For the second game in a row the Chicago Blackhawks will be making veteran defenseman Brent Seabrook a healthy scratch when they travel to Nashville to face the Predators on Tuesday night.
After getting blown out by the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday — at the time their fourth loss in a row — the Blackhawks decided to make a couple of lineup changes for Sunday, including the scratching of Seabrook. That new-look lineup produced a 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings, and in traditional NHL coaching form Jeremy Colliton is returning with the same lineup on Tuesday (because it won).
That is a decision that does not seem to be sitting well with Seabrook who still strongly believes he has something to offer the Blackhawks.
Or someone else.
NBC Chicago’s Charlie Roumeliotis wrote about Seabrook’s frustration on Tuesday, including this segment that seemed to really highlight his feelings on his play and current role.
“I don’t think I need rest,” Seabrook said. “I think I feel great. I’m 34, you guys seem to want to write articles about my age and my speed. I feel like I still got a lot to offer in this league and still be a good player for somebody. I’m just going to try and do my thing out here … try to work hard and get back in the lineup when I can, if I can and just try and be a good teammate.”
That “for somebody” line is the one that will obviously stand out because, well, “somebody” could mean a team that isn’t the Blackhawks.
Seabrook’s initial healthy scratch was framed by Colliton as him trying to give the veteran a rest in the second half of a back-to-back. But with the Blackhawks coming off an off-day and not playing as part a back-to-back on Tuesday that explanation no longer makes much sense. Colliton said on Tuesday that Seabrook is going to get his chance again and that he still feels he can help them win. But the current actions speak louder than words, because not only is he a healthy scratch again, he was only playing a career low 16 minutes per game this season.
This is a tough situation because to balance a fine line between loyalty and respect for a once great player that has meant a ton to the organization, and doing what is best for the team right now and in the future.
Seabrook was a key cog in three Stanley Cup winning teams, and at his best he was a workhorse on the blue line that shut down opposing top line players and scored some monumental goals for the team (including a series-clinching goal in double overtime to send the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup Final). He has played more than 1,000 games for the team and helped the Blackhawks go from a doormat when he first arrived to one of the most successful teams of the era. That commands a ton respect, and there is no denying that a player like Seabrook — or any player at this level, for that matter — is going to take pride in their game and still believe they can contribute until they literally can not physically do it anymore.
The harsh reality — and as much as Seabrook might get tired of hearing it — is that he is not the same player he once was and his on-ice performance has consistently regressed the past few years, and there is plenty of objective data to illustrate that steady decline (shot attempts, scoring chances, goals). The NHL has become a younger, faster game and every team wants defenders that can skate and move the puck. That is simply no longer Seabrook’s strength, and with the Blackhawks missing the playoffs in each of the past two years and in danger of doing so again in third consecutive year barring a major change in their play, you can’t really fault them for wanting to look for new solutions. They need to find new solutions.
For as important as Seabrook was to the Blackhawks’ recent past, he is probably not going to be a meaningful part of their future. What is going to make this situation even more awkward is Seabrook not only has a no-trade clause in his contract — meaning he ultimately dictates when and where he goes — but he still has four more year after this one remaining on his contract with an annual $6.875 million salary cap hit. The number of teams that would be willing or able to take on such a deal for a 34-year-old defender is small, and would probably require an equal contract coming back the other way.
The Blackhawks’ fall from the top of the NHL’s mountain has been swift and unforgiving, and there is plenty of reason to be concerned about where they go from here. Adding to the on-ice struggles is a now uncomfortable situation between the team and one of its all-time great defenders regarding what he can still do and how much he can still offer.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.