It was quiet in the visitors’ dressing room in Ottawa last Tuesday.
Oh, there was the usual low din of ripping tape, clattering sticks and jostling equipment. But there was something missing: The booming voice of Brent Seabrook and the usual pregame platitudes that tend to spill out of him like an unconscious tic in the moments before a game.
“Let’s go, White! Here we go, boys! Come on, now!”
“It was weird,” fellow Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy said. “Seabs is one of those guys that’ll be yelling stuff in the room before a game, in a good way, to try to brighten the mood and get it going. It’s a little weird when you don’t hear that.”
Coach Joel Quenneville’s decision to make Seabrook a healthy scratch in Ottawa was a watershed moment. The venerable veteran is no longer untouchable, no longer above reproach. His play wasn’t good enough, and he was benched for it — as if he were just any other player.
At 32, and with more hard miles behind him than most (since Seabrook’s rookie season of 2005-06, only Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton have played in more games than Seabrook’s 1,090 regular-season and playoff games), Seabrook is on the back half of his illustrious career. He never was all that fast to begin with. He has been burned a few times by younger, faster players — caught out of position a little too often. He only has two goals this season. He has been at his best when playing third-pairing minutes, as he did in the victory Friday over the speedy Jets.
And he has 6½ years left on a contract that carries a $6.875 million salary-cap hit.
That contract has made him the target of frustrated fans’ ire, as they see a championship window that could be closing soon. But Seabrook isn’t going anywhere. He has a full no-movement clause. The contract is likely unmovable. And multiple sources said the Hawks have absolutely no interest in dealing the big blue-liner, anyway.
“I’m not looking down the road,” general manager Stan Bowman said earlier in the season when asked about the contract. “He brings a lot to the table. He’s a very important player on our team. I think if you were to talk to some of the guys on the team and ask them, his contributions go beyond just how many goals and assists he gets. He’s a leader. He’s a warrior. And he’s a very effective player for us. So I’m not concerned about his contract.”
That’s what tends to get lost in the discussion about Seabrook’s on-ice play — which, despite the hysteria, has been perfectly serviceable this season, if not spectacular. Seabrook’s significance goes far beyond the box score. He has only been an alternate captain for three seasons. But he has been Jonathan Toews’ co-captain for a decade — the fiery, vocal counter-balance to Toews’ smoldering leadership by example.
In the stands at the United Center, Seabrook is often derided. In the dressing room, however, he’s beloved.
“Whether things are going good or not so good for him personally, you would never know it because he’s always focused on getting the team going,” Toews said. “Everybody has their ups and downs, and he does focus on himself to try to get his game together. But he’s such a great teammate and a great leader in this room. It was a shock not hearing him in that room [in Ottawa] since he’s been doing it for so long. He’s so durable, he just doesn’t miss any games.”
Seabrook was one of the first players to greet newcomer Anthony Duclair on Friday, welcoming him to the team and assigning him, in Toews’ words, “all sorts of nicknames.” It’s one of Seabrook’s self-assigned jobs: Every new player who comes into the locker room is made to feel like one of the guys.
As former Hawks goalie Antti Raanta once put it, “Seabs is the guy you want to run through a brick wall for.”
“That’s stuff a lot of people don’t see,” Murphy said. “And it’s important for a team for motivation factors, and when things start getting nitty and gritty. You want guys like that who have been there for a while and who know how to handle certain situations.”
There’s not a situation Seabrook hasn’t seen in his 13 seasons with the Hawks. He was here for the dark ages under owner Bill Wirtz. He was here for the franchise renaissance. He was in the penalty box to buck up Toews during his Game 4 meltdown in Detroit in 2013. He scored the series-winning goal in overtime of Game 7 in that same series. And now he’s here for the most trying regular season in years, a necessary voice of perspective in the room.
Yes, his contract is more about past performance than future performance, and it easily could become something of an albatross around the Hawks’ neck. But it’s something Bowman and the Hawks will have to live with — and are content to live with — because in their eyes, Seabrook’s value is priceless.
“I wear the ‘C,’ and I get a lot of the credit when things are going well, but I owe a lot of it to guys like him,” Toews said. “You go down the list of guys in this room that have those leadership qualities and have grown into those positions as their careers have gone along, and Seabs has been right at the helm the whole time.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.