Let’s move on from the acid-reflux-inducing situation that is the Blackhawks goalies, and instead start pondering the black hole of the blue line, which saw notably pitiful changes from last season, despite the obvious need for more talent right now. After giving up 2,683 shots against, their worst number since 2013-2014 (when at least they made the Conference Finals), and finding new ways to plumb the depths of clumsiness and stupidity nearly every night, the Hawks defense was the glaring eyesore of the season. Duncan Keith wasn’t anywhere close to being the main offender in last year’s shit show, but for the defense to have any chance at rebounding this year they need him to improve. And for better or for worse, he will probably still be on the top pairing. So we start with him…
82 GP – 2 G – 30 A
52.4 CF% – 60.5 oSZ%
Avg. TOI 23:50
A Brief History: It would be foolish to say that last year was anything other than a disappointment for Duncan Keith, and it’s not just because of the measly two goals. Yes that was all sorts of pathetic, but it’s not like he was scoring tons of goals in years prior and besides, it the defense that matters. No, the real problems were his lackluster numbers overall despite taking over 60% of his even-strength zone starts in the offensive zone, and the fact that he was basically dragging around a useless clod in Jordan Oesterle all season. These two things are connected and the latter is most certainly not Keith’s fault, but it’s concerning given the defensive roster this season.
With a 52.4 CF% (again, at evens), he wasn’t too off his historical average but—one more time for the cheap seats—this was following a decrease in defensive zone starts. So last year’s numbers don’t bode well, Also, Keith is slower and trending continually in that direction (he turned 35, and the ravages of age come for us all). It’s tough to watch sometimes because he still knows where he should be, but he just can’t get there. And oh yeah, who the fuck is he going to be paired with? Let’s consider the possibilities.
It Was the Best of Times: In the rosiest outcome (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) Keith and Murphy would click in the way I kept hoping they would last year, but never did. They only played a handful of games together last season and I’m convinced that Q’s irrational disdain for Murphy torpedoed what could have been a pairing of the smartest-yet-aging and best-yet-green defensemen. In this utopia Murphy could at least cover for Keith when he can’t make it to the corners or behind the net, and maybe taking the pressure off a little will allow Keith to get a few more assists or even goals. But most valuable would be extending the abilities Keith still has by not running him into the ground, also while having him become the elder statesmen passing along his knowledge to Jokiharju et. al, who each get some time with the guru.
It Was the BLURST of Times: In place of you-could-mistake-him-for-a-fencepost Jordan Oesterle (who doesn’t even merit a skypoint), Q falls back into a comfortable situation that is well past its prime, as he is wont to do—pairing Keith and Seabrook together. Our Nachos preview is still to come so I won’t dive into the details here, but you know as well as I do that he’s only going to be slower and more bloated this year, and pairing him and Keith together would not only be viciously counterproductive, it would be a sad coda to what was once a great partnership. Equally awful would be pairing Keith with Brandon Manning, the literal definition of “just a guy.” In either of these situations Keith’s diminishing speed and possession problems will only become more glaring.
Prediction: In all honesty, Keith probably gets stuck with a rotating cast of jamokes, as Q desperately searches for a pairing that works but that for some reason doesn’t involve Connor Murphy. There will be parts of games where he’s paired with Seabrook, and the collective scorching of retinas will force him to abandon that plan. Then Rutta and Gustafsson will get their turns, neither of whom will be able to compensate for Keith’s slower step. There very well could be a 20-game stretch of Keith-Rutta where Keith does his best at damage control and we all hide behind our couches for their shifts. And yet somehow, Keith will end the season with 8 goals and over 40 points. Hockey is weird and it’s bound to happen for REASONS that won’t make sense. Welcome to 2018.
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