There is no one on the Blackhawks roster that should benefit more from the long summer that the Blackhawks have had than Duncan Keith.
There’s no way around the fact that he had a down year in 2010-11, especially by the standards he set for himself when he won the Norris Trophy in 2010.
Keith’s point total dropped from 69 to 45 and his plus/minus fell from from a plus-21 in ’09-’10 to a putrid (by his standards) minus-1. The more alarming aspects of Keith’s falloff came outside of the box score. He fumbled the puck around in the defensive zone, lacked on his physical play, had shots blocked regularly, and was awful on the penalty kill.
Part of that is due to the short summer of 2010. Even Keith admitted he didn’t prepare well enough for last season. Of course, when you don’t prepare well enough to play 30 minutes a night on a regular basis, things aren’t going to be easy.
Heading into the season, it’s already pretty clear that things are going to be different. The long summer was already a positive for Keith to get fresh and show up to camp this year in shape. There’s also the depth that the Blackhawks have on the blue line now, which they lacked last year.
That depth will allow Keith to get more rest over the course of games, rather than him seeing the ice for, quite literally, half the time. But that doesn’t mean that Keith won’t be any less of a key to whatever the Blackhawks hope to achieve this season.
It’s impossible to overstate the value of Duncan Keith to the Chicago Blackhawks. He’s one of the best all-around defensemen in the game, when he’s playing up to the level we’ve already seen him at. He’ll see the most time at full strength, and is the no. 1 defenseman on both the power play and penalty kill.
We’ll have to see Keith improve in all facets of the game, especially in the defensive zone, but on special teams is where that improvement is needed most. As inconsistent as the Hawks were on special teams, especially on the PK last year, they can’t afford more of Keith’s woes in just handling the puck.
The big question is whether or not we will see Keith break back into that Norris Trophy form, or something more similar to what we saw in 2008-09.
That season, Keith put up 44 points, a total less than that of last year, but also put up a career mark of plus-33. It’s more likely we see him return to something like that. It’s highly unlikely we see Keith approach the 70 point mark again as a defenseman, but it’s hard to imagine his minus-1 last year being anything other than a lack of preparation/interest, combined with exhaustion.
With the new attitude in the locker room heading into the season, combined with that long summer, it’s hard to imagine Keith struggling in the way that he did. A return to form isn’t only a hope, but it’s an expectation. If Keith returns to anywhere near that Norris Trophy-winning form, it’s going to be a very good year for the Chicago Blackhawks.