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Sit Back, Relax, And Strap it Down – ’17-’18 Blackhawks Player Previews: Duncan Keith

When McClure kicked off this little escapade on Tuesday by previewing Corey Crawford, he called Crow the Blackhawks’ most important player. I am not here to argue with that sentiment. But when it comes to the 18 gentleman playing in front of our favorite Rise Against fan, defenseman Duncan Keith is and has been the straw that stirs the drink.

2016-17 Stats

80 GP – 6 G – 47 A

50.7 CF% – 52.8 oSZ%

25:37 Avg. TOI

A Look Back: Depending on which stats you want to focus on up there, you could really make an argument that 2016-17 was either one of Keith’s best years of his career, or his one of the worst. If you’re an old fashioned points admirer, the fact that he posted his second best P/60 of his career might just tickle your fancy enough to think he was stellar last year. I invite you to take off the blinders.

The second line of statistics up there is especially worrisome to me. That 50.7 CF% at evens is tied with only his rookie season as the worst of Ser Duncan’s career. Throw in a majority of starts in the offensive zone and you we have a big red flag. Part of it is excusable given the fact that he was forced to drag either Nacho Seabre or the so-called hockey player known as TVR around for good portions of last season, but in reality Keith has been Q’s shit perfume for years and always put up solid shot metrics. Hell, he dragged TVR and the actual corpse of Kimmo Timmonen around for most the 2015 playoffs and won the Conn Smythe trophy. Moreover, the defenseman Keith paired with most last season was the now departed Niklas Hjalmarsson. Struggling that bad with him at your side is less excusable.

There’s a bigger issue here than just the shot metrics, though, and that lies in Q’s usage of Keith last year. Not even deployment, just usage. Keith put up 1600 minutes of ice time last year at age 33. That’s the third most of his career, and the only seasons in which he played more saw him play all 82 games. It’s most certainly not a good thing if you’re playing a 33-year-old defenseman that much in a regular season, both for the player and your team. That’s simply too large a strain to put on your aged No. 1 defenseman before the playoffs if you want him to carry you as Keith has been known to do. But it also just shows the state of disarray the Blackhawks have on the blue line.

But I’m not just here to rain on our parade, because as I mentioned Duncs did have a fine year production wise. Of his six goals, four came at evens to go with 34 assists. He was productive on the power play as well with two goals and 13 assists. So we know he can still contribute to lighting up the scoreboard. Now we just need him to find that possession dominance again.

A Look Ahead: The best news about Keith’s worrisome performance of last season is that it is in the past now. With the Hawks having a long offseason after getting trounced by Nashville in the playoffs last year, it’s entirely possible that Keith is able to bounce back and have a strong season.

The biggest question mark for our ginger haired defenseman heading into this season is who his primary partner will be. Hjammer was sent to the desert for Connor Murphy, who has loads of potential but has yet to make any major strides toward realizing that potential in his NHL career. It probably makes sense for Keith to spend a good amount of time with Murphy this season, at least in the early going.

It’s entirely possible that Duncan Keith ends up being the only good defenseman on the Blackhawks this season, though. Seabrook seems to get slower by the day (nacho cheese will do that to a man), Murphy has question marks, Q will probably remain overly skeptical of Michal Kempny, and after those four you may as well draw names out of a hat to fill the blue line. Unless StanBo has a horseshoe up his ass or a really clever plan in place for Hossa’s LTIR money, the Hawks back end could be in major trouble this season.

But lets keep this about Duncs. What can we realistically expect from him now at 34 and definitely on the back-9 of his career? I’d argue that a successful season for the Hawks’ alternate captain would be about 40 points and a CF% around 52. If he can put up those numbers, he just might be able to help this roster get where they want to be. Still, he’s probably going to need some help.

Photo credit: alchetron.com

All stats via hockeyreference.com or hockeyviz.com

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Corey Crawford

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