Now that the Blackhawks are 32 games into the season, we have an ample enough sample size to take a look at a key issue: Average time on ice. Specifically, Duncan Keith’s average time on ice.
For whatever reason, fans have been somewhat worried with the heavy workload Duncan Keith is shouldering this year. Keith, so far, is averaging 26:46 minutes of ice time, good for third in the league behind Dan Boyle and Jay Bouwmeester. Last year, Keith averaged 25:34 minutes of ice time which put him at 8th in the league. So my 6 year-old cousin could tell of us he’s averaging a full minute higher so far this year. Not really a huge difference.
The argument is that Keith wore out last year because of his heavy workload and his play subsequently suffered. I’m just not sure what number would appease people. 22 minutes? 20 minutes? This isn’t exactly like keeping pitchers below 100 pitches to save their arm strength.
Duncan Keith has become the number one defenseman for the Chicago Blackhawks. He’s also been the only defenseman on the Hawks to see a regular shift on the power play, which would tell you he’s an elite number one defenseman. Elite number one defensemen average well over 25 minutes a night. Take a look at some of the other names on the average time on ice leaders: Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Mark Streit, Sergei Gonchar, Niklas Lidstrom. Those guys play in ALL situations.
If he can’t make it through a season while averaging upwards of 25 minutes a night, then maybe the Hawks shouldn’t have signed him to a lifetime contract.
That’s not to say the Hawks made a mistake in signing him to that deal. Quite the opposite actually. Bob and I are both of the mindset that if you’re good enough to be a top-4 defensemen on Team Canada, then you’re probably pretty good at hockey.
As for Keith needing more rest. Sure, it would be good to see his minutes cut back in games where the Hawks are winning comfortably. Unfortunately, Joel Quenneville and Assistant Coach Mike Haviland haven’t exactly had the chance to. The last two games, the Hawks were up big late (And in the Blues game, they actually lost Barker to an injury in the third. The Hawks’ coaches would’ve had needed a DUI test after the game if they decided to give Jordan Hendry heavy minutes in a three goal game.), but before that the Hawks haven’t exactly been stepping on throats. Let’s take a closer look:
- December 1st: Shootout win against Columbus. Your number one defenseman doesn’t miss a shift in a game like this.
- December 4th: 4-1 loss to Nashville. This was a one goal game with two minutes left. Even if they wanted to rest him, they didn’t have enough time to.
- December 5th: Overtime win in Pittsburgh. See Columbus win.
- December 9th: Overtime win against the Rangers. See Columbus and Pittsburgh wins.
- December 11th: 2-1 loss to Buffalo. He’s not going to sit in a one-goal game.
This isn’t a recent trend either. You can go back to the beginning of the season and you’ll find that the Hawks are playing a ton of close games. Not to mention, they’re playing in a division with two teams (Nashville and Detroit) breathing right down their necks. Quenneville isn’t going to play Russian Roulette with two points at the sake of shaving a couple minutes off Duncan Keith’s ice time.
Maybe if there was some magic number like a pitch count where there was statistical evidence that players aren’t the same if they cross a certain threshold, I would buy more into this theory. For instance, if someone could prove that if players average over 25 minutes a night, they are more prone to breakdown at the end of the season and/or more suspectible to career-threatening injuries later in their career, then I would be leading the ‘Rest Keith’ bandwagon.
Otherwise, I’m going to stick to my theory that a 26 year-old elite number one defenseman should be able to handle the workload Duncan Keith is getting.