Duncan Keith’s season has been described by many astute Hawk fans as a tale of two halves; Duncan Keith pre-concussion and Duncan Keith post-concussion. That’s not entirely true.
At the beginning of the season, Keith started right where he left off from the previous season. He was the Hawks most important defenseman playing well over 20 minutes a game. To go along with his solid defensive play, he used his best asset, speed, to become an offensive threat from the blue line.
With Brian Campbell on board, this gave the Hawks a luxury not many other teams could lay claim to. It showed too, as Keith set career highs across the board with 36 assists, 44 points, and a +33.
Through the middle of February, Keith was arguably the team’s most valuable player. Mind you, this was a full month after he was concussed by Buffalo’s Drew Stafford on January 14th. The concussion forced him to miss four games and during that stretch the Hawks went 1-3. When he returned, Keith was still the most important cog in the defensive corps.
It wasn’t until the season started to wind down to the final month and teams started to play a whole lot tighter defensively by shortening up the skating surface that some serious red flags started to pop up in Keith’s game.
Before, teams were all too liberal in allowing Keith to skate the puck out of his own end and gain a full head of steam. As the ice grew smaller, Keith’s decision-making abilities came into serious question. Instead of having the room to create, Keith, often times, would get pinched along the boards and cough up the puck on his own blue line or, as we saw far too many times in the playoffs, just blindly fire the puck to the other team.
With his smaller stature, he also was getting abused down around his own net. Bigger players used their size advantage to push him around.
All of these were exposed even further in the playoffs.
To be fair, it’s not like Duncan Keith was the worst defensemen on the team during the post-season. For someone who was the best for so long and was even whispered in the Norris Trophy race though, it was completely disappointing.
In 17 playoff games, Keith only managed 6 assists. Games where he was the Hawks shut-down defenseman were few and far between. Many of the same flaws (his small size, shoddy decision making, and inability to adjust his game) shown in the final month of the season only became that much more of an issue during the three postseason series.
Duncan Keith’s 2009-10 will be a success if…
He can become the team’s second power play quarterback. A lot of Hawk fans who spent their free time hating Brian Campbell liked to imagine that Keith was a successful power play quarterback. That is an illusion. Being a good or even passable power play quarterback doesn’t just mean being able to play the point with the man advantage. It means he has to have good vision and is able to create scoring chances by moving the puck around the zone. If Keith can add that to his reportoire, then you’re looking at a legitimate elite defenseman.
He remains the Hawks defensive horse. Having a guy who, at his worst, can play adequate defense for 25 minutes a night is a tremondous luxury for the Hawks. Just like this past season, Duncan Keith will probably come out of the gates like gangbusters. That will mean heavy minutes for him once again. In the past two seasons, Keith has averaged exactly 25:34 minutes of ice time. The Hawks need him to stay at that number…or perhaps even more.
Duncan Keith’s 2009-10 will be a disappointment if…
He doesn’t open the year as the Hawks best defenseman. Pierre LeBrun reported at Team Canada’s Red vs. White game that Duncan Keith was seriously impressive. That’s not really shocking news as the game was lightly checked leaving plenty of open ice for fast players like Keith. The opening months of the regular season won’t be as loose as that exhibtion, but there will still be plenty of opportunities for Keith to show that impressive display of skills again. If he doesn’t, then that could be a pretty big problem.
He’s the Hawks fourth best defensemen in the playoffs again. It’s not enough for Duncan Keith to be the Hawks best defensemen for five months and then become a ticking time bomb for the final two. For this to happen, Keith needs to become more comfortable with opposing forecheckers and must make the correct decision when he’s moving the puck.
Where a lot of fans make their mistake in properly evaluating Duncan Keith is they see him constantly moving his feet and see his active stick and automatically determine that he must be trying really hard, therefore he’s really good.
What gets missed in that is he’s moving his feet because he’s not properly positioned or he’s getting pushed around in his own end.
At 26 years old, it’s not enough anymore for people to talk about Duncan Keith as a Norris Trophy candidate in December. He has to prove he’s worthy of it in April and May.