Just like everything else nowadays, the news trickled out via Twitter.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman, facing tremendous pressure to add defensive help at the NHL’s Feb. 27 trade deadline, finally made a move late in the day when he threw two 2013 draft picks to the Winnipeg Jets for an undersized defenseman named Johnny Oduya.
Even the most dedicated Hawky had to dive deep into Google to get the details on Oduya.
The 30-year-old vet had just two goals, 13 points and a minus-nine rating in 63 games with the Jets when the Hawks acquired him.
“Way to go, Stan,” the fan base sighed sarcastically, as it watched the rival Red Wings and Predators load up on available talent. When the Hawks announced Oduya, he was called “window dressing,” and it meant no goaltender help and no reinforcements at center.
More importantly, coming off a nine-game losing streak—a period in which the Blackhawks struggled mightily in protecting the net—Oduya was going to be the team’s defensive savior?
The Blackhawks are 10-2-2 since Oduya joined the lineup. He’s not exactly lighting up the score sheet, but results are results, and Oduya deserves credit.
In the 13 games he’s played in March, Oduya has a total of five points—1 goal and 4 assists—and a plus-2 rating. Not bad, but not the defensive scoring boost the Blackhawks appeared to be desperate for at the time, when its power play unit ranked near the bottom of the league (they still rank 26th overall in power play conversions).
So what’s changed?
Look closely and you’ll see that Oduya has averaged about 25 minutes per game in March—a particularly high rate, considering Duncan Keith, the Hawks’ top blue liner, is averaging about 26 minutes during the same time period.
What’s more, leading up to Saturday’s game against Nashville, Oduya had 27 shots on goal in March—he hadn’t shot more than 13 times in a month before joining the Hawks.
Oduya’s 25-ish minutes per game has given the team a solid pairing for young defenseman Nick Leddy, who appeared overwhelmed during the Hawks’ nine-game skid while having to play an enhanced role due to injuries to Steve Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Montador is still out indefinitely with an “upper body injury,” recovering from what has been reported as a concussion. Hjalmarsson has since returned to the lineup.
Also, when Bowman dealt Brian Campbell—a key cog on the Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup team—to the Florida Panthers around draft time, the team lost a reliable puck-pushing defenseman and two-way player who was heavily relied upon on special teams.
Oduya has, surprisingly, taken on a similar role—at a much cheaper price—though not entirely at the level Campbell had played.
With three games to play in the regular season, the once seemingly down-and-out Blackhawks squad looks like a lock for at least the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, where seeding means very little and anything could happen.
Any run at the Stanley Cup is predicated on whether or not a healthy Jonathan Toews, who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms, can return to the lineup and resume playing at a high level. But with a Toews-less Blackhawks still able to find scoring as of late, things could bounce the Hawks’ way, especially if goaltender Corey Crawford turns up his game in the playoffs. This group certainly has enough experience and star power.
Maybe acquiring Oduya wasn’t the sexiest trade-deadline move—nothing that will create a surge in No. 27 jerseys popping up around 1901 West Madison Street this spring. But I think I speak for most Blackhawks fans when I say—perhaps a tad bit less mordantly this time—“Way to go, Stan!”
* * * * *
FRANK A. KALMAN is a Chicago area sports and business writer. He is a 2010 graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and has an undergraduate degree from Indiana University in Bloomington. Follow him on Twitter @FaKalman.
STORY ART: Main image done in house, re-mixed from photo by Hattie Trott/Flickr.