|Brent Seabrook is the player the Blackhawks could not succeed without, writes John Wiedeman (Photo by Bill Smith).
With the 2012 Blackhawks Fans Choice Awards winding down, chicagoblackhawks.com caught up with Blackhawks Play-by-play Announcer John Wiedeman to get his thoughts for each of the major categories before the winners are announced.
I chose Ray Emery for "Best Newcomer" because I feel that the importance of his body of work throughout the 2011-12 season was superior to the others. When called upon, Emery was a dependable stopper for the Blackhawks at crucial times of the season and on many occasions the Blackhawks gained positive momentum from his strong play in goal. During the month of December, Emery came on in a relief appearance and then posted a five-game winning streak that helped the Blackhawks reassume the top spot in the Central Division.
The Blackhawks goaltending position was strengthened with Emery’s play, as his overall record of 15-9-4 was strong considering his role with the team and his ability to take the net when needed. His record at the United Center (10-0-3) was very good and crucial to the Blackhawks success; Emery earned points out of every home start and became the only NHL goaltender without a home loss.
I should state that all of the other candidates mentioned for this award (Daniel Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, Jonny Oduya and Andrew Shaw) made significant contributions to the Blackhawks' success in their own ways and are certainly worthy of consideration. Mayers’ solid season had him as runner-up for top newcomer in my opinion, as he handled his role with the team nearly to the letter.
In October 2011, defenseman Nick Leddy began his second NHL season as a 20-year-old. At that time, the jury was still out on Leddy’s potential as a top-four NHL defenseman. Judging by his performance during 2011-12, it’s safe to say that he has established himself as one of the Blackhawks' top blueliners.
By being the only Blackhawks d-man to play in every game of the 2011-12 season (82 regular-season and six playoff contests), Leddy nearly doubled his output from his rookie campaign. His ability to generate offense with his speed and quickness was a key component of his overall high level of play on the Blackhawks' blueline. In his rookie season, Leddy recorded only seven points in 46 regular-season games, he shattted that mark this year, amassing 40 pointts (3G, 37A) in all 82. His average time on ice rose to 22:13, which ranked third among Blackhawks defensemen. Those numbers were a testament to head coach Joel Quenneville’s confidence in his young rearguard.
Furthermore, Leddy’s speed and puck-rushing ability was further proof that Blackhawks management was correct in their assessment that Leddy’s abilities could fill the role previously held by Brian Campbell, who was traded to the Florida Panthers at last June’s entry draft. An aspect of Leddy’s game that should see improvement is his defensive zone play; with attention to detail in practice and game experience, this should happen naturally.
Viktor Stalberg is my runner-up for most improved as his offensive season was noteworthy and, if the trend continues, Stalberg could finish among the Blackhawks' top scorers in seasons to come.
Brent Seabrook is my pick for best defenseman for his overall consistent high level of play in every category. Seabrook's nine goals led all team defensemen and tied a career-high mark set during the 2007-08 season. His +21 plus/minus rating was among the top-10 in the NHL and best as for Blackhawks defenseman, second-best on the team overall. When games were close for the Blackhawks, whether leading or trailing, Seabrook was a fixture on the ice because of his dependability, leadership and willingness to sacrifice to help the Blackhawks win those games.
Amazingly, Seabrook, who is as tough of a blueliner as any in the NHL, recorded only 22 penalty minutes, lowest of his seven-year career. This gave him more time on the ice to help the team win games. Seabrook was one of only two defensemen in the league to amass at least 150 hits, 150 blocked shots and 150 shots on goal during the regular season. Though his penalty minutes were low, his physical play never wavered as he threw 198 hits while blocking 165 shots to lead the Blackhawks in both categories. Seabrook brought an edge to games to which his teammates and Blackhawks fans have become accustomed. Without these critical elements, the Blackhawks might not have even made the playoffs.
Seabrook was number one, but Duncan Keith was 1A, as he led all Blackhawks defensemen in overall scoring, average time on ice and finished the regular season at a +15 rating, and was counted on for every situation.
With the group of forwards listed above, this category is possibly the toughest of all to decide. Though each of the above forwards had seasons that could justify them seleceted for this award, my choice is Marian Hossa.
Hossa, to me, was the Blackhawks player who made the greatest impact during the past regular season. He finished the season as the second-leading scorer in the Western Conference as he led the Blackhawks in points. Hossa, who also played in 81 regular season games -- the most he’s played in a single season with the Blackhawks-- led Chicago in power play goals (9), recorded two shorthanded goals and had stretches of the season where he amassed points in bunches. Hossa also had stretches where his consistent contributions to the Blackhawks offensive attack kept the team competitive. His nine-game point streak (8G, 3A) during January was key in helping the Blackhawks reach first place in the Western Conference prior to the All-Star break. Hossa also recorded his 400th career NHL goal on December 8, on the way to his 12th-consecutive 20-goal season.
It was all part of his best statistical season since joining the Blackhawks.
Definitions and opinions of what most valuable players actually are can vary in any sport.
Each of the candidates for the various awards had seasons that merited serious consideration. Toews probably would have gotten my vote for team MVP had he not missed the last quarter of the season due to injury. Sharp’s goal scoring, playmaking abilities, underrated level of versatility and aggregate offensive numbers made him a top candidate for the Blackhawks top forward. Like Toews, had Sharp not been injured during the season, he may well have led the team in scoring and surpassed the 40-goal mark, which would have him in the lead for both MVP and Top Forward.
In my opinion, a player who is named as most valuable player in a given season is one who a team can’t succeed without, and I think Brent Seabrook was that player for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Though he didn’t play in every game during the regular season (he missed only four), Seabrook’s inclusion in the Blackhawks' lineup meant stability, dependability, accountability and a winning attitude. With Seabrook out of the lineup, the Blackhawks went 1-3-0, and were outscored 16-9. With Seabrook in the lineup, the team was 44-23-11.
In Seabrook, all of the Blackhawks -- goaltenders especially -- know they have an ally in the defensive zone who will do everything possible to help the team win games. He’ll rock opponents with body checks, block shots, make precise first passes, make smart plays with the puck, stick up for teammates and keep everybody wired into the game. At the other end of the rink, opponents knew that Seabrook’s play along the blueline and side boards was a key factor in the Blackhawks' offensive thrust.
As the season wore on, Seabrook was continually given increased ice time, and his ability to handle the workload made him even more valuable to the Blackhawks' coaching staff and team. Many players can’t elevate their level of play in this situation, but Seabrook seemed to thrive in it. In postseason play, Seabrook was a force with his usual array of hits, blocked shots, strong positional play and point shots that kept pressure on the Phoenix Coyotes. His game-tying goal in Game 1 and his assist on the tying goal in Game 2 were part of a playoff series where he accumulated a goal and two assists to go with 26 hits and 12 blocked shots.
Finally, in assessing the value of a given player, you can never overlook the positive influence a player like Seabrook has in the dressing room; Seabrook was also a strong leader in that way as well. His voice is usually heard prior to games and between periods in order to remind teammates of the importance of what the team was trying to achieve.