Duncan Keith had a couple things going for him this year, in terms of not being the subject of the hairdryer treatment from fans and media alike that Seabrook, Saad, and Toews got. One, Seabrook soaked up most of it amongst the d-men, mostly because Seabrook’s contract was never a bargain which Keith’s has been for a decade now. Or was. Second, Keith has never been put center of the Hawks marketing blitz like Toews has, nor has he show much motivation to be so. While he was the most important skater for the Hawks for said decade, and he was, he’s never been covered or treated that way, even though his silverware cabinet eclipses that of any of his teammates and most players in the NHL (to review: three rings, two Norris Trophies, two gold medals, and a Conn Smythe, the only Hawk who actually got the Conn Smythe he deserved).
So even though Keith has clearly hit the back nine on his career, the knives for him aren’t nearly as sharp. And they probably shouldn’t be. Let’s dive in, folks:
82 games (first time he’s done that since 2011), 2 goals, 30 assists, 32 points, -29, 28 PIM
51.8 CF%, 0.73 CF% rel, 51.3 SCF%, 47.1 xGF%, -3.57 xGF% rel
So if I were to map out the numbers over the previous five years, you would see that yes, these are lower than what Keith used to do, but they’re not really that far off what he was doing in 2016-2017. That’s when he was mostly paired with Hjalmarsson, they were taking the hardest shifts in terms of opponents and zone starts, and both of them were starting to creak rather loudly.
Here’s the scary part of Keith’s numbers this year, though. It’s with a huge uptick in offensive zone starts. This year Keith’s Zone Start Rating–the measure offensive zone starts against total starts–was 59.2. Last year it was 52.3. So even with start many more shifts in the offensive zone, Keith wasn’t really pushing the play at all. That’s a problem.
Another problem was finding someone to play with Keith. At this point in his career, Keith needs someone to do some of the work for him. He can’t be the ultimate defensive guy and squeeze the play up the ice as he had done in the past, with either Seabrook or Hjalmarsson basically being the “Break Glass In Case Of…” guy behind him. Most of his time was spent with Jordan Oesterle, who we know is basically a faint suggestion of anything. Oesterle is basically the blank slate you get when you Create-a-Player, before you earn any points to improve him. Even though they went back to it at the end of the season. Brent Seabrook simply isn’t up to it anymore. The pairing with Connor Murphy just didn’t quite work, which had to have been the blueprint before the season started. Then again, they only got about 10 games together, so it’s probably worth trying again next year.
A lot was made of Keith’s lonely two goals (one of which kept the Blues out of the playoffs so that should count for like 10, if not 100). What’s kind of funny is that Keith got more attempts per game, more shots on goal per game, and more xG per game than in his previous seasons. He just shot an utterly unfathomable and really quite comedic 1% overall. Even for a d-man that’s…I mean I think the adjectives are beyond me. Farcical would be a good place to start. Seuessian might be another. Some of that has to be a result of starting in the offensive zone more than ever before.
The thing is Keith has never been a great offensive d-man. And that sounds strange for a two-time Norris winner and has a few 50+ point seasons to his name. But Keith’s offense, as we’ve said repeatedly, springs from his defense. He’s not Karlsson. He’s not Subban. He’s not Hedman. He would stop rushes against at his own blue line or before, get the puck up to the forwards ASAP and then join the rush. He would be the late-man or rack up secondary assists. He’s not really, nor has never been, a playmaker.
So next year you can look for his point totals to go up simply because HOCKEY. But that doesn’t mean the Hawks can count on him to be a top-pairing puck-mover ever again. He’s not going to be. To go with the numbers, you could see that the plays Keith used to make, and the ones you wouldn’t necessarily teach, he couldn’t quite get to anymore. He couldn’t step up outside his blue line as consistently anymore because he could get beat to the outside. He couldn’t chase outside the circles in his own zone because more and more forwards could get around him. He couldn’t fly out to the corners in the same way because he wouldn’t get there in time or he’d get beat back to the net.
That’s not to write off Keith at all. His instincts are still upper echelon. What he needs is to find a way to shrink his game, and to do that the Hawks are going to have to find him a partner who allows him to. It has to be someone mobile, because you want someone who can cover for Keith and not the other way around. It has to be someone who can get up the ice the way Keith used to, and it has to be stressed to Duncs that he’s just not that guy anymore. Murphy in theory can do the first part but not really the second. Gustafsson is too wonky in his own end to do the first part. If Jokiharju were two years older, he has the skillset to be that guy. But he’s not going to be ready for that. Forsling has the Gustafsson problem. The answer is going to have to come from outside the organization. I just don’t know what that answer is, and know it most likely will be very expensive in terms of either money, chips in a trade, or both.
But then…all of Karlsson, OEL, and Faulk are probably going to be out there in the trade market…I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.