Duncan Keith has been one of the most consistent and successful defenseman in the NHL for the better part of a decade. He has been the cornerstone of a Blackhawks blue line that has led Chicago to three Stanley Cups in a six year span and nine straight playoff appearances. A four-time All-Star, Keith has won just about every individual and team award possible. Three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, two Norris Trophy wins, and one Conn Smythe Trophy are just some of the many accolades won by the Winnipeg native. The 34-year-old has stated recently that he wishes to play in the league until the age of 45. However, as the 2017 NHL regular season approaches its halfway point, Duncan Keith’s statistics are well below his average.
This begs the question: Is Duncan Keith still an elite defenseman?
When analyzing Duncan Keith’s statistics, it does not take long to notice some significant deficits. As the NHL season nears the midway point, Keith has not been posting the same numbers as years past. His points-per-game (PPG) is currently .47, which is 10% less than the average over his career. The last time he finished a season below .50 PPG was in 2008-2009, nearly 10 years ago.
Keith has also yet to score a goal this year, but this is not too concerning, as he has never scored more than 14 goals in a year.
What may be concerning, however, is his plus/minus (+/-). It is often said that you can tell a lot about a defenseman by their plus/minus, as it shows how a player affects the game. Well, as it stands right now, Duncan Keith sits at an uncharacteristic -6. There is still a lot of hockey to be played this season, obviously, but this is a number worth monitoring because Keith, historically, tends to finish each year as one of the best plus/minus defenseman in the entire NHL.
But maybe the answers don’t lie within Keith’s stats. What if the problem lies somewhere else?
When the team traded away Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes in the offseason, a gaping hole was left in the middle of the Blackhawks’ defensive depth chart. To this point, nobody has been able to fill that void. Hjalmarsson was the Blackhawks’ best shot blocker and was always dependable defensively. The mix of Connor Murphy, Cody Franson, and Gustav Forsling has not been able to make up for such a loss.
Perhaps the most promising new face in a red sweater on defense this year has been Jan Rutta. The 27-year-old Czech defenseman is second on the team in points by a defenseman with 13, though he has been streaky at times this season.
Before the beginning of the year, the Chicago Blackhawks would suffer another great loss. Marian Hossa, considered by many as one of the best defensive forwards in the league, would also be lost for the season and placed on long-term Injured Reserve with a skin disorder.
The Blackhawks are younger and more inexperienced than they have been in a long time. With this being said, veteran players like Duncan Keith are depended on to play a much larger role. This has led to him being split up from longtime defensive partner, Brent Seabrook, in an attempt by Joel Quenneville to balance out the pairings.
Duncan Keith is once again among the league leaders in time on ice for defensemen, as he averages nearly 25 minutes per game– right on par with his career average. He is considerably older than every other ice time leader, which is no small feat and hints at their being a bit more fuel in the tank than one may think. He is a true ironman and is trusted to defend the other team’s top players night after night, despite being in his mid-30’s, and still continues to put up above-average numbers.
- His -6 plus/minus is better than former Norris Trophy winners, Erik Karlsson (-16) and Brent Burns (-11)
- His .47 PPG tops that of Mark Giordano (.40), Rasmus Ristolainen (.36), and Aaron Ekblad (.35)
- His 16 assists put him above names like: Roman Josi (14), Charlie McAvoy (14), and Shea Weber (10)
The Blackhawks have had their fair share of problems. Despite these drawbacks, Keith has actually continued to play at a relatively high level. He has helped Chicago to a 17-12-5 record to date and the team is coming off a five game winning streak that was ended Thursday night in Dallas.
Sure his numbers aren’t on par with his norm, but nevertheless, there is a strong argument that suggests Duncan Keith is still an elite talent.