After battling some serious injuries to his back and hips, Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook has decided to hang up his skates. The Hawks rearguard played 1,114 games in his NHL career, but only 32 last year and none this season. But Seabrook's legacy has already been clearly defined: a three-time Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medallist who will go down as one of the best defensemen ever to play for the franchise.
What may have been lost about Seabrook however, is just how far back he goes with the Hawks. Drafted 14th overall by Chicago back in 2003, he was a full-time NHLer by 2005-06. So Seabrook was skating for the team before they had even drafted future offensive cornerstones Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The big, rangy blueliner broke in at the same time as fellow D-man and eventual partner in crime Duncan Keith, back when Chicago was still in the depths of despair as a franchise.
The team wouldn't make the playoffs in Seabrook's first three seasons, but once that rebuild began to take hold, the Hawks would begin an ascent that led the franchise into its best years ever, culminating in three Cups beginning in 2010, with championships in 2013 and 2015 as well.
During his heyday, Seabrook was a beast in his own end, playing big minutes, throwing hits and blocking shots while also chipping in some offense. But it was also the intangibles he brought to the team that elevated him into the pantheon of true Chicago greats.
Perhaps the best example of this came in the 2013 playoffs when captain Toews - usually a rock for Chicago - was struggling mightily in a series against Detroit. Toews took three straight minor penalties in Game 4 and as he was melting down in the box, it was Seabrook who skated over and comforted the franchise center with a mini-pep talk and a couple pats on the head. Chicago went down 3-1 in that second-round series, but Toews rebounded in Game 5 and the Hawks ended up turning it around and ousting Detroit in seven games - with Seabrook scoring the overtime winner. Chicago ended up beating Boston in six games to earn the Cup that year and Seabrook once again played a clutch role, scoring the overtime winner in Game 4 against the Bruins.
Much has been made of the final contract Seabrook signed with Chicago - a mammoth eight-year, $55 million pact that immediately looked bad when it was inked in 2015. The game was getting faster and Seabrook was slowing down, but in retrospect it's not the worst thing that ever happened. GM Stan Bowman clearly valued Seabrook's past contributions and although the big blueliner wasn't as effective in the ensuing years, Chicago has maintained a winning culture despite already going through an acknowledged rebuild. Seabrook's presence during those connecting eras should not be minimized.
As for Seabrook's place in hockey history, he is very much in the same boat as another recent retiree, goalie Corey Crawford: integral to his franchise, but not quite at Hockey Hall of Fame level. Seabrook has a nice trophy case of team awards, but nothing individual to his name. And that's fine; as I mentioned off the hop, he's one of the Hawks' best defensemen ever, rubbing shoulders with Keith, Doug Wilson, Pierre Pilote and Bob Murray.
It almost goes without question that Seabrook's No. 7 will be retired to the rafters of the United Center in the near future. He didn't go out the way he would have wanted to, but with his injury history, Seabrook didn't have a choice. He finishes his playing career once a Hawk, always a Hawk.