It’s been clear to just about everyone who watches the Hawks that the team goes as Duncan Keith goes. He was the league’s best d-man in ’09-’10, and the Hawks won the Cup. He admittedly didn’t care all that much the following season, and the Hawks were much worse off. He struggled to regain that form the following season and the Hawks again went out in the first round. He’s been superlative the past two years, and the Hawks have played until June.
However, last year saw something of a change in role for Keith, who no longer took the top defensive assignments, which went to Ebenholts och Elfenben. That left Keith to beat up on lesser opponents, all the while dragging around Seabrook’s dead ass.
That’s what always makes it hard to assess Keith’s contributions. He’s among the league’s best, this we know. He didn’t lose his #1 defensive role because of anything he did, but didn’t take on the other team’s best like other premier defensemen do. But he scorched what he did see like you would expect a player of his caliber to do.
Keith’s Norris win was based on his impressive offensive totals, as well as some parade leading by Eddie Olczyk from about November on. But those offensive totals are a little deceiving. Keith had 55 assists, but 32 of those were secondary assists. As we said a lot last season, there’s certainly nothing wrong with getting the puck up to the Hawks forwards as quickly as possible and letting them do their thing. Keith’s assist totals spring from his defensive play. i.e. breaking the play up early, stepping up into the neutral zone, and poking it ahead. That’s at least where the majority comes from.
Keith is still going to do that, but I would imagine that his assist totals will come down a bit. To have that many secondary assists, a lot of things out of Keith’s hands have to go right. Might not happen again.
Stick with me here, but I think that could be made up on the power play. I know, I know, we’ve gotten a lot of mileage of mocking Keith’s propensity to blast pucks of shins decked out in different colors than his own. But I’ll give Keith some slack in that the Hawks’ PP didn’t have a lot of movement or rotation, meaning penalty killers weren’t shuffled around and lanes were tight if they were there at all. If Kevin Dineen can instill any movement and rotation into the Hawks’ power play, with players popping up everywhere and causing some chaos, Keith should get bigger lanes to shoot and pass. The thing is, when he has a clear lane, he does have a good shot and a pretty keen passing eye. He just needs a wider lane than others. It’s worth watching.
The other thing with Keith is that he’s now 31. We all know that Keith is a physical freak, but he played 88 games last year, plus the Olympics, after playing into late June the year before. At some point, there’s going to be a decline. Keith is not going to go from Norris winner to Cam Russell just from going to 30 to 31. Perhaps that’s part of the reason Quenneville eased up his assignments, and I’m sure we can expect that to continue.
Some of it will also depend on whether Seabrook can recover his form from a couple years ago. I know what all the numbers say and that Seabrook hasn’t been as bad as we’ve said. Well, those are all padded by Keith. You don’t take a two-time Norris winner off of playing the other teams’ top lines simply because you want to. But I won’t hold my breath.
We can expect another dominating season from Keith, or thereabouts. Hopefully they’ll keep his minutes in check as they did for most of last year. However the defense shakes out the Hawks should have three pairs they can play for most of the year, which should keep Keith below 25 minutes per night. In all honesty I’d take him off the power play to save him, but that’s never going to happen and probably isn’t possible if Leddy is traded. But Brad Richards has worked a point on the power play before and could replace Keith if Q wanted to get creative. Doubt we’ll see it.