Musings

Oh You Didn't Know?

…for those of you at home who get that, I’ll go ahead and let you finish that line out.

McClure and I were talking yesterday, and we’ve had to raise a bemused eyebrow at how Duncan Keith, that’s two-time Norris winner, two-time Gold Medalist, should-have-’10-Conn-Smythe Duncan Keith, is having something of a coming out party this playoff run. It’s amazing what amounting counting stats for the national hockey press can do.

But it takes a point-per-game to get people to notice a d-man we guess, even though this isn’t absurdly higher production than Keith has put up in deep Hawks runs before. In 2010 it was 17 points in 22 games (when he was taking on the toughest assignments as well and simply kicking a hole in the world). He had 13 in 22 games in ’13, and last year was 11 points in 19 games.

But this is his first point per game postseason, so now everyone notices. But we’ve known all along how good Keith is, and we’ve known it for several years. We were saying as far back as 2009 that even though Kane and Toews draw all the headlines and attention, the Hawks go as Keith goes. When he’s not good (and it’s not often), the Hawks struggle. When he is good, there might not be a better team.

As we start paying attention to other numbers to try and figure out what’s going on, Keith’s consistency since his and the team’s rise to prominence is what marks him out. In terms of possession since 2008-2009, Keith has been the best possession d-man in the league. In seven years Keith’s CF% has never been below 53.4% and peaked at 56.1 in ’09-’10 (and he was at 55.9 this season, at age 32).

And really, that’s how Keith should be primarily judged. Because his job, especially since Hjalmarsson took over the main checking duties two years ago, is to push the Hawks the other way. He’s a great defender, as his goals-against per 60 are about in the top-25 the past seven years (Hammer is actually 2nd at 1.88 since 2009, behind only Chara).

Some marvel that Keith can do this at 32, but for one the arc for defensemen is a little longer than forwards, and around these parts we’ve always known about Keith’s freakish physical make up. And this isn’t unheard of. Scott Niedermayer was basically stink-fisting the entire league between ages 32-34, and retired at 36 when he was still useful if not dominant. Nick Lidstrom had a 57.1% when he was 42. And like Lidstrom, Keith has benefitted from continually playing behind a very talented crop of forwards (and despite the forecasts of doom, Keith won’t be playing behind Huey, Dewey, and Louie next year).

You don’t even have to look at Hall of Fame quality d-men to find ones who have remained more than effective into their 30s. Brian Campbell just had a 54.5% season at age 35, and you’d best believe if he goes on the trading block in the last year of his deal next season teams will be lining up. You all will laugh, and I can’t stop you or tell you you shouldn’t, but before missing a full year and blood clots in his leg, Kimmo Tmonen was a near-dominant possession player until age 38 last year (and seriously, it was just last year). So what Keith is doing is not unheard of, just perhaps the scale of it.

The thing with Keith, and people have looked at this is criticism when it’s not, is that he’s not Erik Karlsson or PK Subban. He’s not going to go end-to-end past three people. Keith’s offensive totals depend on what his forwards do with the platform he provides. While he made a 100-foot pass to Kane to set up Saad for Wednesday’s first goal, and then faked out half the Ducks to set up Hossa for the 2nd, those moments are more sporadic than they are for Karlsson and Subban. It’s Kane’s goal that is the perfect demonstration of how Keith gets his points. It’s standing up at either blue line, forcing a puck back up the ice because not only is Keith quicker than most skaters but he reads the play as well as anyone to augment those feet, and giving his forwards time and space to make plays. Keith keeps that puck in at the Ducks’ zone, beating a forward who is then out of the play, Kane has time to then set up Beleskey to send his jock into the 200 level, and it’s on. This is how Keith does it.

When Keith’s point total has binged, it’s because his forwards are just shooting better than other years. Keith put up 61 points last year, and his team shot 9.2% at evens which is very high. His 69 points in 2010 came with his team shooting 8.7 at evens. When Keith put up only 45 in 2010-11, his team only shot 7.2% at evens. But his possession numbers were no different. This year was his second-most dominant possession season, and his second most goals in a season as he shot 6.5% at even-strength, which is high for a d-man. But his teammates only shot 7.9%, which hurt his assist total. Keith has always done the same thing, it’s whether his teammates do the same with it that determines his point total.

I don’t know why Keith doesn’t get the attention he deserves. He’s been prickly at times with the press which hasn’t helped, though given his taste for heavy metal and slasher films, should it surprise anyone he’s a little sinister? The team doesn’t push him out there as much as they do others, and maybe that’s his choice. Maybe we don’t lavish the praise on him as much either, which is weird because he’s been basically my favorite Hawk since he came into the league. Perhaps we just take him for granted.

But we shouldn’t. He’s just as sure-fire of a Hall of Famer as Toews or Kane (at least he should be). His number is going to the rafters just as assuredly as well, and probably should the day he retires. Maybe we just needed everyone else to pay attention so we started paying attention again.

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