Right off the bat, I want to make it clear that Brent Seabrook is an all-time great Chicago Blackhawks player. When his career is over, we should see #7 up in the rafters of the United Center. That said, his contract, today, is a hinderance on the future of the Blackhawks. Big shock, I know.
Back in the summer of 2015, right before the Blackhawks were about to raise their sixth Stanley Cup Championship banner in franchise history, the team signed Seabrook to an eight-year, $6.875M AAV contract extension. He was 30-years-old at the time and coming off helping Chicago to the third Stanley Cup in a six-year span. His third Cup in as many years as a leader and cornerstone piece of the franchise. Seabrook would go on to have his best season of his career in 2015-16, tallying 14 goals and 49 points in 81 games – though the extension wouldn’t actually be kicking-in until the following season (2016-17).
During the 2016-2017 season, Seabrook had 39 points in 79 games. He became invisible in the playoff sweep against the Nashville Predators, and was visibly not the same player he had been in years prior. And in 2017-18, things got even worse. His first healthy-scratch in nearly a decade and a half in the NHL came that January. And slowly, over the next two years, Seabrook fell out of the lineup for the Blackhawks.
Which brings us to today, five years into the eight-year extension, with no compliance buyouts, a slim-chance that Seattle’s expansion draft help the Blackhawks out, and a roster that has passed him by. Oh, and Seabrook is coming off shoulder and double-hip surgery that was said to be needed for a while. He nearly returned to the team for the 2020 bubble postseason run, but ultimately wasn’t ready. And then he missed all of 2021 training camp due to a lower-back issue … and is placed on IR today. Woof.
So, where do the Blackhawks go from here?
Seabrook’s deal has a full no-movement clause this year and next, with only modified trade clauses issued for the final two years of the agreement. Though, the Blackhawks could try to buyout Seabrook’s deal this offseason:
There would be some relief felt in the 2021-22 season, but it would barely save much money in the 2022-23 and 2023-24 seasons. Beyond that, the Blackhawks would be held up for $833,333 for three seasons after the conclusion of the extension. All told, Chicago saves $2.5M over six years.
The Blackhawks could also try to trade Seabrook.
It would have already been hard to find a trade partner before COVID caused a ton of financial issues for the league, causing the stagnant salary cap for the next few seasons. So, no, you’re unlikely to find a team that will be willing to take on that deal, essentially getting nothing out of Seabrook in return for on-ice production, without having to give up major future pieces.
Surely the Blackhawks front office has learned from the Bryan Bickell trade by now – a similar situation where a player who had been highly valuable received an inflated contract and then fell off a cliff. Of course, no one could have predicted the Bickell fall off would be due to an MS diagnosis that would effectively end Bickell’s career. But having trade Teuvo Teravainen, a future elite-level player, to get Bickell’s deal off the book hurts the Blackhawks every time the Hurricanes step on the ice.
With the Blackhawks investing in their prospects and needing to keep as many top picks as possible, even needing to acquire more, what value could they find in shipping off a player like Adam Boqvist or Ian Mitchell, or having to package their 2021 first-round pick (likely going to be in the top five)? It would set-back the franchise in their future-building process even further.
Jeremy Colliton on Brent Seabrook's back injury: "We're hoping he's going to be on [the ice] soon. At the same time, we've got to let it play out. He hasn't skated at all for a while now. So we'll see." #Blackhawks
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) January 14, 2021
With Seabrook likely returning to the ice in the next few weeks and the defensive lineup looking pretty squared up, where does he fit? Seabrook is not going to play over Calvin de Haan or Connor Murphy. He’s not a better option than Nikita Zadorov. Ian Mitchell and Adam Boqvist need ice-time to get them where the organization hopes they can get as top-level players. With the prospects on the taxi squad even, Seabrook’s probably not a better option. He’s not the seventh-best option on defense, but that is likely where the Blackhawks are going to have to stick him on the roster (a role he’ll undoubtedly hate because all he’s known in his professional career has been being an everyday player). He’s not that player anymore, even if his contract pays him like one.
And the Blackhawks are stuck with it.