Over the next few weeks the CtA staff will be looking back at the 2011-12 campaign and doing our personal evaluations of individuals players. We begin with one of the guys who wears a letter for this team and generally spends about half the game on the ice, Duncan Keith.

Unfortunately what he'll be most remembered for in 2011-12

26:53.

That’s the first number that I went and researched because it’s probably the most obvious place to start. For three seasons we’ve monitored Duncan Keith’s ice time because the Blackhawks have been unable to field a third pairing that can skate 10-12 minutes a game. Twenty six minutes and fifty three seconds is the average amount of time that Duncan Keith spent on the ice for the Blackhawks this past season. He did that in just under 31 shifts a game at about 50 seconds each. Only former Blackhawk Brian Campbell was in that range. In fact, the number is exactly the same for Campbell. It’s unfortunate that Duncan Keith will be remembered for what is pictured above because there’s far more to talk about with #2′s season than that. Much of the discussion will take the same tone though.

Positives: We’re all still coming to grips with our season being over so I suppose it’s best to start with the positives on players. Keith was easily one of the Blackhawks two best defenceman and that’s not a surprise to anyone. As discussed, he spent more time on the ice than any other player on the roster. Being a minutes eater is absolutely one of D2K’s strengths. He continued to play in every situation. The dreadful powerplay, the mediocre penalty kill and the preferred even strength.

The minutes that Keith did take were among the most difficult on the team. Keith’s quality of competition was the highest on the team with Brent Seabrook being just behind him. At even strength, 21.72% of the time Keith and Seabrook were paired together. With the construction of the roster this year, we’ve discussed before the defensive pairings and their makeup. Once Johnny Oduya was added, that argument became null and keeping 2 with 7 was logical. They carried the best, ugh, plus/minus on the team and faced the most difficult opposition.

I’ve now sat here for 25 minutes searching for more positives other than Duncan Keith’s lungs and slightly above average ability in 2011-12 to shutdown the opponent’s best players. It’s a bit disheartening as a D2K fan that I can’t unearth any more past those and having the highest point total on the team for defenceman.

Negatives: You’ve just finished reading a section (at least I hope you have) detailing the amount of minutes that Duncan Keith skated this season so it should be noted that most of this criticism comes with a bit of a disclaimer. There’s a difference between excuses and a disclaimer though. Keith is expected, and well compensated, to shut down the best players in the league. At even strength, he was passable this past season. On the penalty kill, he was inconsistent in doing so. Only Nick Leddy, who didn’t belong there in the first place, was on the ice for more goals against on the PK. Was it fatigue? Perhaps. But we can only use that so many times to justify the performance of what is supposed to be Chicago’s best defenceman.

Offensively Duncan Keith did tally the highest point total of any player on the Blackhawks’ blue line. He was one of the few defencemen that joined the play on offensive rushes and made passes to set up goals near the blue paint. Where did that shot from the Cup season go that made it through traffic though? It’s two years running we’re talking about Keith being better at hitting skates and shinpads than twine or goalie pads. That, and making the extra pass when it wasn’t required. Only Niklas Hjalmarsson had a worse shooting percentage than Keith. I’m not going to count Dylan Olsen because his sample size was small or Sean O’Donnell because… well, draw your own conclusions.

Keith’s offensive game must improve. Or at the very least, return to what it was in 2009-10.

I might be the “stats guy” on this staff but even I can’t fathom trying to go back and look at the play by play of 82 games to give you definitive proof of Keith turning the puck over in his own zone more than his teammates. I can safety say that it was an epidemic among Blackhawks defenceman this past season and Keith did not escape blame. His proclivity for 100 foot passes extended from 2010-11 into this season. While he can complete those passes from time to time, it more often than not ended up working against the puck possession strategy that the Blackhawks are operating under. Keith is one of the stronger skaters on the team among blue liners. I’d rather see him skate the puck out of his own end or simply chip it into the neutral zone when encountering pressure. Keith is more than capable of leading a rush into the offensive end, especially with Seabrook playing so well in the Hawks own end. Until Keith’s legs start to give out underneath him, I’d prefer he use those instead of the home run passes to change ends of the ice.

Outlook: This is obviously being done prior to free agency and the draft so these outlooks will be partially hypothetical. Keith is signed with the Blackhawks from now until 2023 at a $5.5M cap hit. No, we’re not trading Duncan Keith this offseason nor any time in the near future. Keith will be an integral part of the Hawks blue line for the next several seasons. It’s likely that his partner will remain the same in Brent Seabrook. He’s only 28 years old, turning 29 this July. We’ve probably seen Keith hit his peak but that doesn’t mean his decline is coming or that it will be steep.

What is certain about Duncan’s outlook is that he needs help that doesn’t come in the form of Brent Seabrook. Keith is capable of logging high minute totals however it doesn’t mean he’ll play at his optimal level when playing them. Even in his postseason press conference Keith said, perhaps not directly, that Quenneville didn’t trust his defencemen past the top pairing.

Assessment: I don’t like assigning subjective letter grades so we’ll do this by point totals… which are probably just as arbitrary but what the hell. I’ll at least make it easy and do them out of ten points per category.

  • Offense: 6.5 out of 10
  • Defense: 7.5 out of 10
  • Special Teams: 6 out of 10
  • Intangibles: 8 out of 10
  • Overall, Keith had a slightly above average year. He’s paid to be a lot better than above average. We expect excellence from D2K and returning to that level of play will go a long way to returning the Blackhawks overall defence to form.