Grading each Blackhawks defenseman and goaltender’s first half of the season

The Hawks’ defense continues to struggle, although there have still been some bright spots.

SHARE Grading each Blackhawks defenseman and goaltender’s first half of the season

Duncan Keith has looked like his vintage self most of the time so far this season.

AP Photos

A few games shy of the midway point of the Blackhawks’ season, the defense has been —as many worried — the critical weakness.

And with Thursday’s announcement that Brent Seabrook and Calvin de Haan will miss the remainder of the season, the outlook is even bleaker.

Fortunately, the Hawks have enjoyed strong goaltending.

The following grades compare each defenseman and goaltender’s performance to their expectations and salary-cap hit, not to each other. Forward grades, handed out Thursday, can be found here.

Duncan Keith

Keith is playing such admirable defense lately, double-handedly (with Connor Murphy) carrying the Hawks’ woefully inexperienced and roughshod unit, that his other flaws can be overlooked.

Nonexistent offense, putting him on pace for just 15 points (after averaging 46 per season over his last six)? A necessary sacrifice. His impactful recent challenge for the Hawks to play “pissed off” hockey? Invaluable.

Grade: B+

Connor Murphy

Murphy has quietly evolved into a bona fide top-pairing defenseman, and at 26 years old with 2.5 years left at a bargain $3.85 million cap hit, he’s the kind of piece the Hawks can reshape their defense around.

He’s the only Hawks defenseman in the black in Corsi rating, he’s allowing the fewest scoring chances on the team per minute and he’s somehow also second among team -defensemen in points.

Grade: A

Erik Gustafsson

Gustafsson has somewhat improved — at a three-steps-forward, two-steps-back rate — since his horrendous October.

But his production still isn’t matching 2018-19 paces, and a future in Chicago seems unlikely considering his expiring contract.

Grade: C+

Olli Maatta

Maatta’s underlying statistics, trending negatively his last few years with the Penguins, have taken a sharper turn for the worse.

He’s not producing offense, as expected, but he’s also somewhat struggling defensively, which was supposed to be his calling card.

Grade: D+

Adam Boqvist

Boqvist didn’t make the Hawks out of training camp because his defensive awareness and positioning wasn’t at NHL level yet.

But pushed into the lineup lately because of injuries and the Hawks’ eye to the future, Boqvist has proved more ready than anyone thought and actually has the best scoring-chance ratio on the team. His future is bright.

Grade: A-

Dennis Gilbert

Gilbert’s throwback willingness to fight and rewarding rise through the Hawks’ system has captured fans’ hearts, and the physicality and intimidation he brings fills an otherwise empty niche on the team.

But those memorable bouts hide some very bad possession stats, even if those will likely improve in time.

Grade: B-

Slater Koekkoek

Koekkoek has decent stats in his limited playing time, but he has been prone to some inexplicable, costly errors during his forays into the lineup.

He has proven to be virtually the same player as the one the Hawks swapped for him (Jan Rutta), although he’s a lot cheaper.

Grade: C

Robin Lehner

Other than Patrick Kane, Lehner has been the Hawks’ far-and-away most valuable player.

His save percentage has dropped to .924 after topping out at .930 for a while, but even maintaining that mark — still top 10 in the league — is incredible, considering the defense played in front of him. His unique leadership has added something to the locker room, too.

Grade: A

Corey Crawford

Crawford has fared more like one would expect a goalie playing behind this team to, with his .905 save percentage well below his .917 career average.

He’s 1-6-0 in his last eight appearances with an .877 percentage in those, but that’s largely not his fault.

Grade: B

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