Our top pair and some other dude who in no way has generated any debate.
These are starting to drag a bit, what with all the other goings on and shenanigans surrounding the Hawks while they're not playing (impressive, really). So let's wrap up the defense at once, because in reality Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are viewed as a pair. And if they're not, they probably should be. It seems to be the only thing that's totally settled on the roster, who mans the top pairing and toughest defensive assignments. And that's a good thing.
Duncan Keith's Stat Line: 74G 4G 36A 40P +15 42PIM .17 Behind The Net Rating, .01 Quality of Competition
Brent Seabrook's Stat Line: 78G 9G 25A 34P +21 22PIM .67 Behind The Net Rating, .093 Quality of Comp.
The Good: Perhaps it's time that Hawks fans and media start viewing this pairing a little differently, and that would mean recognizing Brent Seabrook as the Hawks best all-around d-man. Because he is. It shouldn't be that much of a change. Seabrook is a couple years younger than Keith, and hence was a little behind him in his career arc and heading into his prime years. Well, he's there now. And he's the Hawks best passer from the back, possesses the biggest shot that he gets through more often (at least when the power play system actually moves penalty killers in anyway), their most physical blue-liner, their most consistent, their most positionally sound, and their most stable. In fact, it's hard for me to think of too many occasions where I saw Seabrook put a foot wrong, and that includes a stretch where he had to play with Spaz Hammer (Hjlamarsson). Quite simply, the Hawks have a not-that-poor-man's version of Chris Pronger on their roster, and should enjoy that fact.
As for Keith, there was an improvement on the season before, and we sometimes forget that he did just bank his fourth consecutive season of 40+ points. There isn't a huge list of defensemen in the league who can make that claim. Keith had his yips for sure, but they were fewer and farther between than we saw in 10-11. And while the defense was roiling in problems, most of them took place below the top pair. For the last two months of the season, Keith and Seabrook were shutting out the other team's top threats almost ubiquitously. And in the playoffs, Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata were basically a rumor. Can Shea Weber and Ryan Suter make that claim?
The Bad: This category obviously will start with Keithers. He didn't have a perfect season. And most of the complaints will be about his offensive game. Keith just isn't that good of a passer, and his QB-ing of a power play can be hard to watch. And of course, his shot selection can border on the abhorrent. Keith needs to realize that sending a shot wide to bank off the end-boards is far preferable than finding the first set of shin pads in the way. Also, with his skating, it's hard to fathom why he's so hesitant to get a defender down and walk around him. It's certainly within his capability. But that fits into all of Keith's game, which always feels like he's trying to do everything in a hurry. It leads to a high-risk, high-reward style. The quick turns and fakes and blind passes we see when retrieving the puck are all part of it. So is the wheeling through the neutral zone. It's just what he is, and I doubt we'd want it to change too much.
What has disappeared from Keith's game is the quick stick. When he was building his Norris resume up in 08-09 and 09-10, a lot of his game was built in always having his stick in the right place and dispossessing opponents at will with a simple flick of the wrist. Once the puck was loose, Keith's feet would always see him win the race. That just doesn't happen as much these days, and I don't know why.
We also have seen Keith's short temper, the biggest case being his suspension for turning into The Rock on Daniel Sedin. But it also exhibits itself in bus-tossing teammates in the press, or trying to make things happen that aren't there when things aren't going his or the Hawks' way. Keith needs to be an example of stability, and he hasn't always been.
Seabrook? Eh, those sideburns kind of suck. But I'm sure there's a segment of our readership that would heavily disagree. But as this was a season where Biscuit tied his career high in goals, and notched his second most points and plus-minus, I don't know how much there is to criticize here.
Contract Status: Keith is locked down forever at a $5.5M hit, and Seabrook just started his extension this season which runs for four more years at $5.8M
Stick Around or Hit The Bricks: The Hawks have one of the best pairings in the NHL, and are going to keep it around for a long time at a combined cap hit of 11.3M. Compare that with what the Preds will have to do to keep Weber and Suter together, if even possible, which would have to start at least at 14M per. Now you see how good the Hawks have got it. What they will do, or we hope they do, is find a way to maximize what they have. And that starts with conserving minutes, at least early in the season. That might, and should, mean getting Keith off the power play. It also means shoring up the second pair so that Marlboro 72 are only at 25 minutes a night at most. From Q's words at the Haviland-axing conference call, he probably knows this.
But let's be clear: When Hawks fans think of their chances year to year, and they'll probably always be good, a lot of that stems from having Keith and Seabrook as a base.