Ever since Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman executed a pair of head-spinning, franchise-altering trades in the span of 50 minutes last month, we’ve all tried to discern whether this team is better prepared to make a Stanley Cup run than its two predecessors.
The easy narratives — ones I’ve run with a few times — are to point out that Jonathan Toews needs to be better, Brent Seabrook needs a rebound season, Patrick Kane must continue to be Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Corey Crawford must stay healthy, and the team’s young players must take steps forward.
Connor Murphy profile
Height: 6-4; Weight: 212 lbs.
Drafted: 20th overall in 2011 by Phoenix
Salary-cap hit: $3.85 million
Signed through: 2021-22
Career stats with CoyotesSeason GP G A Pts. TOI
2013-14 30 1 7 8 17:59
2014-15 73 4 3 7 16:48
2015-16 78 6 11 17 20:30
2016-17 77 2 15 17 19:11
While this is all true, we also need to point out that the defense — the hallmark of the Hawks’ title teams — has lost two significant pieces in Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk. A back end made up of Duncan Keith, Seabrook, Connor Murphy, Michal Kempny, Gustav Forsling and whomever wins that sixth slot may go through some rough patches, especially early in the season.
Bowman, however, is extremely high on the 24-year-old Murphy, whom he acquired from Arizona for Hjalmarsson. If Bowman’s right about Murphy’s potential — and he’d better be — it will mean coach Joel Quenneville can sleep a lot easier at night.
“He’s coming into a new situation and he’s going to have to learn,” Bowman said Friday before the Blackhawks Convention kicked off. “It’s not going to happen at the snap of a finger, but I love his character and his personality. (That) combination with his skill set — it’s going to be a nice fit.”
Murphy’s pedestrian offensive numbers (13 goals, 36 assists in 258 games) look a lot like Hjalmarsson’s, but he’s a coveted right-shot D-man with four years left on a deal that comes with a $3.85 million cap hit — slightly lower than Hjalmarsson’s $4.1 million.
When the Hawks acquired Murphy, Bowman told reporters we would really love his demeanor, and that certainly proved true when we spoke Friday.
You can tell that Murphy — despite coming from a Coyotes team that averaged 31.5 victories the past four seasons — just gets it. What follows is an edited transcript of our Q&A.
Q: Have the coaches said anything about which defensive pairing they plan to put you on?
A: No, they haven’t said anything. It’s one of those things (where) you come into camp and you earn every bit of ice time and which pairing you’re going to be on. A lot of times it (comes down to) the chemistry you can build with different guys during training camp and see who you mesh with. So that part I’m not concerned with or think too much about.
Q: Have you wrapped your head around the fact that you could play with Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook?
A: Yeah, that’s something that I thought about. I’ve looked up to those guys, just watching them every year in the playoffs. I really admire the way they play and how detailed they are with defending. They do little things that some people wouldn’t realize, whether it’s with their sticks or how they make reads or how they can manage their energy to be able to play so many minutes. I’m excited to learn from those guys.
Q: You’ve been watching them since you were a teenager. How surreal is it to be on their team?
A: When you’re real young you don’t even picture being able to play with those guys. And then it kind of comes up and you don’t really do the math and know that those guys play for a long time and if you can get there you’ll have a chance. Again, I never expected to get traded to a team like this too. So it’s exciting and I want to be able to do my part.
Q: There’s no intimidation factor?
A: No, because I’ve played with a lot of different players and we’ve had a couple of really good D-men come through Arizona as well. It’s something where you almost tend to feel looser and better when you’re with better players like that just because you know if you make a mistake, a lot of times they’ll cover you. That part makes up for it and you know that they’re such good people and such good teammates that they make you feel comfortable from Day 1.
Q: Do you feel any more pressure coming to a team like this?
A: Not really just because … I always felt there’s already pressure just being in the NHL. I put a lot on myself because I expect a lot and I expect to get better every year. Sometimes that can be a crutch of getting too hard on yourself. I think I have a good assessment of myself on when I am playing my best and (am) not always worrying about what other people are saying.