Photo Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports
This is a series counting down the top-10 pending UFAs. It will be posted across the Nation Network over the next month! Enjoy!
If you’re looking for a veteran presence that Chicago might be inclined to let walk, especially from that blue line, Johnny Oduya seems as likely a candidate as anyone. While he is part of the four-headed beast that arose in these playoffs because Joel Quenneville literally doesn’t trust anyone else to patrol the blue line, Oduya best matches the description of a guy who will probably be allowed to walk.
The reasons why should be clear enough: He’ll be 34 on Oct. 1, he probably wants one last multi-year deal, he probably wants a raise from his current $3.375 cap hit per NHLNumbers.com, and he’s wrapping up a season in which he was vilified for much of the year by his own fans.
Stan Bowman is a smart general manager and while it’s not totally clear how he’s going to address his blue line’s depth problems, giving a 34-year-old coming off a bad year multiple seasons and a raise doesn’t seem like part of the plan. So in other words, it’s very likely that Oduya is available to the highest bidder come July 1.
Oduya is the longtime pairing partner of Niklas Hjalmarsson, who’s one of the more underrated defenders in the Western Conference. When they are on the ice together, they dominate both scoring and possession, though obviously these are hallmarks of the Chicago dynasty to begin with.
And because Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith were given free range offensively, and log heavy minutes in those roles, it fell to Oduya/Hjalmarsson to play mostly defensive minutes, getting far more difficult competition and far fewer offensive zone starts. Obviously, the production isn’t going to be there in that case, and the underlying numbers aren’t going to be as glowing either. Nonetheless, Chicago still pushed around the competition when he was on the ice, and that’s really all you can ask of anyone, let alone your shutdown pairing.
But again, he is getting up there, and his performances have been diminishing. His bests with Chicago on the chart below are highlighted in green, his worsts in red (this year’s numbers do not include anything that happened so far in the Stanley Cup Final).
Please note how much red there is at the bottom, which you’d expect from a 33-year-old being pressed into greater and less selective service because of the coach’s concerns about his depth:
That’s not a good look for a guy about to hit the open market and ask for a lot of money, but it does highlight his performance over the last few years pretty convincingly: He plays pretty low-event hockey, and when used as he has been this year, especially at his advancing age, that seems to be a recipe for disaster.
The fact that his best season in Chicago came in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign says a lot about the ways in which percentages probably favored him — a GF% north of 61 but high-quality scoring chances in the 51 range screams, “He got lucky!” through a series of bullhorns —and the fact that this performance was three years ago is beyond worrisome.
For that reason, any deal that takes him out of Chicago’s super-beneficial system and, potentially, puts him into a role of similar shutdown demands is basically asking for trouble. It’s hard to tell when the wheels are going to fall off for defensemen — sometimes it’s in their early 30s, and others it’s not until they hit 36 or even 38 — but “around 34 years old” is usually a pretty good guess.
The good news for teams signing him is that they’re probably not going to expect much in the way of offense from him (that has, after all, never really been his thing, given career highs of just 7-22-29 in New Jersey, back in 2008-09).
The bad news is that even diminished expectations might be overly fair to him given what we know of his waning quality. Moving him away from Hjalmarsson probably won’t help matters very much at all.
Basically, anyone who signs him is almost certainly going to be inking a contract they will come to rue before it’s over. Unless it’s a one-year deal we’re talking about here. In which case, the chances they’ll regret it are probably only about 60 percent.
Of course, someone is going to sign him, because that’s how this league works. Maybe they hope they can wring another year or two out of his body before he’s entirely incapable of playing at the NHL level.
Running the “similarity score” tool on War On Ice for Oduya’s numbers this year, keeping in mind his shutdown role, yields a lot of worrisome comparisons: Bryan McCabe in 2007-08, Robyn Regehr in 2008-09, Rob Scuderi in 2011-12, Kyle Quincey last season, etc. What’s interesting to note is that most of those guys were younger than Oduya in the seasons in question.
You would think that teams have smartened up by now and will steer clear of giving out truly horrendous contracts — like, say, what Brooks Orpik got from Washington last year — to guys who play this sort of game. The more the league learns about what is and isn’t beneficial in open play, the less likely guys like Oduya are to cash in at all, let alone when they hit this age group.
With that having been said, I wouldn’t think money like what Scuderi got to return to Pittsburgh — about $3.4 million, the same as Oduya currently makes —would be an outrageous grab for him. Might even go up marginally from there to as high as $3.75-4 million, but I doubt it (or at least, I wouldn’t hope so for that team’s sake). Four years, though, probably isn’t going to happen. Maybe three at the max. But even that would be a ton.
The market for guys like this is just so hard to read. Nothing would really be a surprise.