The Blackhawks spent much of last season trying to create a shutdown pairing out of a defensive group that didn’t contain a shutdown-caliber player.
Carl Dahlstrom is excellent along the defensive blue line but mediocre when forced deeper into his own zone. Connor Murphy is solid at protecting the net but isn’t mobile enough to break up entries regularly. Duncan Keith gets the puck out of the D-zone effectively but has seen his skills decline with age.
Olli Maatta is a worthy defenseman, but his offensive game is significantly better than his defensive game.
But finally, as of Monday, the Hawks have a reliable, conservative defender in Calvin de Haan.
Sure, the 28-year-old Canadian will be paid $4.55 million annually for the next three years to contribute essentially no scoring. He has only one goal in each of the last two seasons and has reached more than 16 points in a season only once.
But the Hawks have plenty of defensemen who can pull their weight on the attacking blue line. Erik Gustafsson ranked sixth in the league in points among defensemen last season. Keith and Brent Seabrook were among the top 50 in the league in shots on goal.
What de Haan brings is exactly what none of the other Hawks defensemen can offer, and that’s a well-rounded defensive style.
“I just like to think my positioning’s good,’’ de Haan said Tuesday. ‘‘I like to think I move well on the ice.
‘‘I’ve always tried to play a simple game. Nothing flashy, just kind of get the job done, and I hope Blackhawk fans will really appreciate my game.”
He’s truly an elite player in terms of breaking up opponents’ attempted zone entries, ranking as the best among the Hurricanes’ great overall defensive group.
Once in the zone, de Haan is equally effective. His excellent positioning keeps him glued to the right areas to break up plays, and his quick reflexes allow him to defend an even larger portion of dangerous areas than most.
He was fantastic at limiting chances from the middle of the ice, including the slot.
Those dynamic defensive skills reflect well statistically. Among 209 regular NHL defensemen last season, de Haan ranked 23rd in shots allowed per minute, 13th in shots allowed on goal and 65th in scoring chances allowed.
Carolina’s system isn’t predicated much on shot-blocking, but he excelled with the Islanders in that category, too, ranking 33rd in the NHL from 2015 to 2017 in blocked shots.
De Haan should be able to improve the Hawks’ miserable penalty kill, as well.
He averaged almost two full minutes per game of short-handed ice time last season in Raleigh and ranked 35th in the league in shots allowed, 39th in shots allowed on goal and a splendid 13th in scoring chances allowed in four-on-five play.
“Obviously, special teams are massive, and something I’ve always taken pride in is killing penalties,” he said.
De Haan does carry some health concerns with recurring shoulder injuries, and the rehab from his latest surgery might keep him out until the opening weeks of the season, though he said he hopes to be ready for camp.
When healthy, however, de Haan should provide a presence around which the Hawks can build a real shutdown pairing.