Tolkiens Take – The Return of the King

(Photo Credit: Getty Images, By: Abelimages)

 

The Chicago Blackhawks knew the 2010/11 season was going to be a struggle.  I’m not sure however that the Hawks knew it was going to be as big a struggle as it became.  Coach Quenneville seemed to take a reverse “Peter Principle” approach to the year.  He seemed to try to put his weakest players in the best possible position to succeed.  He then used his best players to fill in the gaps.

Duncan Keith was one of those players who Q tried to use to fill in the holes left by the salary cap purge.  That seemed to have a seriously negative impact on Keith’s 2010/11 season.  At times, it looked like Keith was in the circus trying to spin all those plates on top of poles.  And during the season clearly, a number of those plates fell and broke.

In this article, we are going to talk about the major issues impacting Keith’s 2010/11 season, and how the changes the Chicago Blackhawks have made for next season could help return Keith to his Norris trophy winning ways.

 

Investigating Keith’s Year

 Points 

Duncan Keith’s overall performance in the 2010/11 season seriously regressed from his Norris trophy winning 2009/10 campaign.  Keith’s “goals-per 60 minutes on ice” and his “primary and secondary assists” all dropped this past season.  And Duncan Keith lost almost a full point in his overall “Points per 60 minutes” stat line.

Keith had a negative “plus minus” rating for the year.  And while his “goals-against” numbers were somewhat similar to the previous year, his “goals-for” numbers dropped relatively dramatically.  Actually, it was his offensive performance that relegated Keith’s 2010/11 season to a more pedestrian level.  And it will most likely be an improvement in his offensive performance that may once again return Duncan Keith to being a potential Norris winning candidate.

 

That whole “shooting at the shins” thing

There is the perception that Duncan Keith was hitting more people’s shins this last season then he had in the past.  We can investigate this using a couple of stats.

Corsi looks at the total shots on net while a particular player is on the ice.  Fenwick takes the exact same shots on ice but subtracts block shots.  Looking at these two stats and comparing the last two years, it appears the Chicago Blackhawks took a little more then one additional shot per 60 minutes of Duncan Keith’a ice time.  And had around the same number of shots blocked while Keith was on the ice.  So it is somewhat unclear whether the opinion that Keith was shooting more into “opponents knees” was in fact reality or simply people’s perceptions.

What is not perception is Duncan Keith’s accuracy on the shots he did take.  From the chart above, you can see that for the year Keith took 19 less shots, but in those fewer shot attempts missed eight more times.  So his overall accuracy dropped around 14%.  While he may not have been shooting at people’s shins, he was missing the target, far more frequently then he had in the previous year.

 

That whole “not caring thing”

According to Dan Jansen, Duncan Keith has one of the best heart/lung combinations of any athlete not named Lance Armstrong.  Keith’s physical stamina is legendary and Q tried to put it to the test in the 2010/11 season.  At times Keith was used for almost half the game.

It is no wonder, to me that if Keith was to falter on the ice it would be more about mental than physical fatigue.  Last year Keith talked about that exact issue.  Q really needed to pace his players at the beginning of the year to overcome the drain of the previous postseason.  Unfortunately he couldn’t because the salary cap issues removed the Hawks’ depth, especially on defense.

Instead Q “rode” Keith hard, extending his minutes above the numbers typically given to players during a normal year.  You simply can’t give players playoff style time-on-ice for an entire season.  And you could really see the cracks in Keith’s play, especially at the beginning of the year.

One of the big results of the Campbell trade should help spread out the Time-on-Ice and, hopefully, not burn Duncan Keith out with the long regular season.  Removing a minute to a minute and a half of 5o5 ice time next season for Duncan Keith could go a long way in accomplishing that feat.

 

Players +/- while on the Ice with Duncan Keith

Now you would hope that a player as good as Duncan Keith would dictate the overall performance of the team while Keith was on the ice.  That didn’t happen last year.  Instead the overall performance of the team was impacted more by “who the centers” were on the ice and which goalie was playing.

When looking at Duncan Keith’s overall performance when certain teammate were on the ice showed two obvious abnormalities.  The biggest was Keith’s performance while Turco was the goalie.

John Schultz has mentioned this before but it bears repeating.  Turco was all kinds of a problem for the Chicago Blackhawks and none more than the ex-Norris winner.  Whether it was “all that flopping” or simply Turco near the end of his career, when Turco was paired with Keith, Keith was a -9.

This should actually be of some concern for next year when Alexander Salak joins the team.  Salak has a reputation of playing a little like Dominik Hašek.  And if that style doesn’t mesh with Keith there could be problems.  It is something that bears watching.

The other big issue for Keith was when he was paired with the Hawks second line.  What we found from the “Two Towers” investigation was that Keith played far more often with the Hawks’ second line than previously believed.  Normally, Keith was playing with Dave Bolland’s line and then with the Jonathan Toews’ line.  It was particularly at the beginning of the year that Keith spent a lot of time with Patrick Sharp.  That combination on the ice was a -8.

In fact, Keith, Turco and Sharp were a -6 while playing together and Sharp was playing center.  In looking at the chart you can see that Keith was a +3 when Sharp was playing at wing on the first line.  As the season progressed, Sharp’s role as a center also changed.  Sharp played more in offensive zone draws.  This was, in my opinion, because of the defensive issues of the Hawks’ second line.  It is also why I believe the Hawks will try to find another center to play in between Sharp and Hossa for next year.  I do think Marcus Kruger will get a shot at it and maybe there will be a mid-season trade if the kids don’t work out.

 

+/- per month

Looking at Keith’s +/- over the months of the season show two poorer periods.  The first was at the beginning of the year.   If you remember Campbell was injured for the first month.  However the -2 for both October and November are both related to playing with Marty Turco.

The drop in March is somewhat alarming because it is directly related to being paired with Nick Leddy.  While Keith’s overall +/- with Leddy was a positive one, there was a “learning curve” with that twosome.  Since they may spend some more time together next year, it also bears watching.

 

Conclusion

The 2010/11 season for Duncan Keith was a disappointment.  I really do think Keith was overused, especially at the beginning of the year.  Investigating more in depth for the year, however, showed that there were more things impacting Keith than Keith was impacting on.  From the Stan Bowman new signings it appears Coach Quenneville might attempt to reduce Keith’s overall time-on-ice.

It also looks like the Hawks have attempted to improve their backup goalie situation which should help Keith on the defensive end.  And if the Hawks can improve their defense on the Hawks second line, that could go a long way in making the Hawks a legitimate contender for the upcoming season.

And reducing those plates that Keith needs to keep in the air might help him get back his offensive game.  And if he could do that, the Hawks just might see the return of the King.

 

Part One: Tolkien’s Take – The Fellowship of the “D”

Part Two: Tolkiens Take – The Two Towers

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