Wait, there's something I'm supposed be doing with this thing down here. Don't say anything, it'll come to me.
You'd be hard pressed to find anyone in recent memory who's had a better season than Duncan Keith did in 2009-2010: an Olympic gold, a Stanley Cup, a Norris Trophy, and he could have very well also won the Conn Smythe as well, but that's a totally different discussion. So with that said, it's understood that Keith kind of had nowhere to go but down. But was it reasonable to expect this? Keith never looked focused or in sync the entire season, and admitted as much during the playoffs. No one suffered as precipitous a dropoff in play as Keith, and the Hawks record directly reflected that.
|2010 - Duncan Keith||82||7||38||45||-1||22||3||1||1||173|
Contract Status: Signed through 2023 or The Rapture (whichever happens first), $5.538 cap hit
Positives: About the best thing we can say for Keith this season is that he remained an absolute workhorse, playing in all 82 games (as well as all 7) playoff games, and leading the league in time on ice per game, at 26:53 per, out pacing the next closest skater (Dan Boyle) by 39 seconds a game. Keith also faced some of the toughest competition in the league, 16th by Behind The Net's metrics (Dave Bolland and Brent Seabrook were 2nd and 3rd respectively). No matter the situation, Keith was tossed out there by Quenneville. It's a testament to Keith's conditioning and competitiveness that he didn't dissolve into goo by the All Star break, but the minutes have clearly started to take their toll.
Negatives: Aside from the statistical dropoff that saw Keith's production plummet 24 points from a year ago, he also posted his first minus rating since his rookie year, when he was -11 on a dogshit team in 2005-2006. But aside from that, there's the dreaded eye test. If it felt like Keith led the universe in the number of shots he had blocked by opponent shinpads this season, you're not that far off, as he was second behind Alex Ovechkin in shots blocked against per 60 minutes on the ice. When you really think about this, it's quite an accomplishment; being second in the rate of having your shots blocked not only to a forward, but likely the most prolific trigger man of a generation, one who fires from everywhere and will be at the top of this list on volume alone. This speaks to the mental fatigue and poor decision making Keith suffered from that we beat to death over the course of the year- he clearly has the physical tools and skating ability to change the angle on a shot to get it through, but instead opted to fire it into traffic without thinking.
Keith's shooting wasn't his only offensive issue. Countless passes through neutral ice were far more difficult than necessary, with Keith opting for the 75 foot pass rather than a 15 foot pass to keep the offense moving along. This was exacerbated on the power play, where Keith was content to fire passes into traffic from behind his own blue line, killing any sort of rush or clean entry, where every powerplay quarterback from pee wee level on knows that you don't make a pass until you're pressured. This got Keith yanked from the top unit in favor of mismatched parts Sharp and Seabrook on points, and contributed heavily to the fucking clown shoes appearance of the Hawk advantage (particularly on the 5-on-3) despite it's empirical statistical success.
Keith's shortcomings weren't limited to being pointed toward the opposition's net, either. Likely as a result of being severely overworked from Jump Street this year, Keith habitually took poor angles in puck retrieval and simply didn't have the legs to win the races he'd won in years previous, which was key in the Hawks' transition game. This led to chasing in the defensive zone and as a result further positional breakdowns and goals against. Not to mention when the puck was corralled, it was occasionally fired to no one in particular either up the boards or in front of the net, a move Keith had cornered the market on in the past.
Things were no better off the ice, as Keith bus-tossed his teammates after a loss in Calgary, and admitted that he wasn't all there mentally for the majority of the season between games 5 and 6 in the Vancouver series. As Chris Block opined, were hockey in more of the spotlight in this city, or if the beat reporting contingent had any kind of balls whatsoever, Keith would have been carved up and served on a platter both by fans and media alike for his remarks. Instead, he's been given a pass for the most part.
Defining moment: Poor decision, blocked shot, bad pursuit angle, no gas, goal against.
Outlook: Despite how hellacious this season was, and even if Keith weren't signed through the lifespan of Bobby Hull's hairpiece, there should be no way in hell the Hawks could possibly give up on a 27-year old defenseman who already has one Norris trophy under his belt. A lot of factors contributed to what we observed this year - the wear of 111 total games last season, idiotic management decisions eroding his effectiveness by increasing his ice time out of necessity, and an admitted lack of motivation after a dream season all converged to spawn one of the most schizophrenic follow-ups to a Norris campaign in recent memory. But for all the dissecting done here, it's still undoubtedly true that outside of Jonathan Toews, the success of the Hawks hinges on no one player more than Duncan Keith. His effectiveness predicates everything the Hawks are trying to accomplish, and when he's on, we see performances like that of Game 5 in Vancouver, where not even a President's Trophy winning team has a chance in hell. And it's with that we give you the final result of one of the most telling stat lines of the season, Duncan Keith's production in wins versus losses for the Hawks.
(click to enlarge)
Final Grade: D. There's no getting around the fact that the Hawks leaned on Duncan Keith harder than ever this year, and he flat out let them down at many points in the season. Some of it wasn't within his control, but a lot of it was, and the only hope is that he'll return next year with fresh legs and a clearer head to enable him to erase the memory of 2010-2011, as he's earned the opportunity to do so. No one wants to imagine a bleak and endless future where this is the Duncan Keith we see from now on.