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Chicago Blackhawks Grades: Duncan Keith Proves Critical

By Colin Likas
Dec 6, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) waits before a face-off against the Winnipeg Jets during the first period at United Center. Blackhawks won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) waits before a face-off against the Winnipeg Jets during the first period at United Center. Blackhawks won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports /
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Duncan Keith Was A Star — As Usual — For The Chicago Blackhawks

Imagine something for a second. It won’t be fun to imagine, but just bear with me. Imagine that Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith required surgery on the torn meniscus in his right knee toward the end of the 2015-16 season — instead of just a few weeks into it, as actually happened.

That would have meant the Blackhawks were rolling with a postseason defense of Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and … uh … not a whole lot else to look upon positively.

This is the easiest way I can demonstrate the importance of Keith not only to the 2015-16 Blackhawks, but to the Blackhawks in general over the last seven or eight seasons.

He eats the most minutes on the blue line and takes on the opponents’ toughest competition. He quarterbacks at least one powerplay unit. He pushes a lot of offensive play from his own zone. And he seems almost indestructible — his torn meniscus and needing to miss time over it was slightly jarring at the time. Add it all together, and you have one of the most important Blackhawks on a team that experienced a ton of ups and downs in 2015-16.

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Mar 11, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) skates against the Dallas Stars during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Stars defeat the Blackhawks 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

2015-16 regular-season stats: 67 games, 9 goals, 34 assists, plus-13 rating

2016 postseason stats: 6 games, 3 goals, 2 assists, plus-3 rating

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Positives

Keith played with pretty much every fellow defenseman and made them all look a lot better in the process. He spent a lot of time this season with Hjalmarsson, but also experienced semi-regular shifts with the likes of Seabrook, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Michal Rozsival, Erik Gustafsson, David Rundblad and probably others (Trevor Daley and/or Viktor Svedberg; not sure I can recall him skating with Christian Ehrhoff or Rob Scuderi, but it’s conceivable).

His four powerplay and four game-winning goals this regular season were actually career bests. He very likely could’ve posted a top-three points total for his career had he not missed 10 games due to the meniscus surgery. Keith tallied 43 points in 67 regular-season games after netting 45 in 80 last season.

While Keith’s time on ice wasn’t ridiculous by his own standards (his 25:14 ATOI was his third-lowest mark since the 2007-08 season), he still rated 12th among the league’s defensemen in average time on ice. His durability and reliability in spite of his early-season injury was critical to the Blackhawks being anywhere near the opportunity to host a postseason series.

Keith also posted his second-best regular-season shot percentage at 6.9 (best was 8.1 in 2007-08). But Keith also received the most defensive-zone starts in his career, opening 53.1 percent of his shifts this season in the defensive end. It’s actually the first time in Keith’s career he saw more defensive-zone starts than offensive — he was up as high as 57.6 percent of his shifts starting in the offensive zone in 2013-14. Despite this, Keith turned in a Corsi-for mark of 52.9 percent.

The last positive points we can make regard the postseason, with Keith netting a career high in time on ice in these most recent Stanley Cup Playoffs. His 31:28 ATOI marked only the third time in eight postseason appearances he has cleared 30 minutes in ATOI. As a result of being on the ice so much, he averaged a goal every two games against the Blues. Considering his career high in postseason goals is four, it’s fair to say he could’ve broken that had the Blackhawks kept going past the first round.

Negatives

There aren’t a lot, but we’re going to start with the obvious one. Keith put his team in a real hole with his hot-headed antics toward the end of the regular season, netting a six-game suspension for smacking Charlie Coyle in the head with his stick. That ban ran into the playoffs, and with the Blackhawks falling to the Blues in seven games and losing Game 1 (without Keith), his poor decision making was damaging to the Blackhawks.

Keith occasionally looked a little lost in the defensive zone as the season wore on as well. It very well could have been a combination of having so many different defensive partners and just being plain tired, but his passes seemed to get sloppy near his own net as the season (and postseason) wore on.

Also, Keith apparently lost a faceoff in the regular season, the first draw of his NHL career. That’s not a real negative — it’s just a fascinating little statistic.

Next: Bowman's First-Round Draft Failures

Grade: A-

Despite how important Keith was to this season’s team, he gets the minus attached to the A for his terrible decision to use his stick as a weapon, putting his team at a disadvantage to start the postseason.

Outside of that, however, Keith did everything we’ve come to expect, and he did it coming off an injury, coming off a third consecutive short offseason and playing with possibly the worst defensive group he’s seen in Chicago since the team broke its Cup drought.

The Blackhawks need to work as hard as they can moving forward to cash in on their Cup window, as Keith’s good years may soon be fleeting.

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