The fact that Nick Leddy was not very good defensively seems to be overlooked when discussing the Chicago Blackhawks and their defensive struggles last season.
After a solid debut with the Hawks in 2010-11, Leddy got his chance to stick with the team last year and did so. There was no “Rockford shuffle”. Leddy began and ended the season on the second pairing with this team, though his partner was not always the same.
The role of defender next to Leddy was something of a revolving door. Once Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were reunited on the top unit, Leddy spent some time with Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, and each came with mixed results.
The Blackhawks love Leddy. They see him as a future elite defenseman in the National Hockey League. There’s no doubt he has the offensive skill to be a top notch offensive d-man. But on defense? That’s an entirely different story altogether.
With Hjalmarsson, Leddy struggled greatly. Neither is particularly defensively responsible and Hjalmarsson’s passiveness combined with Leddy’s inexperience was just one notch under a disaster for the Hawks last season.
Oduya seemed to calm Leddy down when he was acquired from the Winnipeg Jets. That veteran presence did him well down the stretch and there was improvement. But when the playoffs rolled around, or when the Hawks played stronger forechecking teams, each of them was tossed around like a ragdoll.
Leddy is a restricted free agent next summer and is likely going to cost a pretty penny. If what we know about how the front office feels about him is any indication, they’ll likely pay him handsomely. But is that the best course of action for this team?
Should we expect growing pains from Leddy? Sure. But there’s a difference between the expected struggles of a 20-year-old and just not being strong enough in the defensive end. Leddy looks to be the latter at this point, if you want to make judgments about his career this early.
Leddy may very well be an elite puck mover at some point in his career. But he’s not Brian Campbell. He’s not strong enough defensively. He’s not big enough and doesn’t play well enough against top forwards to warrant paying him what he might get in the summer of 2013.
You could easily make the argument that the Hawks overvalue Leddy perhaps even more than they overvalue Andrew Shaw. In fact, I’d be willing to go as far as saying Leddy should be the first d-man the Hawks should look to shop this summer, whenever the trade market opens again.
The Hawks see Leddy as Campbell, Pt. 2. That’s why they were so comfortable dumping Campbell for basically nothing last summer. However, he is definitely no Campbell.
It certainly makes sense if you look at it in the long term. As I’ve said before, the Hawks could slide Oduya into that third defenseman role currently occupied by Leddy until Adam Clendening is ready. Clendening does project as the better pro in the long term, after all.
Would the Blackhawks actually miss Leddy? Potentially in the short term, at least in the offensive end. But Stan Bowman could force someone to overpay for him and upgrade elsewhere while potentially saving money on a big deal for Leddy next summer. It’s something to consider for this front office.