When we divvied up who was going to write about whom a few weeks ago, we totally forgot to include Brent Seabrook in the mix. Call it wishful thinking or a Freudian slip if you must, but we can all agree that we all want to forget about the year Seabrook had. Strap in. This one’s long, and it’s gonna get weird.
78 GP, 5 G, 23 A, 28 P
46.77 CF%, 44.71 xGF% [5v5]
It Comes With a Free Frogurt!
One good thing that happened is that Seabrook was close to his career average in points. Another thing was that as the year went on, Colliton started pulling back on the number of minutes Seabrook played. Whereas Seabrook was posting 20+ minutes with regularity in November and mid-December, once mid-December hit, the minutes started falling off.
The last time Seabrook played 20+ minutes in 2018 was on December 14. From that point on, he eclipsed 20 minutes just five times in the next 45 games he played. This has long been the argument that Hawks beat writers and talking heads have foisted upon us. If Seabrook only played less, he’d be more effective. Well . . .
The Frogurt Is Also Cursed
From December 15 on, here are some of Seabrook’s stats:
- 47.07 CF%. Only Dahlstrom was worse among D-men with at least 500 minutes (47.03%), but Dahlstrom also started in the oZ about 39% of the time, compared to Seabrook’s near 50%.
- 40.07 HDCF%. Only Dahlstrom (37.24%) and Murphy (38.41%) were worse among D-men with at least 500 minutes. Again, the zone starts weigh heavy, with Seabrook starting in the oZ almost 50% of the time, while Dahlstrom and Murphy sat at around 39%.
- 44.44 HDGF%. Worst among Hawks D-men with at least 500 minutes. If you include Forsling at around 465 minutes and a 37.50%, Seabrook bumps up to second worst. Joy.
Even with less time AND sheltered time, Seabrook was still getting exploited by opponents, so I’m not so sure that the “Seabrook can still be useful with less time and more sheltering” argument is a valid one.
It only gets worse when you look at the season as a whole.
Among 209 D-men who played at least 500 minutes on the year, here’s where Seabrook ranked in the following categories:
- 170th in CF% [46.77]: Of the players who had worse CF%s, only seven spent more time in the oZ than Seabrook: Ilya Lyubushkin, Dmitry Kulikov, Jack Johnson, Jordan Oesterle, Joe Morrow, Cam Fowler, and Madison Bowey. Fucking woof.
- 147th in GF% [46.46]
- 189th in xGF% [44.71]: I’d like to note that this was worse than Brandon Motherfucking Manning, and better than both Gustav Forsling and Carl Dahlstrom. So anyone who says the Hawks can/should prioritize forwards over defensemen this offseason and outscore their problems can suck the shit out of a stray dog’s ass for all I care.
- 198th in HDCF% [42.11]: Amazingly, three Blackhawks were worse than him: Murphy, Dahlstrom, and Forsling. Murphy and Dahlstrom were victims of zone starts (38% and 39% oZ starts, respectively). Forsling (52.11% oZ start) just fucking sucks.
- 173rd in HDGF% [41.51]
And that’s just at 5v5! Seabrook also played the second-most minutes on the Hawks’s league-worst penalty killing unit, just behind Duncan Keith. In case you didn’t know, the Hawks’s PK finished with a 72.7 PK% despite being the sixth least-penalized team in the league. (Only the Leafs finished with a PK% lower than 80% among teams with fewer penalty minutes, and they finished at 79.9%. That’s fucking something.)
I can’t go on. But the point is, there’s no metric that shows that Seabrook can play even third-pairing minutes anymore. Even if you go back to the bash-your-head-in-with-a-rock plus/minus stat, Seabrook’s -6 was tied for worst in his career. Combine all this with the eye test, and hoo boy.
All of this fucking sucks to look at. Pointing out that Brent Seabrook—who will go down as one of the most recognizable and venerated Blackhawks of both his generation and all time—sucks isn’t fun.
What’s even less fun is pointing out that he got to play minutes over Henri Jokiharju, whose performance was the polar opposite of Seabrook’s. While it’s not his fault that Colliton made that decision, it’s nonetheless frustrating. If the Hawks didn’t have anyone better to throw out there, you’d live with it a little more. But they do have at least one guy who’s better, and he got to finish in the AHL. That’s fucking stupid no matter how you slice it.
Now, let’s get weird.
Within every retrospective of Seabrook I’ve read, there’s always a paragraph or two dedicated to how much Seabrook means to the team off the ice. Everyone says he’s a great leader, the heart of the locker room, and so on. Fuck, one of the NBC talking heads quoted Patrick Kane as saying he thinks Seabrook is underpaid for what he brings in terms of heart.
I don’t think any of that narrative was of Seabrook’s own making, and thus, that narrative isn’t his fault. But a good example that he takes leadership seriously goes back to comforting Toews in the penalty box against the Wings in 2013. It goes back to Seabrook being the spokesman during the Keith–Sharp kerfuffle in 2015. And it runs through recently: When Seabrook was a healthy scratch last year, barrels of ink were spilled, including by me, about what a big deal it was.
Brent Seabrook matters, and he always will in the annals of history. But maybe his slide into badness could come with a bit more dignity if everyone would stop shoveling the LEADERSHIP narrative so hard.
I’m not in the locker room and never will be. I don’t doubt that the players see Seabrook as a strong leader. I don’t doubt that they love the guy for the things he says and does behind the scenes. I don’t doubt that he’s still important to a lot of the players, both young and old, on and off the ice. What chaps my ass is the idea that because he’s likeable and says things that pump his teammates up, he needs to be on the ice at all.
I don’t give a fuck that he’s getting paid close to $7 million a year. I’m anti-“Pay Him, Play Him” when the play isn’t worth the pay. Sunk costs blow, but the best way to handle them is to cut bait as much as possible. With all those fucking degrees from Notre Dame and whichever other institutions are at a perpetual up-their-own-asshole critical mass in the front office, you’d think they’d know how to avoid a sunk cost fallacy. But here we are.
Seabrook obviously carries a big stick, since anyone else who turned in his performance would regularly be scratched or in the AHL (the latter of which isn’t an option for Seabrook, obviously). And while I know that this goes against how hockey players (and athletes in general) only know how to compete and will never ask to be taken out, I wonder whether Seabrook, as a leader, would ever say, “Look, I’m obviously not as good as I used to be, and I’m sometimes hurting the team, but I still want to play. How can we split the difference between me playing every game and not playing at all?”
If he were to say something like that (if he hasn’t already), you have to imagine it would resonate. At that point, the entire organization can stop dancing around the fact that Seabrook isn’t good anymore and justifying playing him with this leadership narrative. They can stop filming five-minute videos about how Seabrook is in the best shape of his life in the offseason, only to retreat to his leadership when everyone mistakes him for Obese Homer trying to shoo kids away with a broom handle five games in. And we can all stop bemoaning the very public crumbling of a legitimate Blackhawks legend’s performance.
But at the end of the day, that’s on Colliton, Bowman, and McDonough, who are either too scared to tell him themselves or too arrogant to see that this isn’t the Brent Seabrook that won three Cups. That’s the real problem. Seabrook shouldn’t have to be the guy to take himself out. That’s the whole point of coaches and management. Yet another exhibit in the case that this Brain Trust was born on third and has no clue how to handle adversity.
Can I Go Now?
We have five more years on this contract, and with each year that goes by, it’ll be easier to forget what a horse Seabrook used to be. He’s not gonna be traded, so let’s snuff that out right away.
The guys over at Second City Hockey did a breakdown of what a buyout would look like. It’s not pretty, but it’s an option if his play continues to slide beyond redemption. It’s not Bobby Bonilla bad, but it’s reminiscent.
It’s extremely unlikely that Seabrook will leave close to $35 million on the table to retire and walk away from everything. It would be the easiest out, since there’s no recapture penalty attached, but Seabrook doesn’t owe anyone that.
My crazy idea would be for Seabrook to retire on the condition that the the Hawks immediately transition him into a coaching position of some kind for a salary that’s close to or equal to what he’s making now but doesn’t affect the salary cap. It would be the best of all worlds: Seabrook gets to stay around, get paid, and have an important role on the team, and his play doesn’t cost the Hawks goals or games anymore.
I’m sure what I’m proposing is impossible and stupid, mostly because Seabrook obviously still wants to play. But if the Hawks want to make one last run with this Core, it’s going to be impossible and stupid to take it seriously while this version of Brent Seabrook is still skating real, meaningful minutes. And that’s a shame.
Seabrook had a shitty year, but he will always reside in the tabernacle of our hearts. He’s a fading legend, an exploded supernova. For all the shit we toss his way, we’ll always remember and love all the good stuff he did.
I’d just rather not have to weed through half a decade of trash to remember it.
Stats from NaturalStatTrick.com, hockey-reference.com, and tsn.ca