Florida Panthers: Free Agent Frenzy

July 1st is one of the most stressful days of a hockey fan’s year.  So often it is a day in which a team’s dreams are either realized or crushed, and July 1st, 2019 was no different.  Just ask the Florida Panthers, who experienced both at once. 

The 2019 off-season saw two highly coveted unrestricted free agents in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.  Rumor had it that the Panthers were heavily courting both and that they wanted to stay together, having spent the last few years playing together both for the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Russian national team, but the pair was separated when Artemi Panarin was swayed by the allure of Manhattan, while Bobrovsky chose the sunshine and beaches of south Florida.  Though landing both (in addition to a defenseman) would have been the best-case scenario for the Panthers, they had a backup plan in motion, just in case. They added Anton Stralman to shore up defense, Brett Connolly to increase depth scoring, and Noel Acciari to center the fourth line.  This may not have been the ideal ending for the Panthers’ 2019 edition of free agent frenzy, but one cannot dispute that the team filled in the holes that needed to be filled.

The Florida Panthers had the fourth-worst goals saved above expected and the second-worst save percentage in the entire league in the 2018-19 season.  With Roberto Luongo’s age and injury history and James Reimer’s record as a starter, it was abundantly clear to the Panthers that they needed to add a goalie on whom they could rely for at least 50 games per year until Spencer Knight is ready for the show.  Enter Sergei Bobrovsky.  The Panthers signed the two-time Vezina Trophy winner to a seven-year deal worth $70 million ($10 million average annual value).  Bobrovsky’s price tag presents a big risk to the Panthers, as he has had issues with consistency from year to year throughout his career, but they certainly bought the two Vezinas and the team hopes that he can recreate those efforts more often than not over the next seven years.  Over the last seven years, since winning his first Vezina, Bobrovsky ranks 12th in save percentage on unblocked shot attempts and differential between actual and expected save percentage on unblocked shot attempts, 3rd in goals saved above expected, and 2nd in wins above replacement.  In 2016-17, Bobrovsky not only lead all NHL goalies in those four metrics for that season, but his stats for that year are also the highest marks any goalie has reached since the 2013 lockout-shortened season, making it the best single season any goalie has had in the last seven years.  Bobrovsky has been far from perfect throughout his career, however.  In each of the three seasons following his first Vezina, he posted negative results in his actual performance relative to his expected performance and ranked outside of the top 30 in wins above replacement in both 2014-15 and 2015-16 (Table 1).  In signing Bobrovsky, the Panthers acquired an established goaltender who has posted positive results more often than negative, including some truly top-tier performances.  However, Bobrovsky will be 31 before his first season with the Panthers begins and the term and money from the Panthers represent an enormous gamble that he will age gracefully and that he can continue to post his elite results more frequently than those below replacement level.

Moving up the ice, the Panthers also added to their blue line by signing Anton Stralman to what is probably the worst contract that the team handed out on Monday.  The three-year term will not handcuff the team in the long run, but the $5.5 million AAV will make it tough to add pieces over the course of this contract.  Stralman is no longer the top-tier shutdown defenseman that he once was (Figures 1, 2), having seen a steady decline in his on-ice results each of the past five years.  He was especially bad in 2018-19, posting career worsts in almost every defensive metric, but it stands to reason that it could have just been a down year compounded by an injury that kept him off the ice for nearly half the season.  Panthers fans should not expect a major bounce back for the 32-year-old (33 by the time the season starts), but basic statistical regression would point towards Stralman having a slight improvement on his 2018-19 season.

 

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The Panthers also added two forwards to their roster on July 1st, both pieces who can contribute in the bottom-9, something the Panthers have been lacking for quite some time.  The first was Brett Connolly.  The 27-year-old former top-10 pick signed a four-year contract worth $13 million ($3.25 million AAV) which, contrary to Stralman, is likely going to be the best value contract that the Panthers signed.  Connolly has spent the last three years with the Washington Capitals, with whom he also got his name on the Stanley Cup.  Connolly is not much for driving play (Figure 3) but he is certainly one for finishing it.  Over the last three seasons, Connolly ranks 11th in the league in goals per sixty minutes at 5-on-5 despite averaging just under 11 minutes per game at even strength (Table 2), mostly with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky as his line-mates.  Secondary scoring has been a major issue for the Florida Panthers in the past.  During the 2018-19 season, of the Florida Panthers 162 goals scored at 5-on-5, Aleksander Barkov was on the ice for 70 of them.  The 92 goals for which Barkov was not on the ice rank among the fewest bottom-nine goals for in the league.  Connolly’s shooting talent and scoring rates should be a huge help to their depth scoring and, potentially, their second power play. 

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The final addition that the Panthers made on the first day of free agency was Noel Acciari, who had spent his career up until this point in the Boston Bruins’ system.  With a three-year, $5 million deal ($1.67 million AAV), Acciari’s contract does not really move the needle one way or the other, but neither does his play.  He will likely slot in as the Panthers’ fourth-line center, another position which the Panthers have struggled to reliably fill in seasons past.  A low-event forward, Acciari is responsible defensively and mostly a non-factor offensively (Figure 4).  One under-appreciated part of his profile, however, is his penchant for staying on the right side of the penalty ledger.  Relative to league averages, he draws 12% more and takes 63% fewer penalties.  He will not allow much in front of Bobrovsky and he will help the power play get on the ice more often than he will force a penalty kill.  For $1.67 million per year, that will make for one of the more solid fourth-line centers the Panthers have had in a long time.

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Overall, the Panthers had a fine day on July 1st, 2019.  It is disappointing that they lost out on adding a top forward, but they added an elite goaltender, two good value depth forwards, and a veteran defenseman.  The Panthers improved in all facets of the game and did so in a way that will neither handcuff them from continuing to improve nor prevent them from maintaining their core when it comes time to re-sign Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vincent Trocheck.  Though it may not have been prudent to redistribute the money earmarked for Artemi Panarin so quickly, it is hard to harshly criticize where the money ended up.  That said, there is still plenty of room for this roster to improve and, while the Panthers may be done in the free agent market, fans should not expect the lineup as it is to be the one that enters the 2019-2020 season.

Stats from naturalstattrick.comevolving-hockey.com, and hockeyviz.com

RAPM charts from evolving-hockey.com

Shot location heatmaps from hockeyviz.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

 

Florida Panthers Get Their Man, Bobrovsky Signs for Years

The worst kept secret of free agency may have been Sergei Bobrovsky signing in Florida. After Luongo’s retirement, the vacancy in net seemed destined to be “Goalie Bob’s” after a long and publicized recruiting process.

The Deal’s Details

The 30-year-old netminder joins the Florida Panthers on a seven year deal with a $10 million annual average value (AAV). This makes Sergei Bobrovsky the second highest paid goaltender behind Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens ($10.5 AAV). While it may not be ideal to have a goalie entering his 30’s with a double digit cap hit, they Panthers knew what it would take to sign the two-time Vezina Trophy winner.


Tweet courtesy of @ReporterChris of Sportsnet

New Era of Panthers Goaltending

The Panthers put it best themselves, this is a new era of Panthers goaltending. While they’ve had Roberto Luongo in net for the last few seasons, he’s been aging slowly and the signs of deteriorating play were there between injuries and declining numbers. This signing ensures that there will be a stable situation in the Panthers net for years to come.


Tweet courtesy of the @Flapanthers

The Panthers new netminder had an up-and-down year this past season with the knowledge that he was leaving, tensions rose at times within the Columbus Blue Jackets organization and the netminder. With that all but behind him, his focus will solely be on helping the Panthers to the promise land, winning the Stanley Cup.

His stats were slightly above league average last year with Columbus. With a save percentage of .913, he was slightly behind his career number of .919. The two years prior to last, Bobrovsky’s had a .921 and .931, the latter of which lead the NHL. His goals saved above replacement last year were a slight positive, as seen below, but with a stable situation he should be able to rebound back into the upper echelon.

Years 5-7 of the Contract

This is where the Panthers May end up regretting the decision to sign a 30-year-old goalie to a seven year deal. Bobrovsky will turn 35 in year five of the deal and his play will likely not warrant the $10 million salary that he will be receiving. This is also the time that his no-movement clause will end. This makes it possible for the Panthers to get out from under the goal keepers cap hit and salary.

This will also likely be around the time that 2019 first round draft pick Spencer Knight should be ready to fully take over in the Panthers crease. Likely to have spent at least a year as a back-up by this point, the Panthers could opt to keep Bobrovsky, depending on their salary cap situation, to mentor the young netminder.

Bobrovsky is a Panther!

The addition of an elite netminder to a solid group of players in Florida is a sign that the team may start to cause some havoc and consistently compete for playoff spots again. For this to truly happen it will take continued work by the Florida front office, bringing in talent on the blue line and up front. The majority of the foundation is there for Florida. They just need to continue adding to this roster to make them a perennial contender going forward.

For more the draft, prospects and the NHL in general you can follow me here at @TheTonyFerrari

All statistics and information courtesy of Hockey Reference, the NHL, Elite Prospects and Prospect Stats. Visual provided by Sean Tierney’s Public Tableau

Feature image credit Dinur Blum

2019 NHL Draft: Potential Gems Part 2 – Metropolitan Division

Welcome back to my “Gems of the Draft” series.

Last time, we went over the Atlantic Division teams and took a look at one player from each team that could turn out to be a gem from the 2019 NHL Draft class. Here’s a little recap.
 
Boston Bruins – Matias Mantyviki (D)
Buffalo Sabres – Filip Cederqvist (LW)
Detroit Red Wings – Albin Grewe (LW)
Florida Panthers – Cole Schwindt (C)
Montreal Canadiens – Arsen Khisamutdinov (LW)
Ottawa Senators – Mads Sogaard (G)
Tampa Bay Lightning – Max Crozier (D)
Toronto Maple Leafs – Mikko Kokkonen (D)
 
This time, we’re going to take a look at the Metropolitan Division and see who could surprise among the Metro teams. They dominated the first round of the draft namely in the top three, with first overall pick Jack Hughes joining the New Jersey Devils and second overall pick Kaapo Kakko joining the New York Rangers. Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of these under-the-radar players.

Carolina Hurricanes – Blake Murray (C, 6th Round, 183rd Overall)

The Hurricanes had a Cinderella season of sorts this past season. After entering the regular season with intentions of MAYBE qualifying for a first round appearance, they ended up advancing to the conference finals before getting swept at the hands of the Boston Bruins. With that being said, the Hurricanes still had an incredible successful season and still ended up with a solid first round pick, taking centre Ryan Suzuki at 28th overall. The Hurricanes had a very busy draft weekend, drafting 12 new prospects, and I think their gem in disguise is Blake Murray.
 
Murray had just finished off his second season with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, and after a strong debut season that saw him put up 44 points in 57 games, he followed up with an equally successful season where he ended up with 50 points in 66 games. He’s one of the younger players in the draft, turning 18 in early July, and he has good size at 6’2 and 187lbs. The way I see it, the Hurricanes are laughing by picking up an offensively talented centre with good size in the 6th round.

Columbus Blue Jackets – Tyler Angle (C, 7th Round, 212th Overall)

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I wish I could go off on a tangent about the Blue Jackets having a busy draft weekend and selecting a plethora of fresh young talent, but the reality is they did the exact opposite. They drafted a whopping three players over the weekend, with two of them coming in the fourth round and one of them coming in the seventh. To make my decision, I went with the latter and chose Tyler Angle as my potential gem.
 
After missing the cutoff date for the 2018 draft by 15 days, the 2000 born Angle stormed back with a strong draft season, good enough for the Jackets to take a flier on him in the seventh round. He spent this season with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL and was a key part of their offense, putting up 44 points in 58 games. This was good enough for fifth on the team in scoring. Angle will likely spend another year or two in the juniors, but he could turn out to be something for the Jackets.

New Jersey Devils – Patrick Moynihan (C, 6th Round, 158th Overall)

Any Devils player from the 2019 draft class likely won’t receive too much media attention for the sole purpose that all eyes will be on Jack Hughes, who was drafted first overall by the Devils. New Jersey is now looking at a one-two punch down the middle of Hughes and Nico Hischier, which will without a doubt become a force in the Metro over the next few seasons. Granted, the lack of pressure could benefit some of the players drafted in the later rounds, and Patrick Moynihan is one of them.
 
The USNTDP produced lots of talent this year, with the Americans making up a large portion of the 2019 draft class. While Moynihan didn’t light up the USHL like some drafted higher, his totals were still impressive with a combined 68 points over 92 games with the program. The 5’10 centre is committed to Providence College of the NCAA for the forseeable future, so it will be interesting to monitor his development and see if he becomes something for the Devils.

New York Islanders – Reece Newkirk (C, 5th Round, 147th Overall)

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In a successful first season without John Tavares leading the charge, the Islanders advanced to the second round before being swept by the Carolina Hurricanes. Slotted to pick at 23rd overall, they went slightly off the board and selected Swedish forward Simon Holmstrom. Aside from that, the Isles had a quiet draft weekend with only five picks, and out of the crop I think their gem is going to be Reece Newkirk.
 
Newkirk spent this season with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL and took a huge step in his draft season, going from 11 points in 58 games to 59 points in 68 games. He isn’t the biggest player on the ice, standing at 5’11 and 172lbs, but he’s a talented offensive player and was good enough to finish fourth on the team in scoring on the team. With the Islanders already having a plethora of offensive talent lined up in the form of Mat Barzal, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Anthony Beauvillier, Newkirk’s name could join this list in the future.

New York Rangers – Adam Edstrom (C, 6th Round, 161st Overall)

Like the Devils, the Rangers’ 2019 draft class likely won’t have to worry about too much time in the spotlight as most of the focus will be shifted to second overall pick Kaapo Kakko. The Rangers had a solid draft day that saw eight new prospects don the red white and blue, and somebody worth keeping an eye on is forward Adam Edstrom.
 
The first thing you’ll notice about Edstrom is that he’s an absolute truck on the ice, standing at 6’6 and 207lbs. He doesn’t shy away from physicality and he combines this with a knack for scoring goals, which is an impressive combination that can make coaches drool. He primarily played for Mora IK’s J20 team, putting up 16 points in 20 games, and also spent time with Mora IK of the SHL where he put up one point in 15 games. He’s under contract with Rogle BK of the SHL next season and will look to secure a full time role with the team.

Philadelphia Flyers – Egor Serdyuk (RW, 6th Round, 165th Overall)

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The Philadelphia Flyers have arguably the best crop of young talent on the back end, with a pool consisting of Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, and Philippe Myers. They added to this crop in the first round this year, selecting defenseman Cam York at 14th overall, meaning the Flyers could arguably have the best defensive core in the NHL over the next few years. They selected seven players on draft weekend, and I have their potential gem in the person of a forward this time in Egor Serdyuk.
 
Serdyuk spent his entire career playing in his native Russia, but made the move to North America last season and spent his draft season playing for the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL where he put up 65 points in 63 games. When you get the chance to draft a player who scores at a pace above a point per game in a round as late as the sixth, you take it. The Flyers could really have something going here.

Pittsburgh Penguins – Nathan Legare (RW, 3rd Round, 74th Overall)

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After a disappointing end to the season in 2018-19 that saw them get swept in the first round by the New York Islanders, the Penguins saw themselves at 21st overall on the draft board and used it to select forward Samuel Poulin. Like the Islanders, they only selected five players on day two but could have found themselves a gem in the third round. He goes by the name of Nathan Legare.
 
Legare could be deemed as both a gem and a steal, given that he very well could have gone earlier in the draft. But regardless, the fact that the Penguins were able to pounce on a player of Legare’s type in the third round counts as a gem of a pick for me. In his second season with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL, he absolutely exploded offensively and put up a 45 goal, 87 point campaign over 68 games. He’s a gifted offensive forward and could end up being a steal for the Penguins so late in the draft.

Washington Capitals – Martin Hugo Has (D, 3rd Round, 91st Overall)

After a historic cup run in the 2017-18 season, the Washington Capitals fell victim to a first round elimination at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes. They ended up with a pick at 25th overall and used it to select forward Connor McMichael, and then used their second round pick to select first-round talent Brett Leason. This left the Capitals with two more picks over the weekend, and for their potential gem I decided to go with Martin Hugo Has.
 
Has is a 6’4 right handed Czech defenseman who spent this season playing for Tappara U20 of Finland’s junior leagues. He impressed here, putting up 16 points over 37 games. The defensive combination of size and right-handedness automatically makes you more valuable as a player, and I’m sure the Capitals had this in mind when they selected him. He’s geared up to play for Tappara’s pro team for the SM-Liiga next season, and could turn into an impressive pick for the Capitals.
 
Thanks for reading. Tune in next time where we’ll dive into the Central division and check out all of their potential gems.
 
stats from eliteprospects.com
 

Masterton Trophy: A Breakdown Of The Nominees

The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.

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Each team selects one of their players who overcame adversity to contribute to their hockey club to the best of their capabilities. The award has often been a hallmark to the player on the team that saw an injury threaten their career, or perhaps a difficult circumstance in their personal life. Overall, this is one of those awards where it is just an honour to be nominated because of the tremendous respect that the nominee usually garners from their peers.

It is often very tough to weigh some nominees against each other. This is especially true considering that every team nominates a player. The Masterton Trophy nominees are thirty or thirty-one of the most compelling stories in hockey from that season. However, even though it is tough to weigh many of these nominees against each other, the award is narrowed down to three names ahead of Wednesday nights ceremony. Let’s explore the three names who ended up as nominees:

Nick Foligno, Forward, Columbus Blue Jackets

Although Nick Foligno’s story is fairly well-documented, the story of him, his family, and specifically his daughter Milana does elude some hockey fans. Shortly after Milana’s birth in October 2013, she underwent a surgery to repair a heart defect. The surgery was successful, but the nature of the condition will continue to present a decent amount of complications. This included a virus that Milana contracted over the fall which led to the surgical procedure on December 31st during this past season. Foligno took a leave-of-absence, but returned to action a few weeks later as Milana made a swift recovery.

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Foligno and his family have donated over $1 million to both Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus and Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston, both facilities credited with treating Milana over the years. Milana and the Foligno’s have had their obstacles over the years, and this year was just another bump in the road. The great news is that Milana recovered from her surgery, and by all accounts continues to enjoy a fairly normal childhood. Nick is a warrior for the Columbus Blue Jackets. While this year had it’s challenges for him, he was the leader for what ended up being the best season yet for the Jackets and their fans.

Robin Lehner, Goaltender, New York Islanders

Ah yes, Robin Lehner. The goaltender I always loved, but something about him seemed off. Watching him in Buffalo, he just seemed uneasy sometimes despite being a very talented goaltender. Then when the Buffalo Sabres chose to let Lehner walk as an unrestricted free agent rather than tender him a qualifying offer, I knew something was up. On July 3rd he signed a one-year deal with the New York Islanders.

I still didn’t quite get it. Then came his September 13th article on The Athletic. Lehner went into great detail about his struggles with anxiety, addiction, and depression. These battles were beginning to take over his life. Lehner talks about his suicidal thoughts, his meltdown during a game last season, the strain on his family and relationship, and his decision to seek out the NHLPA’s Substance Abuse Program for help. It really is one hell of a read. I remember reading on my way to work that day, and thinking that it was one of the most vulnerable and honest things I had ever read about a professional athlete.

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On top of this, Lehner went on to have the best season of his career this season, earning himself a Vezina Trophy nomination. He helped lead the Islanders to the season round of the playoffs in a year where nobody expected them to be a serious team. All told, Lehner’s story is really remarkable. Without Lehner’s decision to go to rehabilitation, it is hard to imagine he is where he is today.

Joe Thornton, Forward, San Jose Sharks

We all know Jumbo Joe. One of the best players of our generation, Joe Thornton is loved by most hockey fans. While he continues to age, Thornton’s hockey IQ allows him to be a very valuable asset well into his thirties. For the San Jose Sharks, his importance cannot be understated. In January 2018, Thornton injured both his ACL and MCL, and was forced to miss the rest of the 2017-18 season. His rehabilitation carried into the 2018-19 season, but Thornton was able to get back on the ice and produce at a consistent level.

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It is important to understand just how difficult the road back from an ACL surgery is for a professional hockey player. The basic recovery can last up to nine months, but re-establishing strength in the knee will be a lifelong project. Couple that with the fact that Thornton was 38-years-old at the time of the injury, Thornton’s return is incredibly impressive and speaks to the dedication level that Joe has been known for over his career.

Although his future with the Sharks remains up in the air, Thornton has elected to return to the NHL in 2019-2020. Eighteen months ago, there was some doubt how much longer he’d be able to go. Here we are, and Jumbo Joe is still here. Plus, he grew the beard back out. So all is well.

Predicting the Winner

There are a lot of great stories, and these are just a few of them. However, I expect Robin Lehner to take home the honours in Las Vegas on Wednesday night. Lehner’s story is something that helped further the discussion on mental health in professional athletes. His decision to take his struggles public will be admired and talked about for years. Not only is his story remarkable, it is also the fact that Lehner was able to dominant the game a lot of nights makes his turnaround almost unbelievable. A lot of fans knew that Lehner’s talent was always there, but now that his head is in the game, he is a force to be reckoned with.

A full list of the initial nominees can be found here.

All stats and information courtesy of Hockey Reference and The NHL.

Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks: Ryan Murray Trade Rumors

Per Scott Powers of The Athletic Chicago, the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets have discussed a trade involving defenseman Ryan Murray.

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The 25-year-old left-handed blue liner posted a new career high in points this year with 29 (1 goal, 28 assists).

Murray is a restricted free agent this summer, so the Blackhawks could in fact try to offer sheet him if he does not end up signed by July 1st. Columbus is also rumored to want draft picks in return for Murray, as they currently only have two picks in this year’s draft.

Murray will turn 26 in September and can become an unrestricted free agent next season.

He’d Provide A Massive Boost For Chicago

The Blackhawks have also been rumored to be in the market for a top four defenseman. While Murray might be a bit of a fringe one, he still would certainly help. Murray is a well-rounded, two-way defenseman that can play on the power-play and on the penalty kill. He is also a smart passer and owns a pretty heavy shot.

The Blackhawks’ penalty kill ranked dead last in the league last season, so changes had to be made there. Murray and newly hired assistant coach, Marc Crawford, would both provide some support in those areas for next season.

Why Columbus Has Murray On The Block?

Murray has been most well-known for his injury issues throughout his career so far. The Columbus Blue Jackets might be ready to move on from him because of that. He has only played one full season in this career so far, and that was three years ago.

The Columbus Blue Jackets were able to sign Russian defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov back in April, which created a bit of a logjam on the left side. Markus Nutivaara was signed to a very friendly contract last year and emerged as a top four defenseman this past season. Not only that, but they also have Gabriel Carlsson coming up eventually as well.

Projected Pairings For The Blackhawks With Murray

Duncan KeithHenri Jokiharju

Ryan MurrayConnor Murphy

Erik GustafssonBrent Seabrook

If Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman acquires Murray, it’ll give the Blackhawks more options on defense. Murphy and Seabrook probably would interchange on the right side, while Murray and Gustafsson would do the same on the left side. There would be much more stability on both sides, and I think that is something that Bowman and company will looking to address this offseason.

Stats via NHL.com and hockey-reference.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals