Has Duncan Keith Really Regressed As Much As We Think?

The past two seasons haven’t exactly been easy on Duncan Keith. After setting the bar very high in 2010, when he took home the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, Keith has been something of a let down. It’s even prompted questions as to whether or not he’s even still the no. 1 defenseman for the Chicago Blackhawks.

There’s no doubt that the Norris Trophy season from Keith was brilliant. He tallied 69 points that year, with 14 goals and 55 assists on the season. He was a plus-21 for the year and an excellent shut down defender. But that season may have been the outlier in the career of Duncan Keith.

Much of the criticism surrounding Keith doesn’t come from a statistical standpoint. Most understand that Keith isn’t going to go for 60-plus points every year. That’s unreasonable from any defenseman. He’s still had solid seasons on the stat sheet in each of the last two years.

Both seasons included at least 40 points. Last year was a 40 point campaign for Keith, but he scored just four goals total. His play was improved from the previous year, though, and he did finish at a plus-15, as opposed to the minus-1 he posted in 2010-2011.

Where Keith has had issues has actually been in his play that we see on a nightly basis, rather than anything he’s doing from a statistically standpoint. The puck has a nasty habit of jumping his stick and costing the Hawks possession, while he also has difficulty getting any shots through opposing players and actually on the net.

Yes, Duncan Keith did struggle throughout the 2010-11 season, but so did most of this team. He was much improved and solid last season, particularly defensively. He really has drawn much more criticism for his play in the past two years than is really necessary.

As far as NHL blue liners go, Duncan Keith is still an elite d-man. He’s as steady as they come defensively. He’s a smart defender and rarely finds himself beaten by opposing forwards. If there’s any issues with Keith, it’s on the offensive end, where just minor adjustments might be necessary to pick up a few extra points on the stat sheet next season.

Keith may never return to the type of season he had in 2009-2010. What we’ve seen from him the past two seasons, and in ’08-’09, when he tallied 44 points, is much closer to the player that he is in the offensive end.

Despite the declining opinion from several fans, Keith is still elite and still extremely important to this team. If anything, recent contracts for defensemen around the NHL have actually made him more valuable to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Is Brent Seabrook the no. 1 guy for the Hawks on the blue line? There’s certainly an argument to be made in favor of that. But that’s more due to praise of Seabrook, rather than criticism of Keith.

Between Keith and Brent Seabrook, the Blackhawks still have one of the top defensive pairings in the NHL, if not the best (now that Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are broken up). Keith visibly struggled in ’10-’11, but picked that play back up last season. There are still things he needs to fix to return to the highest level that he’s capable of playing, but he’s an elite defenseman, at both ends of the ice.

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  • http://MattiusW.blogspot.com Mattius White

    Duncan Keith had an off 2010-2011 season, probably from lack of rest during the summer, and it was following the Olympics too. What most don’t realize though, is that although he finished -1, he was -12 at the halfway point of the season. He played +11 hockey the second half of that year! That’s pretty dang good. Last season, he had the suspension, and though his goals have been inconsistent, 40 points are great for a defenseman. His +/- would have been better if Crawford and Emery hadn’t let in so many softies, and he could have gotten more points if he didn’t have to stay back and try to block EVERY shot, so they wouldn’t be forced to make a save. Keith has not been as good since his Norris season, but he is still an elite player playing against the top teams every night. Even the best defenders get burned every now and then, but they cannot block every shot from reaching their goaltender. A lot of those “chances” he allowed last season would not be counted as scoring chances on the stat sheet. Crow, man up so the defense can loosen up out there. Great article!

    • Randy Holt

      Agree w/ everything you just said. Thanks for reading!