Sep 072011
photo: Chicago Tribune

By Jon Fromi

Brent Seabrook enters the 2011-12 campaign with a five-year, $29 million contract in hand. The physical half of the Blackhawks’ top defensive pairing can live up to the terms simply enough. Seabrook just needs to play the game that earned him those big bucks.

Seabrook’s ability to hold up in the long term under the physical play took a hit, literally and figuratively, in the playoffs via the shoulder of Raffi Torres. The Hawks hope Seabrook will erase any lingering doubt as the season gets underway.

Seabrook, like many of the Blackhawks, took a while to get going in the 2010-11 season. Blame Duncan Keith’s concurrent struggles, the absence of Brian Campbell, in-season contract negotiations, or any combination of circumstances you see fit. In trying to protect the likes of Nick Boynton and Jassen Cullimore, Seabrook played a lot of minutes early and skated with a variety of partners other that his usual sidekick.

Yes, Keith was Seabrook’s sidekick last season. While Keith searched for motivation and struggled to avoid opposing bodies with his slap shot, Seabrook had a season that was in several ways his best to date. He certainly was the most complete guy on the back end.

By far the most physical of Chicago’s defensemen, Seabrook recorded 227 hits, third in the league among blue liners. It was also sizably more than the combined total of the other five skaters who comprised the defensive corps at season’s end.

By the way, he also led that group in scoring as well.

When the playoffs rolled around, Seabrook had matched his career-high in goals (9) and set a personal best in points with 48. That total put him in the top ten in that category at his position. He led ‘Hawks d-men with five power play goals and spent a good part of the season on the first unit.

As a result, he more than tripled his output from the previous season, going from six to 20 points contributed on the power play. He also managed to block shots, finishing second on the team to Niklas Hjalmarsson.

He skated in all 82 regular season games and sported the A while Patrick Sharp was out. His durability has been his hallmark; in his last five seasons, Seabrook has missed just five regular season games.

However, looming ominously over the start of this season is a growing resume of concussions.

Seabrook, as we well know, was the unfortunate catalyst for Chicago’s first-round rally against Vancouver after he was nailed behind the net by Torres in Game 3 of that series.

I thought it strange that an organization that recently committed long-term millions to Seabrook let him wobble back out onto the ice following an obvious bell-ringer. Regardless of how you feel about how the team handled the situation, it is an issue of concern moving forward.

Thanks to a cheap shot courtesy of former teammate James Wisniewski, Seabrook has suffered fog-inducing hits in consecutive seasons. For a guy who dishes out and absorbs the punishment Seabrook does, it’s more than a bit scary. How long would a third big head shot in as many seasons keep him out of the lineup?

The ‘Hawks are now better equipped to help Seabrook in the physical area in front of the crease, but it’s unrealistic to think he’ll alter his style of play much and be anywhere as effective. Hopefully the longer break has cleared any residual cobwebs and the Seabrook we see in training camp can fully put Torres, and the concussions, in his rear-view mirror.

Seabrook’s time on ice was over a minute a game higher per game than in the previous two seasons. The 24:23 average per contest should drop in light of the addition of Steve Montador and better depth in the third pairing. Rest assured, however, that Seabrook and Keith will once again lead the team in time on the ice.

Seabrook could definitely work toward a better start this season, but that can be said for the bulk of the returning roster. Aside from the apprehension tied into the prospect of taking more big hits, the Blackhawks have an elite defenseman set to enter his prime years locked up for the immediate future.

Jon Fromi

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