So much for the Blackhawks’ new first pairing of Jake McCabe and Seth Jones.
McCabe — who was just promoted this weekend — is fine, but Jones is not. The Hawks ruled out their No. 1 defenseman Sunday for the next three-to-four weeks with a thumb injury, suffered when blocking a shot by Sabres forward Jeff Skinner during the second period Saturday.
It’s a massive blow to the Hawks’ defense, which has relied upon Jones as their far-and-away most talented and versatile cornerstone. He averaged 25:14 of ice time through the Hawks’ first eight games, tallying four assists and 21 blocks.
“We’ll just shift things around a little bit, especially on special teams,” coach Luke Richardson said. “[Seth] plays a lot of big minutes for us, and against top lines. So we’re just going to have to shuffle the deck a little bit, try to buy some time, win by committee on defense and wait until he gets back.”
Jack Johnson moved back up to the first pairing with McCabe on Sunday against the Wild, which was just the fifth game Jones has missed since joining the Hawks in July 2021. Meanwhile, Caleb Jones took over quarterbacking the first power-play unit and Filip Roos re-entered the lineup.
With those four guys, Connor Murphy and Jarred Tinordi composing the current defensive corps, the Hawks will be significantly outgunned against most NHL opponents for the time being. Murphy, who averaged 21:46 of ice time per game last season and 22:09 the year before, is the only one with any prior experience as a major minutes-eater.
“Everybody’s going to get spread out a little bit more,” Richardson said. “I don’t think there’s a guy who’s going to carry the load like Seth, and we don’t expect them to. We expect them to do their job. And if they get a couple more minutes here and there, everyone wants more ice time and they’ll be excited for it.”
The Hawks will likely call up someone such as Alec Regula or Alex Vlasic from Rockford on Monday to have seven healthy defensemen available Tuesday against the Islanders.
Ian Mitchell, who was ruled out for six weeks on Sept. 22 — more than five weeks ago — with a wrist injury, is unfortunately not close to returning, which further complicates the roster puzzle. He only just resumed stickhandling, Richardson said.
This story will be updated.