You don’t need me to remind you of the excitement around possibly-just-maybe this defense having young, fast additions this year, but no matter how optimistic anyone wants to be, the story of the Hawks’ defense will be as much about the stalwart veterans as it will be about the youngins. And who better exemplifies that than Duncan Keith? Let’s do this:
82 GP – 6 G – 34 A – 40 PTS
49.8 CF% (0.92 CF Rel) – 45 xGF% (-0.05 xGF Rel)
58.0 oZS% – 42.0 dZS% – 23.01 Avg. TOI
A Brief History: In case you don’t recall—or if you blocked it out which no one would blame you for if you did—Duncan Keith had a bit of a problematic season. As I said in my player review last spring, he certainly had decent aspects to his game, such as a 50 CF% and a slight bounce back in points, and he was by no means the most painful defenseman to watch.
However, it was clear Keith was thoroughly not giving half a shit about his new coach’s defensive system, nor did he really appear to have much respect for the coach in general. Now, I’m not going to bother passing judgement on whether Jeremy Colliton deserves or has earned his players’ respect (I mean, come on, we call the guy “Coach Cool Youth Pastor,” among other names). Yet, you would think that it just isn’t a good look to be bad-mouthing your coach in the press. It can’t be likely to solve any of your issues.
So it should be quite interesting to see what frame of mind he shows up in this year and how that translates to the on-ice results.
It Was the Best of Times: In an ideal world, Keith would make some adjustments to his game for the greater good. This would require him to recognize he doesn’t have the speed or mobility he once had, and that he needs to act as more of a free safety when paired with a faster partner. And of course that’s the other factor, right? Who would best fit that role? If Erik Gustafsson learns to play defense and would stop running around like a coked-up gerbil, then fine, maybe him, but I highly doubt he’ll figure that out. Regardless, they’re sure to be paired together and we’ll watch it like a bad car crash.
Maybe put Calvin de Haan with Keith, albeit on de Haan’s off side? Or, let’s be overly optimistic and say Adam Boqvist or Nicholas Beaudin make the team and Keith acts as the elder statesman, cleaning up messes they’ll inevitably make, while whichever one(s) he’s paired with can get to the corners and make he moves Keith himself no longer can. Any of the youngins will need to be sheltered in terms of zone starts, which would be right in Keith’s wheelhouse, since he’s been starting in the offensive zone well over 50% of the time for the past few seasons.
If Keith gave even half a shit, he could play Colliton’s man-to-man system well enough, assuming CCYP sticks with it (and there’s no reason to think he won’t). In this rosy picture (GET IT?), Keith gets advantageous starts, ends up with around 45 points on the season, and helps the younger generation all at the same time.
It Was the Blurst of Times: I think we all know what this would look like: Keith continues to give no fucks whatsoever and makes mistakes everywhere. The turnovers will be insane both in terms of quantity and ridiculousness. We’ll see coverage blown all over the place as Keith ignores the defensive system, and Gustafsson, his likely partner for at least a sizeable period until he’s hopefully traded, goes full-on cokefiend gerbil and they get smoked constantly by opposing offenses. Last year Keith had the second-worst xGA on the team with 67.7. Guess who had the worst? That’s right, Gustafsson (68.3). And, when that shit goes sideways and/or Gus is shipped off, CCYP will pair Keith with Nachos and it’ll get worse. Keith will be in all the wrong places and Seabrook will just be falling on his ass. It’ll be a hot mess.
Prediction: This may sound pessimistic but Keith will likely be mostly frustrating to watch with some flashes of brilliance thrown in—just enough to make the other dumb shit and stubbornness that much more aggravating to see. He’ll do whatever he wants, play outside Colliton’s system, and no one will have the balls to bench him or leave him in the press box because 1) come on, that’s disproportional to the crime and 2) there aren’t other good options to replace him, at least right now. But, occasionally he’ll pull something incredible—break up a play at exactly the right time, get somewhere you swore he couldn’t get to in time, and all will be forgiven for a little while.
He’ll finish the season with under 40 points and we’ll all be left trying to figure out if he wants to be traded, and if it’s a good idea or even workable, and it’ll hurt. But there’s probably a lot about this season that’s going to hurt, so get ready.