Come to the end of the defense, which ends with the Hawk most likely to take home personal silverware this season. Mostly due to his excellent play, with slight credit to Eddie Olczyk banging the drum from November on, Keith has been the Norris front-runner for a while. He added a second gold-medal as well this year, the only time he didn’t have to drag around a jack-cheese soaked partner. How much that balances out his not taking the toughest competition is up for debate. But wherever you land on that, Keith had a mostly excellent season.
Regular Season: 79 games, 6 goals, 55, assists, 61 points, +22, 0.13 Behind The Net Rating, 16.40 Corsi per 60 (+7.2 Corsi Relative per 60).
Playoffs: 19 games, 4 goals, 7 assists, 11 points, +7, 1.57 Behind The Net Rating, -1.91 Corsi per 60 (+0.4 Corsi Relative per 60)
What We Liked: Obviously, there was a lot. Before sinking down into the numbers and metrics, what was most encouraging about Keith’s game is the way it exemplifies, and amplifies, what the Hawks do as a whole. It’s high-pressure, as Keith is the most effective at squeezing up at his own blue line while the forwards push from behind. He has the speed to recover if he misses, which he doesn’t often. This is where his assists pile up, as the turnovers and possession he gains at his own blue line allows him to quickly turn the puck back up the ice to the forwards as well as jump in the play himself, and he he was mostly doing that to Toews and Hossa. Good things tend to happen when you do that. When he’s not doing that, it’s a quick turn and escape from below his goal-line, beating one or two forecheckers and again pushing the puck up to the forwards. It’s not just Keith’s speed but his quick first step and escapability. All of this was on display this season.
We’ll get to the discussion of his assists, but obviously 61 points from any blue-liner is exceptional. To be one of the best possession players on one of the best possession teams is always impressive. Quite simply, Keith is the straw that stirs the Hawks’ drink. No one is a bigger bellwether for the Hawks’ fortunes than The Flash.
What We Didn’t Like: Very little, and a lot of it has to do with things surrounding Keith instead of Keith himself. While people loved to harp on his assists, Keith is not a playmaker like Subban or Karlsson or even Doughty. He gets his assists through his defense, which is more than fine, and it’s reflection of his defense. It’s actually the second time he’s pierced 50+ assists, doing so in ’09-’10 when he won the Norris for the first time, and his high-wire high pressure game was completely coming off.
Second, while the Norris campaign seemed nonstop, the fact that Keith didn’t face the hardest competition on the team should really work highly against him if writers had any idea about this stuff for the most part. It’s not Keith’s fault obviously, and Hjalmarsson’s allowing of Keith to face easier competition and dominate is a huge reason for the team’s success. And it’s probably a comment on his partner more than Keith. And you wouldn’t expect this to stop.
The rest is nit-picking really. Keith could score more, because he’s had more than 10 goals twice and only managed six this year. He’s still underwhelming as a power play quarterback as he struggles to open up shooting lanes for himself and thus can’t get his shot through. He’s also not quite the passer on the rush that Leddy or even Seabrook is (or used to be). He’s better than most, but you’d expect more. It’s a very high standard for Keith, maybe even unfairly so, but one he’s set with his play.
What Is It, You Would Say, You Do Here: Well, Keith is going to be the linchpin back there for the next decade or so. While Keith has entered his 30s, the arc of a d-man’s career is a little longer than a forward’s. So no one should expect Keith to go from Norris front-runner this year to second tier player the next, or even in the next couple. That said, trying to find a way to save his legs some wouldn’t be the worst idea. But he’s needed everywhere, so that’s hard to do. What will be interesting is if Oduya is punted as expected and Leddy promoted to the second pairing, will it see Hjalmarsson still taking the tough assignments with Leddy? Or would that duty go back to Keith and Seabrook? Or would there be a re-shuffle of the pairings, with Hammer and Keith being the top and Seabrook playing centerfield for Leddy (this feels most likely)? Or could Keith play mentor to Johns? All of the above? We shall see.