Blackhawks 2019-20 Regular Season Recap: D Connor Murphy

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Murphy recorded 19 points in 58 games and was once again one of the Blackhawks’ most reliable defensemen in 2019-20.

On June 23, 2017, the Chicago Blackhawks infamously traded away fan-favorite defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy and center Laurent Dauphin. On that same day, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman also shipped out superstar forward Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and once hearing of the two moves, then head coach Joel Quenneville notoriously stormed out of his pre-draft meeting in disbelief.

Murphy’s first season with the Hawks in 2017-18 surely was not the best of his career with only 14 points while averaging just 16:22 per game, and fans were quick to jump on him for his mediocre play. Even when Murphy rebounded the following year though and emerged as one of the future staples on the backend, he was still getting the cold shoulder from the Blackhawks faithful.

The lack of recognition for Murphy’s much-improved performance in 2018-19 was likely because fans were unfairly comparing him to Hjalmarsson, who is highly regarded as one of the best shutdown defensemen in the entire league. And while Murphy will likely never become the prestigious blue liner that the two-time Stanley Cup champion Hjalmarsson is, that does not mean he should have to bear the pressure from that comparison throughout his tenure in Chicago.

But after another year of being one of the few bright spots on an atrocious defensive team, Murphy FINALLY started to receive praise for his strong efforts this season. With Calvin de Haan and Brent Seabrook both being shut down back in December due to injuries, the 2011 first-round pick joined ‘old reliable’ Duncan Keith in carrying the Hawks on defense in an attempt to make the postseason for the first time since 2016-17.

Murphy wound up with a career-high in average time on ice this season at 21:15, which should not come as much of a surprise given the rest of the Blackhawks d-core. The Dublin, Ohio native also posted a career-high in points as well, with five goals and 14 assists for 19 points in 58 contests. Had Murphy’s season not been cut short 24 games due to a groin injury and the COVID-19 outbreak, then he likely would have set new highs in practically all major offensive statistical categories.

Some other impressive numbers that Murphy put up this year include his 138 shots blocked, which was just four off of his previous best despite playing in a significantly fewer amount of games. Those 138 blocks were also good for 10th-best in the NHL, while most other players near the top of the leaderboard played well over 60 games. Murphy also put more shots on goal than usual with 117 this season, so he made noticeable strides in his offensive game as well.

Looking at Murphy’s possession numbers, and he had the third-highest Corsi percentage of his seven-year career at 49.6 percent this season, which is quite impressive for all the Hawks asked him to do with a 54.5 defensive zone start percentage. Murphy was on the ice for 54 goals for to 53 against at even strength, which also is spectacular considering the overall poor team defense.

With a defensive-defenseman like Murphy, it is tricky to pick out a top performance of the season, but it would either be one of two games, with the first being the Blackhawks 4-3 OT win against an imposing Bruins squad in Boston on Dec. 5. That night, Murphy picked up two assists, including the primary on Jonathan Toews’ game-winner, along with one hit, one block, and a +2 plus/minus rating in 22:01 against one of the best in the business. Another solid game of Murphy’s that stood out came about a month later against the Winnipeg Jets, where he tallied two assists, six blocks, four shots on goal, three hits, and a +2 plus/minus rating in 23:51, all coming in a Blackhawks 5-2 win at the United Center.

All in all, Connor Murphy made another gigantic step in the right direction in 2019-20, establishing himself as arguably the team’s top defenseman, while also inserting himself as a key piece of the Blackhawks’ blue line going forward. If the Hawks do wind up taking on the Edmonton Oilers in the best-of-five play-in series come Aug. 1, then it would be wise for head coach Jeremy Colliton to place his top two shutdown defensemen together to try and stop Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. That duo would be Connor Murphy and Calvin de Haan, as those two may be the team’s only hope of success, especially with the recent news that goaltender Corey Crawford is currently “unfit to participate” in Phase 3 of the NHL’s Return-To-Play Plan.

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