Photo: Comcast SportsNet

The Chicago Blackhawks’ defensive “crisis” in the off-season centered around Niklas Hjalmarsson, and the offer sheet dropped on his lap by traitor scum-bag shit-hole Doug Wilson, now GM of the San Jose Sharks. (You’re going to pay, Dougie — Logan Couture’s contract will expire at some point…) But once that was resolved, Blackhawks’ fans settled into the knowledge that they had arguably the best top-four defensive corps in the league, anchored by Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith.

Oh, how quickly things can change.

Duncan Keith started the 2010-11 season playing some of the worst hockey of his career, even when compared with his rookie season. Whiffing on shots; shanking passes; getting his pocket picked; getting caught out of position; given the time and the inclination, I could go through videotape of the first 20 games and make a case for Keith being sent to the minors. His play was so bad, and resulted in so many opponents’ scoring chances, I advocated putting him in the press box as a healthy scratch.

From Norris Trophy winner to formerly-devoted fans calling for him being sat down in six months. What. The. Fuck.

Was there a latent injury? Different skates? Different sticks? Did he need glasses? Were his remaining teeth causing him pain? Did his hamster die? Was the girlfriend not putting out? There had to be something causing this, because athletes with his level of ability don’t have performance slumps of this magnitude. This wasn’t a slump at all: it was a vast chasm of ineptitude.

And it just kept going. On into the winter, then up to the All-Star break. And for some reason, at that point, whatever it was that was causing this nightmare disappeared. The old Duncan Keith was back, and none too soon. His stats rebounded nicely, and he ended the year second on the team among defensemen in assists and points.

People ask, “How do you know? What tells you that he’s playing like his old self again?” It’s actually easy to see if you know what to look for. It’s most evident when he’s got the puck in his own zone, starting a breakout from below the goal line. When he gets pressure from a winger forechecking in deep, that’s when the moment of truth is. Does he look down, turn his shoulder and try to move away towards the boards? Or does he keep his head up, protect the puck with his stick, stop short, change direction and move up the ice away from where the winger can easily get to?

In the first instance, he’s going to get his pocket picked in the next two seconds. In the second instance, he’ll beat the winger to the blue line and send an outlet pass up the weak side to a speeding teammate. There was a world of difference in his play, and for about four months he just simply lost it. It was obvious that he was struggling to get it back, and whatever he was trying just didn’t fix the problem.

A Norris Trophy season is a four-Indian-Head season. We all know he’s got another Norris Trophy season (or two? or seven?) in him. Unfortunately for Duncan, the bar has been raised. He’s not going to like his grade this year, but we’re nothing if not honest around here. The first three-fifths of this year were nothing short of terrible for Duncs. And though he turned up the juice in the last stretch and into the playoffs, he can’t erase that dismal start.

Here’s hoping we never, EVER, see that from him again.

 

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