Photo: Bill Smith/Getty Images

The 2012 NHL trade deadline was awash in armchair quarterbacking, as is usually the case; but this year, nobody could agree on what the Blackhawks needed to add to the mix. There were advocates for replacing nearly every position on the ice, including misinformed Moneyball disciples treating players like futures contracts and suggesting that “Jonathan Toews‘ trade value has never been higher!”

Please, go launch a hostile takeover or something. Come at me with that nonsense, I’ll implant your graphing calculator in your pancreas — the fun way.

As it turns out, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman showed his impotence, failing to acquire the 2nd-line center that fans and media pundits had been unanimously clamoring for since 2010. He also added another “Who?” on the blue line, and unpleasant memories of The Chris Campoli Incident flashed before our eyes. Thank goodness Johnny Oduya turned out to be a far better bet, though his first 20 minutes in a Blackhawks uniform didn’t help to ease our fears one bit…

In his first game playing with Chicago when the Maple Leafs were in town, Oduya was on the ice for all 3 Toronto goals against in the first period. Seeing the minus-3 next to his name on the box score with the game barely one-third over gave ‘Hawks fans cause to smack their foreheads and curse Bowman’s name. But thankfully, things turned around.

That night was one of Corey Crawford’s epic meltdowns, and once Ray Emery took over at the start of the second period the Blackhawks got their game back on track. Oduya put in nearly 20 minutes of ice time that night, including over a minute each on the PP and PK, notching a shot on goal and ending the night with a flat plus-minus. Then we were all forced to re-think our unflattering first impression of the lad.

With Steve Montador suffering from a concussion, we saw a lot of Johnny Oduya over the last quarter of the season. He was frequently paired with Nick Leddy, and for some reason that combination had the effect of causing the bone-headed ideas Leddy sometimes gets to be squashed before taking hold. Though you would be hard-pressed to find stats to support it, Leddy’s play improved substantially with Oduya on the ice. Compare that with the Oduya/Niklas Hjalmarsson combination, which had the direct opposite effect on both players. Feast or famine, I suppose.

Oduya has two characteristics that make him quite noticeable on the ice: he’s deceptively fast, and he never has his head down. I mean, never. The end result is that it was hard to catch him out of position. His D partner needed an outlet pass, Oduya was there. Clearing attempt caused a strange bounce off the half-boards: Oduya kept it inside the blue line. He gets up-ice quickly, has good sense for the pass-or-dump decision, and knows his limitations on the point — namely, his shot.

His time with the Blackhawks wasn’t all wine and roses, and his performance in the playoffs wasn’t up to the standard we came to expect from him. He didn’t “Campoli” anything, but his giveaways in the defensive zone did lead to a couple of goals against. His best opportunity at winning battles along the boards is to not get into them; that proved to be a weak spot late in the season.

When all was said and done, Stan made up for last season’s trade deadline disaster by bringing in Oduya. There’s a lot to like there, and most Blackhawks fans would love to see him stay with the team — if it weren’t for one thing… his salary.

Oduya made $3.5 million this year. That’s the same as Hjalmarsson, and though few would argue that he didn’t out-play Hjammer during the time he’s been here, few would argue that he’s worth $3.5 million either. (As we’ve seen, neither is Hjalmarsson!)

Oduya is an unrestricted free agent as of July 1st, so we’re not stuck with that salary. But he would be good to have on board for another year as a couple more of our young blueliners grow some hair on their oysters. That’s particularly true if Montador’s injury takes longer to recover from than he or the team expects. But at $3.5 million? Not happening.

His numbers over 18 games in a Blackhawks uniform wound up as a plus-3 with 1 goal, 4 assists, 10 hits, 0 PIM’s, and 42 blocked shots. He’s fast, versatile, and has shown signs of the kind of “wisdom,” if you will, that we lost when Brian Campbell headed to warmer climes. He was a great pick-up, and however brief, he was one the bright spots on an otherwise hit-and-miss defensive corps this year.

Now if only his agent will consider numbers in the under-$2 million range, we might see him back next year. Otherwise, I don’t see how that’s possible.

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