Blackhawks’ defensemen keep avoiding long-term absences despite injuries

Jeremy Colliton has been frequently put in tough spots lately when the Blackhawks have lost defensemen to mid-game injuries.

Calvin de Haan left in the second period Apr. 10 against the Blue Jackets with a hip pointer. Adam Boqvist left in the first period Apr. 12 against the Jackets with a concussion. And Wyatt Kalynuk left in the first period Monday against the Predators with his own hip injury.

“It just seems to be a constant thing here where we’re playing a lot of games with 5 ‘D’, and it’s hard on our guys,” Colliton said Monday night.

The good news is the injuries at least keep turning out to be minor. Come Wednesday, de Haan, Boqvist and Kalynuk were back in the lineup.

“Our guys…have done a great job taking care of themselves, taking care of their bodies, making sure they get the rest they need,” Colliton said. “They’ve been able to stay healthy and relatively fresh as we go through this grind of a schedule.”

The stability didn’t last long, though. Colliton dressed seven defenseman — and thus only 11 forwards — Wednesday to give the Hawks more defensive insurance, and it ended up being a wise move. De Haan exited after the first period after re-aggravating his hip.

The Hawks lead the NHL in terms of CHIP this season, a holistic stat to measure injury impact that multiplies raw man-games lost with the per-game cap hit of the players accounting for those man-games lost. The Stars, Blues, Lightning and Ducks round out the top five, per the blog NHL Injury Viz.

But a sizable chunk of the Hawks’ CHIP comes from players the team knew back in December would miss most or all of the season: Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews, Alex Nylander and Zack Smith.

Counting only players who began the season healthy and have since been injured, the Hawks are in the middle of the pack — roughly 13th, depending on exactly who is included — in CHIP.

And looking solely at defensemen (excluding Seabrook), the Hawks are 19th in CHIP, meaning their defensive unit has been in the healthier half of the league. De Haan has missed three games, Connor Murphy six and Boqvist 11 (of which nine related to COVID-19) but those have been the only notable absences.

“I don’t think anyone has missed a significant amount of time this season on the back end,” de Haan said Wednesday. “They’re just bumps and bruises for the most part.”

De Haan said he could’ve played through his hip pointer if it was “Game 7, Stanley Cup Finals.” Given the Hawks’ current situation, though, it didn’t make sense for him to play at 70% while someone else at 100% sat out.

Of greater big-picture concern are his shoulders. A “black cloud” has hung over them for much of his NHL career, causing numerous season-ending injuries (including in 2019-20), but they’ve finally stayed intact this season.

“I’ve got to give credit to the medical staff,” de Haan said. “My support staff back home has done a good job with me this past offseason, as well. It’s been good, but everyone knock on wood and cross their fingers for me.”

Fans a possibility?

Colliton reacted Wednesday to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Tuesday comment telling Chicagoans to “expect before seasons end there will be fans in the United Center.”

“I’ve heard about it,” Colliton said. “That would be great. We certainly would welcome the support and the atmosphere in this building… There’s been a lot of work done in the organization to try to make that happen for a long time.”

With only six home games left and the last one only 18 days away, the involved parties will need to operate very quickly to make it actually happen, though.

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