Murphy hopes to lead revamped Hawks back to playoffs

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy couldn't be happier looking ahead to the new season.

    Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy couldn't be happier looking ahead to the new season. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 9/1/2021 4:57 PM

When the Blackhawks acquired Connor Murphy from Arizona for Niklas Hjalmarsson in the summer of 2017, it raised a few eyebrows.

Gone was a respected three-time Stanley Cup winner, a shot-blocking machine who hobbled to the bench one moment and somehow emerged for his next shift.

 

Taking his place was a capable defenseman, a 24-year-old playing in relative obscurity with the Coyotes.

It was a deal that -- at the time -- many believed would not work out in favor of the Hawks. But four years later, Hjalmarsson has retired while Murphy just inked a four-year, $17.6 million contract to remain in Chicago.

Barring a trade, it will keep him with the Hawks until the 2025-26 season.

"It's really exciting," Murphy said to reporters inside Fifth Third Arena Wednesday, a day after the deal became official. "Chicago has felt like home to me now for years. It was a no-brainer to want to be here for as long as I can."

After a roller-coaster first campaign under Joel Quenneville that included six healthy scratches the first 53 games, Murphy began to feel more comfortable with teammates and the organization. His average ice time has steadily risen from 16:22 that first season to 19:29 to 21:15 to 22:09.

Along the way Murphy has grown into a respected leader in the room. With Brent Seabrook retired and Duncan Keith in Edmonton, Murphy has by far the most seniority among the Hawks blue liners.

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Murphy's played in 236 games for the Hawks; Calvin de Haan is next with 73.

There's no doubt he'll be looked upon to encourage and help inexperienced teammates like Wyatt Kalynuk, Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin and even Riley Stillman and Caleb Jones. Two D-men who won't need much help -- or introduction -- are newcomers Seth Jones and Jake McCabe.

Murphy began playing with McCabe, who signed a four-year deal the first day of free agency, when he was 15. He was Seth Jones' teammate on the USA Development team.

Murphy was thrilled the team added the two veterans plus Vezina Trophy winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and two-time Stanley Cup winning forward Tyler Johnson.

"I was surprised we could do that much in such a short amount of time," Murphy said. "I don't know if anyone was sleeping or if there were just phones off the hook left and right all day. You're absorbing the one (move) and thinking about how great it was ... and then another one would happen."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

What Murphy really wants to happen is for the Hawks to qualify for the postseason. It's something he has experienced only in 2020.

He knows it's entirely possible, especially with Jonathan Toews hoping to return, Patrick Kane playing at an extremely high level, Alex DeBrincat finding his scoring touch again and the additions of the new players.

"What's exciting about those (new) guys is they're going to drive up the level of play of everyone else," Murphy said. "You know that's going to have an immediate impact on all of us and lead us to taking the next step.

"We haven't been happy with not being in the playoffs. That'll be our No. 1 goal, and a lot of guys will be hungry to put that work in together to click really quickly in order to get that goal accomplished."

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