The question of whether the Blackhawks have a #1 defenseman in the organization has been discussed before especially recently with the news of Seth Jones stating he has no plans to re-sign with the Blue Jackets and now with the revealing of the 2021 Norris Trophy finalists.
Aside from Victor Hedman who is 30 years old, a former 2nd overall draft pick, and perennially one of the top all-around blueliners in the league, Cale Makar and Adam Fox are relatively spring chickens as NHL sophomores at the tender ages of 22 and 23 years old respectively.
Duncan Keith didn't win his first Norris trophy until his 5th season yet was 6th in voting the year before and 11th two years prior. He then collected his second Norris trophy four seasons later and earned votes in each of the three years beforehand and three years afterward.
While Keith may still be the best D-man on the rebuilding Hawks that have a cadre of young blueliners -- Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, Ian Mitchell, Riley Stillman, and Wyatt Kalynuk -- who range from 20 to 23 in age, he's no longer a #1 defenseman who can garner Norris votes.
It's argued that none of these youngsters project to be a #1 defenseman. Some like Boqvist, Mitchell, and Kalynuk may have potential to be 1st pair defenders but not enough pedigree for a #1 who can be a franchise player. Beaudin and Stillman likely top out as 2nd pair blueliners.
When drilling down deeper into the system, Alex Vlasic may have 1st pair potential but more in a support role and is more realistically a solid 2nd pair option. Same with Wyatt Kaiser. The probable water level for Chad Krys, Alec Regula, Jakub Galvas, and Isaak Phillips is 3rd pair.
Even though a #1 may not exist on the current roster or in the pipeline, the Hawks could still conceivably have a few #2s, a few #3s, and a few #4s to assemble a competent D corps. Would that be sufficient to construct a contending team? What would ensure such sufficiency?
One factor is each of the aforementioned blueliners dedicating themselves to continual growth in their defensive acumen and play without the puck. For those that are offensively gifted, then the focus is refinement of those talents to flex those muscles appropriately.
Another factor is consistency in the complementary traits of compete level, work ethic, and execution of fundamentals. Learning systems and playing within them is critical as well. But so is proper deployment by the coaching staff to optimize strengths and shielding weaknesses.
A perspective to consider is that if there is no #1 in the organization at present, is it worth it then to obtain one instead. The assets necessary to trade for one would be costly as far as giving up a combination of young players with promise and high draft picks.
Similarly, if signing a #1 via free agency, the cost could be crippling in that the contract terms -- both the cap hit and the term on the agreement -- may negatively influence the capacity to re-sign current impact players who are coming off of ELCs and bridge deals.
In that sense, what's better then: having a #1 defenseman and every other rearguard being average, mediocre, or worse or having a few #2s, a few #3s, and a few #4s who are all average or better? Those are extreme choices, of course, with other possible iterations in between.
In the world of music, an album with one hit song and the rest of them being duds may not be as fun to listen to and enjoy as an album full of great songs that may not have done so well on the record charts or gotten much airtime on the radio.
Perhaps the same goes for sports teams: watching a team with a few stars surrounded by scrubs may be exciting to watch for the individual achievements but a team that lacks enough elite players but has everyone performing in unison may be sustainably competitive to win.
See you on the boards!