The Verdict: Steady Seabrook a blue line pillar
On Tuesday night, Brent Seabrook went to watch his brother Keith play for the Chicago Wolves at Allstate Arena. The game was not on Brent’s schedule.
“It was nice,” he says. “Took my fiancée, Dayna, and signed a few autographs for some kids. But I wanted to be someplace else.”
On Wednesday morning, Seabrook went to the United Center. He cleaned out his locker. He did not plan on that, either, and thus carried out the duty joylessly, as if cleaning out his garage.
“Ended too soon,” he says. “One week, six games. You can be angry and disappointed, but it doesn’t do any good now. Didn’t want to go home yet.”
The Blackhawks are out of the Stanley Cup playoffs, via first round knockout, this April by the Phoenix Coyotes. Seabrook, a pillar on defense for the vanquished, was Chicago’s best player in a gritty series that included five overtimes. He logged heavy minutes, more than 30 in four games, and did it all except lead the team into May. Or June. He does not look happy. He is not happy.
“This isn’t why we’re here,” Seabrook says. “It’s very frustrating. I think we are built for a long run and I still do. You look at the 16 teams that made the playoffs. Things are so close in the National Hockey League, you could make a case for any of them going in to win the Cup. You could make a case for 20 or so teams, including maybe four that didn’t make the playoffs. But it hurts not to be there. It really hurts.”
When management addresses what the Blackhawks need during the summer, one position that will not require attention is Seabrook’s. He detests talking about himself, but in an effort to move on to another subject, he admits that, yes, he had a good year. Just 27, Seabrook strives for consistency, and that is his calling card. He defends, he hits, he generates offense and he leads. Every night, every shift.
"THE VERDICT" WITH BOB VERDI
Blackhawks Team Historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. He authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001, was the featured contributor in "One Goal Achieved: The Inside Story of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks," and has co-authored biographies on Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
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Patrick Sharp calls Seabrook a “rock”, neither flashy nor vulnerable. It is only fitting that one example of Seabrook’s spirit occurs in relative obscurity. When the Blackhawks take the ice before each period, he stands by the chute, tapping each teammate or exchanging fist pumps. He’s the last guy to emerge, but nobody sees why except those who matter. Seabrook doesn’t live for a “C” or an “A” on his sweater, or a Norris Trophy under his roof in British Columbia. A Stanley Cup, another one, is what drives him. But not this year.
Gloom and doom around Chicago followed Monday night’s exit. He felt the same way, to be sure. But having seen the transformation in the franchise since he arrived, Seabrook can separate a bright future from a bleak past. As a rookie in 2005, he experienced apathy and disinterest. When the Blackhawks lost, it didn’t matter to fans. Now, it matters. Oh, does it matter.
“We aren’t going back to that, to the way it was,” Seabrook says. “That’s for sure. To the people who are upset about what just happened, I would say, we’re going to be OK. I strongly believed we could be in the finals this year, and I feel the same way about next year. We’ve got a good team here.”
There are a lot of good teams in the NHL, however, and Seabrook is well aware of frequent warnings from the Blackhawks’ Hall of Fame ambassadors, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. They won a Cup as kids in 1961 and assumed championships would be routine. But Hull and Mikita stopped at one. Tony Esposito, another Hall of Fame ambassador, never won a Cup here and warns the current generation that “you never know.” The window of opportunity can close quickly, before you realize it’s too late.
The Blackhawks still possess an excellent core that is capable of contending with other elite franchises. What cannot be gauged is the cyclical nature of the sport. The four remaining Western conference survivors boast white-hot goalkeepers, and St. Louis has two. In the East, Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist, both stars, move forward. But, as noted by Scotty Bowman, the Blackhawks’ senior advisor for hockey operations, he coached Detroit to three Stanley Cups with three different masked men—Mike Vernon in 1997, Chris Osgood in 1998, and Dominik Hasek in 2003. Only the latter is likely to join Bowman in the Hall of Fame.
“Every year is a new year,” says Seabrook, who will be on the Blackhawks’ blue line for many years. In seven seasons, he has steadily progressed. He is plus-76 for his career, and climbing. He has grown with the new regime, an ownership that spares no gesture to win. To wit: the Blackhawks flew to Phoenix two days before Game 1 to adjust to a two-hour time difference. On game days there, players moved into a hotel near the rink, then returned to their five-star accommodation afterward. These measures are costly, but in case you’ve been away, the Blackhawks don’t cut corners anymore. Alas, sometimes it doesn’t work out.
“I feel for the guys like Jamal Mayers, Andrew Brunette, Brendan Morrison,” Seabrook says. “They came to us, we wanted them to have the fun we had in 2010, bringing that Cup around. We wanted to win it for them. We wanted to win it again. It hurts. Such a fine line between winning and losing.”
Amazingly, Seabrook maintained his weight throughout the grind of playing virtually every other minute. His customary partner, Duncan Keith, is not constituted that way. There’s a reason.
“I eat what I like to eat,” says Seabrook, smiling for once, “and that doesn’t mean broccoli or cauliflower.
“My fiancée is a great cook and the team always provides nutritious meals for us. But, it’s a long season. And I like cookies, nachos. That’s me. I’m just a simple guy. I’m proud of what I’ve done, but I know I’m not going to be signing autographs when I’m 45. I just want to be me and right now, I’m not happy. Getting knocked out in the first round. It sucks.”
Not a rock star, Brent Seabrook. Just a rock.