Since that fateful day when Stan Bowman pulled Quenneville’s heart of out his ass and made him sniff it with the Hjalmarsson trade, Connor Murphy’s performance has been a consistent curiosity. He’s often looked like the best Hawks D-man on the ice when he’s healthy. But when you pan out for a longer view of the defense, it’s always felt like being the best of this bunch is like beating a two-legged dog at a digging contest. This year, Murphy will likely need to shoulder the burden of being the only passable defensive defenseman on the Hawks, at least until de Haan gets back.
52 GP – 5 G, 8 A, 13 P
48.63 CF% (-0.4 CF% Rel), 38.8 oZS%
54.67 GF% (1.29 Rel GF%), 44.44 xGF% (-1.08 Rel xGF%)
Avg. TOI 19:29
A Brief History: We’ve always liked Connor Murphy around here, and we all thought we were getting a younger, cheaper Hjalmarsson in him. In some ways, that’s been true. Over the last two years, each has missed extended time due to injury (Murphy last year, Hjalmarsson in 18). They’ve been fairly comparable in those two years, though Hjalmarsson has had an overall edge in defensive play.
But last year wasn’t particularly kind to our Large Irish Son. He missed 30 games due to a back injury, which is never good for a 6’4” skater. We saw him skating up at the blue line at times as Colliton’s man defense went through what we can only pray is growing pains. His possession metrics, both vanilla (48.63%) and high-danger varieties (39.34%), were underwater on the year, though you might expect that given his zone starts.
And yet, Murphy was relatively fine next to Carl Dahlstrom. They were the “shutdown pair” for a time, and compared to everyone else on the Hawks’s blue line, the ice was least dangerous when Murphy was out there. Maybe the most interesting stat about Murphy last year is that despite starting in his own zone about 62% of the time, his GF% was second among Hawks D-men who played at least 41 games, second only to Duncan Keith (58 oZS%).
It Was the Best of Times: Murphy stays healthy and jumps into the top-pairing role with Gustafsson. Hell, you can play them both on their off sides and see what happens. Gus scored 60 on his off side, and Murphy never looked too out of place on his, so whatever. Fuck it. Putting Murphy and Gus together hedges Gus’s awfulness in his own zone. Might as well try it, since the only other true shutdown guy on this team, Calvin de Haan, won’t be around for a month or so.
It Was the BLURST of Times: Murphy’s back keeps him off the ice for 40% of the year. For all the bitching we’ve done about Murphy’s use since his arrival, Colliton has upped the time we see Murphy on the ice consistently. It’s unlikely we’ll see him with any less than second-pairing minutes. So, aside from injury—which is still a distinct possibility for a man of his significant vertical carriage—the worst scenario is that Murphy can’t adapt to whatever it is that Colliton’s defensive scheme wants him to do, which, based on last year, seems to ask defensemen to skate around the blue line in their own zone.
Prediction: Murphy continues to toil in the dungeon shifts. When de Haan comes back healthy, he finally gets to play with a worthwhile partner, and the Hawks have a true shutdown pairing. He and de Haan also round out the PK1 unit, which is a vast improvement over Keith–Seabrook. The PK still finishes toward the top of the bottom half of the league (say, 18th), but not because of anything Murphy does. Murphy continues to go underappreciated for the cardinal sin of not being Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Murphy’s never going to give you sexy numbers, unless, like, a 69 dZS% tickles you. He’s about as representative a defenseman as you’ll find. But with the offensive threats the Hawks have, that’s really all they need.