Jake McCabe has been the reliable, smart, effective defensive defenseman this season with a touch of the offensive potential the Blackhawks thought they were getting last season.

The irony is that McCabe has turned out to be the right player at the wrong time.

When former Hawks general manager Stan Bowman signed McCabe to a four-year contract through 2021, he thought the former Saber would play a big role in the Hawks’ defensive stabilization. But McCabe – still hampered by a shoulder that had surgery before the winter – struggled mightily out of the gate, along with the rest of the team, and never really found their rhythm.

Now under GM Kyle Davidson, McCabe’s age (29) and tenure (2.5 years remaining under contract) no longer fit the organizational timeline, especially with so many potential defensemen heading to the NHL.

Nevertheless, McCabe eventually landed the role Bowman had envisioned. He has arguably been the Hawks’ best player this season.

And he produced one of his best performances in the Hawks’ 2-0 shutout win over the Coyotes on Friday, even surpassing his 89 mph slapshot goal.

“Watching him in the third period, making street-hockey [style] Saves kicks in front of the goalkeeper, he’s a fighter,” said coach Luke Richardson. “He’s not afraid to put his body on the line for the team. It was great to see him get rewarded for being on the offensive side, but [it was] just a real good whole game by him and seth [Jones], They were both outstanding tonight.

Placing McCabe alongside Jones, who may not quite deserve his 2023 NHL All-Star selection but is undoubtedly a fine player, has proven to be a wise move. Both have got the benefit of being away from Jack Johnson.

McCabe said, “Me and Seth have been playing pretty solid as a pair.” “We played really well [Friday], We pucked quickly, we didn’t spend too much time in our ‘D’-zone and we were solid throughout the game, reading off good gaps. [We’ve been] Getting more comfortable with each other in the last few weeks.

McCabe again mentioned his differential control in a follow-up question as what contributed most to his success this season, and he’s absolutely right about it.

The Hawks are generally atrocious at defending their own blue line, but McCabe’s physicality, strong positioning, and positional awareness of his teammates make him the lone exception. He is the only Hawks defenseman to grade above average in both total zone entry targets and zone entries allowing scoring chances, according to data from all three zones.

Meanwhile, his 44.6% expected-goals ratio and 42.8% scoring-chance ratio may not look pretty on five-on-five, but he is also the best Hawks defenseman in both of those categories. In addition, he not only leads the Hawks but also ranks ninth in the NHL with 83 blocked shots on Saturday.

“he is [even] Blocking shots when the game’s out of reach for a minute,” Richardson said. “And he’s doing it either way, if we’re down three goals or we’re up four.”

Offensively, McCabe’s 10 points are now second among Hawks defensemen behind only Jones. He is cautious about twitching, but when he does he usually makes a positive impression. Since the Hawks’ win at the Rangers in early December, a game in which he was very active in the ‘O’-zone, he has been doing more.

And although plus-minus is a flawed statistic, the fact that he holds a plus-three rating on a team with a minus-59 goal difference is so absurd it deserves attention.

“I try to be the leader on the back end,” he said. “Really, that’s what I’ve been focused on all year: Staying steady and confident. When the good things are going well, keep them going.”

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