Brent Seabrook was a great Chicago Blackhawks defenseman for more than 1,000 games and his decision … [+]
The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t win the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015 on skill alone.
They also needed some grit and determination, and no one personified those two things during the Blackhawks’ glory years like Brent Seabrook.
Unfortunately for the currently retooling Blackhawks, who are looking to return to their former glory with a younger batch of skilled players, the 6-foot-3 defenseman won’t be around to provide the on-ice sandpaper and off-ice guidance they’re going to need if they’re going to contend for the Cup again sometime soon.
The 35-year-old announced Friday that a combination of injuries to his hips and shoulder — which required a series of surgeries in late 2019 and early 2020 — have forced him to end his NHL career.
Seabrook recalled during a media conference how he recently skated with the Blackhawks’ taxi squad and “it was tough.” Then came his fateful decision:
“In true fashion, I said, ‘OK, well I’m going to see how I feel in the morning and maybe I’ll skate.’ I woke up the next morning and couldn’t really move very well. … I don’t know if it was a decision I made or my body made for me.”
Only Stan Mikita (1,396) and Duncan Keith (1,162) have played more regular-season games for the Blackhawks than Seabrook (1,114). But he played just 32 games last season, and didn’t get into a contest this year. It’d been a struggle for several years to live up to the eight-year, $55 million contract he signed in September 2015, which didn’t begin until the 2016-17 campaign.
What’s unfortunate for Seabrook, however, could turn out to be beneficial for the Blackhawks and their ability to supplement their lineup with talent and possibly be an elite team again before the end of Keith and Patrick Kane’s historic careers.
Seabrook won’t be officially retiring, so he’ll still get paid (he’s owed $15.5 million over the next three seasons). But the Blackhawks will be able to avoid having his cap hit hinder them by spending to the cap ceiling and utilizing Long Term Injured Reserve.
Although the Blackhawks are facing an overage penalty of around $4 million next season because of young players’ performance bonuses, according to Cap Friendly, they now have the type of salary-cap flexibility that could make them a factor at the April 12 NHL trade deadline and beyond.
Chicago woke up Friday in the fourth and final Central Division playoff spot, surprising to many that had the Blackhawks pegged as a lottery team at the start of the season. A combination of the emergence of rookie goalie Kevin Lankinen as a force, the continued improvement of young skill players like Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalik, an influx of competent rookies and the continued brilliance of Kane have kept Chicago in the hunt, even as the number of games in hand for teams around them has decreased.
Trading Seabrook’s deal, which would be much more difficult now in a flat-cap environment than when Bowman traded Marian Hossa’s contract to Arizona in July 2018, would cost the Blackhawks assets. Keeping Seabrook will allow Chicago to add and possibly be buyers at this year’s deadline.
The Blackhawks could use their LTIR space to bolster their goaltending by getting a veteran complement for Lankinen like San Jose’s Devan Dubnyk. They could be buyers for other high-end players, even Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm, who’s attractive because he’s signed through the end of 2021-22.
The Blackhawks have a prospect pool that The Hockey News ranked No. 12 in its 2020 Future Watch Issue, and they have all their draft picks, except for their 2021 third-round pick, in the next two drafts.
“For right now, he’s (Seabrook) put on LTIR and we have plenty of cap space right now if we were going to make moves,” Bowman said. “But that’s not what this is about. It’s about Brent and honoring his great contribution to the team.”
Even if the Blackhawks decide to hold tight and continue on their retooling track, Seabrook’s contract situation will be helpful when the time comes for the Blackhawks to pull the trigger on a big addition. Imagine Chicago getting involved if the time comes for Buffalo to move on from Jack Eichel or if the Florida Panthers can’t get star center Aleksander Barkov signed beyond 2021-22.
“I’m incredibly proud of my career,” Seabrook said Friday. “I got to play with a tremendous group of players for the best organization in sports. When I first got here, we weren’t the Blackhawks that you see now or through the early part of the decade. It was fun to be part of the group that brought this franchise back up to the top and I wouldn’t change anything. I gave it all I had.”
If Blackhawks ownership is willing to take advantage of this situation, Chicago will try to build back up to the top helped by Seabrook again, even if he won’t be in the locker room or on the ice to enjoy the success.
I write about the Bruins and the NHL, and the Red Sox and MLB. I have covered the Bruins and the NHL since 2005 for a number of entities, most recently for WEEI.com and