Brent Seabrook was a healthy scratch Tuesday for the second consecutive game. As expected, he’s unhappy about the decision, even offering a subtle hint that he may seek a trade. However, Head Coach Jeremy Colliton maintains that team success takes precedence over individual appeasement.
At one point in time, Seabrook ranked among the best defenseman in the NHL. A three-time Stanley Cup Champion and one-time Olympic gold medalist, Seabrook helped the Blackhawks’ win three Stanley Cups, anchoring the Hawks’ defense during the most successful period in franchise history. He was a perfect complement to former Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, whose offensive ambition would have been neutered absent of Seabrook’s presence as an impenetrable safety net.
It may seem strange now, but a few short years ago, Seabrook’s absence from the lineup would have handicapped the Blackhawks. Today, he’s accumulating healthy scratches because the ‘Hawks believe they have a better chance to win without him.
Back in 2015, General Manager Stan Bowman awarded a rapidly declining Seabrook with a contract that would award him both $6.85 million per season atop a no-trade clause. Sure, it was a nice sentiment that underscored the Blackhawks’ fierce loyalty to their core players, but it was a contract undoubtedly dictated by past merit.
Since then, Seabrook’s albatross of a contract has become an unsightly blemish on the Hawks’ ability to manage the salary cap. Having noticeably lost a step, Seabrook is a shell of his past self. He’s no longer capable of keeping pace with the speed of the NHL game and has subsequently been relegated to third-pairing duties.
Seabrook’s decline from first-pairing defenseman to healthy scratch has been stark and swift. Between 2007 and 2014, Seabrook owned an aggregate plus-112 plus-minus rating, a statistic that measures how often a player is on the ice when his team scores against how often they are on the ice when their team is scored against. Since 2014-15, Seabrook had labored to a minus-six plus-minus rating, with a minus-five through the first nine games of 2019-20.
But up until this point, Seabrook has consistently remained in the lineup. Omitting him from the lineup would be a public acknowledgment of reckless cap management on Bowman’s part, an admission no self-respecting general manager wants to make. However, Seabrook has become a defensive liability, forcing Colliton to prioritize team success over the pride of an accomplished veteran and an embattled general manager.
The most damning part about Seabrook’s demotion is that the Hawks’ defense is not at full strength. Defenseman Connor Murphy is currently out with a lower-body injury, with no timetable offered for his return. Rather than increasing Seabrook’s workload, Colliton has opted to invest playing time in unproven and unheralded rookie Dennis Gilbert.
While it is nice to see Gilbert receive an opportunity to prove his worth, Seabrook’s demotion suggests that his Blackhawks tenure may be coming to an unceremonious conclusion. Unfortunately, the situation also has a chance to turn volatile, as Seabrook will likely balk at the prospect of conceding playing time, particularly on the orders of a first-year, 34-year-old head coach.
The best the Hawks can hope for is that Seabrook is able to use his time off to reevaluate and recalibrate his defensive approach. However, it seems increasingly likely that Seabrook will have to accept a diminished role in order to remain in the Blackhawks lineup. Should the Hawks and Seabrook find themselves unable to reconcile their differences, the Hawks would be wise to explore trade options, assuming Seabrook would be receptive to waiving his no-trade clause.