, less than two full NHL seasons.
Ian Mitchell will almost certainly make the club out of camp and several other young players -- like Nicolas Beaudin -- will get a look, but assuming they get Koekkoek signed as a restricted free agent, that's eight defensemen including Seabrook and Mitchell.
That group was not good enough this year and it's unlikely all will return. They need more size on the back end to handle the heavy teams, though a better team defensive game would help.
In the postseason the defense was very involved in the offense, a necessity that you would rather avoid, but when teams are pinning you in for long stretches and breakouts aren't reliable, it's best to throw five guys in and try to keep the puck 200 feet from your net.
That brings us back to the 35-year-old Seabrook.
Most everyone is hung up on a dreadful contract that has four years remaining at a $6.8 million cap hit. Since he probably won't accept a trade, barring a buyout Seabrook will be here and if he's healthy the Hawks will need to play him.
Not long ago, 35-year-old Shea Weber also looked finished, but he has bounced back from numerous injuries and was an absolute beast in the postseason, the biggest reason Montreal defeated Pittsburgh and took Philadelphia six games in the first round.
Admittedly, betting on Seabrook to return to form and look something like he once did is probably not a great wager, but stranger things have happened and if he did this would be a huge gain for the Hawks.
At this point, all they can do is hope.