Blackhawks sign Connor Murphy to 4-year extension, cementing new defensive core

Murphy, already by far the Hawks’ longest-tenured defenseman, will carry a $4.4 million cap hit through 2026.

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The Blackhawks signed Connor Murphy to an extension Tuesday.

AP Photo/Jeff Haynes

The Blackhawks’ new defensive core is now completely locked in contractually.

Connor Murphy signed a four-year extension Tuesday that will keep him in Chicago well into his 30s, cementing his spot alongside new additions Seth Jones and Jake McCabe as the three defensemen signed for the long term.

Murphy’s extension, which starts in 2022-23 and continues through 2025-26, carries a $4.4 million cap hit — a slight increase over the $3.85 million hit for his previous contract.

“When we acquired Connor in the summer of 2017, we had visions of him growing as both a player and leader in our organization for many years,” general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement.

“He has transformed into a defenseman capable of matching up with the opponent’s best players and someone we trust to help us preserve a lead in the final minutes. Connor’s voice carries weight in our locker room as a veteran presence, and we’re thrilled that his development and leadership will continue as a Blackhawk.”

With Duncan Keith leaving and Brent Seabrook retiring earlier this year, Murphy — a stalwart on the Hawks’ back end the last four seasons — became the team’s longest-tenured active defenseman by a considerable margin. But before Tuesday’s news, the 28-year-old Ohioan was staring down the possibility of unrestricted free agency next summer.

Even before Keith’s departure, however, Murphy had somewhat taken over as the Hawks’ de facto No. 1 defenseman, the guy coach Jeremy Colliton trusted most among his shaky defense.

He barely trailed Keith in minutes per game last season (at 22:09, easily a career high), but often played the last two or three minutes of close games.

“[Murphy is] the guy when we’re defending a lead,” Colliton said in April. “He’s got to be out there. He’s the best at defending and getting us out of the D-zone, being physical, getting stops.”

Only an average offensive threat from the blue line, Murphy had 15 points in 50 games. His point total has landed between 13 and 19 all four years with the Hawks. But defensively, Murphy helped keep afloat a porous group as much as possible.

He led all regular Hawks defensemen with a 48.9% expected goals ratio at even strength despite facing the toughest matchups in the most difficult locations — he started only 14.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone, lowest among Hawks defensemen (Keith, conversely, started 30% of his there). Murphy also delivered better results on the penalty kill than Keith or Nikita Zadorov.

Meanwhile, Murphy assumed a temporary alternate-captain role — one that’s likely to become permanent this season — and made so many Zoom interview appearances that he became the clear voice of the defensive corps.

He has become one of the most common voices (and faces) of the Hawks around Chicago, too, with heavy involvement in community-service activities.

“I’m pumped to be in Chicago for the next five years,” Murphy said in a video announcing — simultaneously with his signing — a fundraiser for meals for frontline workers.

The much-criticized 2017 trade that sent Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes for Murphy has, in retrospect, emerged as one of Bowman’s wisest moves during his various team teardowns.

Hjalmarsson retired this summer, whereas Murphy has become the same type of reliable defensive defenseman Hjalmarsson used to be. The Hawks simply hope he can maintain that high performance level for the next five seasons.

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