Fans have varying opinions on the play of young defenseman Nick Leddy, but now is the time for GM Stan Bowman to get together with him and get a deal done that keeps him in Chicago for the next few years.
Leddy, of course, was acquired in the trade that sent Cam Barker to the Minnesota Wild a couple years ago. The following summer, he made enough of an impression on Hawks brass to leave the University of Minnesota after his freshman year and sign an entry-level deal with the NHL club. He was forced into action while Brian Campbell was injured early that year, and returned late in the season as a bottom pair defenseman.
But last year, the first full season in the NHL for Leddy, he showed flashes of why many scouts were so high on him entering the 2009 NHL Draft.
Leddy played in all 82 games for the Hawks last year, and put up 37 points. His 34 assists were tied with Matt Carle and Kevin Shattenkirk for 14th among all NHL defensemen, and he averaged over 22 minutes per game. He added 67 hits and 78 blocked shots while being asked to replace Campbell in the lineup.
He accomplished these numbers, for the most part, before his 21st birthday, which was March 20.
Many fans will point to his minus-12 rating, some of his turnovers and poor positioning and willingly give him the same middle name many Boston Red Sox fans have assigned to Bucky Dent.
But reality is that Leddy is developing into a solid, puck-moving defenseman.
By comparison, Duncan Keith didn't play an NHL game until he was 22 (granted, the lockout kept him out of the NHL for a year). Yes, those 2005-06 Blackhawks weren't loaded with all-stars as last year's roster was, but the style of play from the two in their first NHL seasons isn't that different.
In his first full NHL season, Keith had 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) and was minus-11. He posted 88 hits, 119 blocked shots and averaged over 23 minutes per game after two full seasons in the AHL and 56 games over parts of two seasons at Michigan State.
It's also worth remembering that, during Keith's late-season suspension, Leddy posted five assists in five games.
Keith was afforded patience by Blackhawks fans six years ago because, frankly, there weren't as many fans and social media hadn't given fans an outlet to voice their opinions of a player's performance.
Now, Leddy is developing at arguably a quicker pace and at a younger age. With one season left on his entry-level contract, it's important that the Blackhawks begin negotiating an extension with him this summer.
The NHL and the Players Association are working on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and early indications are that the league wants to make some dramatic changes to contract lengths, arbitration eligibility, and the timetable for players to become unrestricted free agents.
While we don't know what the new CBA will look like yet, the league's approach to negotiations has led some teams to begin locking up their core players long-term before the new paper is written. Leddy certainly isn't in the same class as a player like Sidney Crosby, but the uncertaintly of a new CBA should lead the Hawks to work on a new deal with Leddy before he becomes a restricted free agent next summer.