Connor Murphy has missed 12 games so far with the concussion he suffered March 12 in Ottawa, and it’s unclear if he’ll return during the Hawks’ final 10 games.
But there is encouraging news: the Blackhawks defenseman is feeling much better.
“I’m feeling good,” Murphy told the Sun-Times recently. “I’m trending in the right direction and just following what the training staff has been giving me, which has been helpful so far.”
He has resumed skating on his own in recent weeks. On Saturday he made his first public on-ice appearance since the injury, taking a few laps at Fifth Third Arena before team practice.
“It has been really fun to be back at the rink,” he said. “I had to take some time away right away, and it has been nice to progress day after day. It helps your mental state a lot, coming in and being able to skate and see the guys and work out and get back on the right path.”
On just his second shift of the game March 12, Murphy skated down the wall to make a play on the puck, but it jumped over his stick. While he was turning to retrieve it, Senators forward Parker Kelly hit him squarely from behind, crushing Murphy’s head against the glass and briefly knocking him out.
Murphy himself doesn’t remember much about the incident, which he admits “is probably a good thing.” Kelly was given a major boarding penalty, and he was stretchered off after a few frightening minutes of uncertainty. He holds no hard feelings about it, though.
“I honestly feel more bad for family and friends and people having to watch that,” he said. “Any time a stretcher comes out, it’s a scary thing to see. I sometimes chalk up some of the injuries to part of the game. The game is so fast, things are going to happen that put you in positions you don’t want to be in.”
He received a “bunch of nice texts” from Kelly and other Senators over the following days.
“It seemed like they were a bit shocked and rattled from it,” he said. “When I watched the replay, the puck jumped over my stick and I turned last-second. So I understand what that’s like, closing on a guy and making the decision to hit him not realizing how vulnerable he could be at the last second.”
The Hawks rallied that night to “win this one for ‘Murph,'” as Caleb Jones later said, but entering Sunday had won just two games since.
Caleb Jones and Erik Gustafsson have received more top-four opportunities in Murphy’s stead, but his absence has certainly been felt, as the Hawks have struggled mightily with their defensive coverage since he went down.
In fact, in games in which Murphy has played this season, the Hawks have allowed 2.62 expected goals against per 60 even-strength minutes. In games in which Murphy hasn’t played, the Hawks have allowed 3.22 expected goals per 60, including 3.44 expected goals during this ongoing stretch.
Unsurprisingly, Murphy also leads all Hawks defensemen in expected goals allowed per 60 even-strength minutes during his individual ice time this season at 2.49. Calvin de Haan is second at 2.53 followed by Caleb Jones at 2.67, Gustafsson at 2.81, Jake McCabe at 2.84, Seth Jones at 2.92 and Riley Stillman last at 2.93.
The Hawks’ medical and coaching staffs have discussed the possibility of ruling Murphy out for the season, interim coach Derek King said recently. With so little meaning attached to these final games, that would seemingly make sense from a health-and-safety standpoint. But a final decision hasn’t yet been made.