As we continue to take a look at individual Blackhawks 2022-23 seasons, Connor Murphy will round out the defensive core.
After coming off, arguably, his worst individual season in 2021-22, Murphy once again struggled during his ‘22-23 campaign. It’s hard to pin down a singular reason for his poor play, as Murphy had issues in all three zones. Both the tape and the statistics will reflect this.
Murphy entered his age 30 season this past year – turning 30 in March – his 10th season overall and 6th with the Blackhawks. Over his tenure in Chicago, he’s been known as a dependable blue-liner at times who plays a somewhat conservative style, but has mostly been reliable in all situations he’s been thrown into.
So what exactly has been going wrong of late for No. 5?
While Murphy is what most would consider a “defensive defenseman”, his defensive zone start percentage of 70.8 at 5-on-5 is a steep number — especially considering he played a career-high 80 games in 2022-23.
This number is reflective of the Blackhawks as a whole, as they both drowned in their own zone all season and were frequently inept when it came to zone exits and entries. Murphy did have a comparable percentage of 5-on-5 zone starts in the previous season (69.9%), however, he played considerably less games (57) and was mostly partnered with Jake McCabe, who was both new to the team and fresh off of an injury.
The Hawks spent an awful lot of time in their own end, and Murphy often found himself a hostage of the team’s inability to exit the defensive zone and retain possession. While his zone exit numbers were not all that pretty, either, they seem illustrate the Hawks’ overall struggles – not just Murphy's issues. With Murphy sometimes playing the “stay at home” roll, it was not unusual to see him fall back and defend after his partner or any of the forwards failed to exit the zone.
What seemed more concerning than zone exits was Murphy’s struggles defending zone entries. He found himself in the red in practically every category and, when watching the tape, it was fairly easy to see how often he had issues in this part of the game. The Hawks may as well have rolled out a red carpet through the neutral zone.
Murphy’s offensive stats were not much to write home about either. His 13 points consisted of seven goals — a career high — with six assists. However, Murphy’s not usually depended on to supply points, and his high percentage of defensive zone starts also affected his possession metrics. Murphy's shot attempt share of 42.47 percent and his expected goals share of 44.26 percent — both at 5-on-5 — were certainly uninspiring. Not to mention his high-danger chance share of 44.32 percent was his worst in four seasons and second worst of his entire Blackhawks stint. Poor cycling, bad passing and subpar – at best – decision making led to more poor numbers in this area.
There’s been a lot of change over the past few seasons with the Blackhawks. And while it’s fair to take coaching, systems, teammates and COVID bubbles into consideration, it’s hard to say, after two consecutive poor seasons, that these issues are the main culprits of Murphy’s struggles. While they surely didn’t make things easier, it’s hard to tell if Murphy will be able to bounce back to his former self, now that he's eclipsed 30 years old. Because of that age, it seems like Murphy won't be around for any sort of long-term plan in Chicago. But with Murphy being owed $13.2 million next three seasons, he'd need to find that old form if the Blackhawks are going to find a way to trade him down the road.
Did he lose a step? Did the league pass him by? Was he hanging the “not interested” sign due to the circumstances surrounding the team? These are all questions to be answered this coming season, which should tell us whether Murphy finishes out that contract in Chicago – or somewhere else.