Keith, now 36 believe it or not, continued to pace the Blackhawks in average time on ice yet again this season.
In some ways, the 2019-20 regular season was just like many in the past for Chicago Blackhawks veteran defenseman Duncan Keith. He led the team in time on ice per game for the 15th consecutive season at 24:23 while anchoring the top defensive pairing, and the two-time Norris Trophy winner also was top-25 in the league in blocked shots for the third year in a row despite missing nine games due to injury. Even more impressive is that Keith was able to do all that alongside 19-year-old rookie Adam Boqvist, who had no prior professional experience coming into the season.
But in other ways, Keith was simply not the same No. 1 defenseman in 2019-20 that he was for what seemed like forever. The Blackhawks second-round pick (54th overall) in the 2002 NHL Draft finished with just 27 points (3G, 24A) in his 61 games played, which is tied for the second-lowest point total of his 15-year career. The only other season where Keith tallied fewer points was as a rookie all way back in 2005-06 (21). The Winnipeg, Manitoba native also scored only one goal at even strength, which gives him just seven in the last three years combined.
Keith’s 61 games are the lowest he’s played in a season (besides the lockout-shortened year in 2012-13) though, so it’s not too much of a surprise to see his numbers so low. Still, Keith was only on pace for 32 points had the remainder of the regular season not been canceled, which would have been one of his lower outputs as an NHLer.
One possible reason why Keith has seen both his goal and point totals drop in the last few years could be due to his sudden decline in total shot attempts. When Keith was at his best offensively during the Blackhawks dynasty era, he was averaging well over 300 shot attempts annually. Hell, in 2013-14 when he was awarded the Norris Trophy for being the NHL’s top defenseman, Keith racked up over 400 total shot attempts. But in 2019-20, he only recorded 256 shot attempts, the lowest of his career. That also led to Keith’s lowest shots on goal total in his 15 years (besides 2012-13) with 111. If the 2015 Conn Smyth Trophy winner wants to get his offensive numbers back up, he might want to start shooting the puck more rather than looking for the perfect pass.
Taking a look at Keith’s possession metrics, and, unfortunately, he finished with a sub-50 Corsi percentage for the first time in the NHL at 49.1 percent. Keith was also on the ice for 56 goals for to 57 goals against at even strength, which marks just the third time he was negative in that department. These lower possession numbers could be because of Keith’s significant amount of playing time with the young Boqvist, or also because of the Blackhawks subpar defense as a team.
Keith’s top performance of the season was probably on March 3 against the Anaheim Ducks, when he tallied two primary assists, two shots on goal, two blocks, and a +3 plus/minus rating in 24:17. The Blackhawks went on to win the contest 6-2 at the United Center, with Dylan Strome also tallying two goals in the contest. Keith also had an impressive showing a few weeks earlier in a home victory against the Nashville Predators. In that game, the three-time Stanley Cup champion also picked up two assists in the low-scoring 2-1 win, including the primary assist on Alex DeBrincat’s overtime-winning goal. Keith also had four shots on goal and two takeaways in a whopping 28:23 of ice time, helping the Hawks pick up a huge two points over their division rival.
Overall, Keith had a very mediocre 2019-20 regular season, but that could be due to the high amount of minutes the Hawks are asking him to play for his age. It also does not help that he was playing with a teenager for the majority of the year. Still, it is clear that Keith is not the defenseman he once was for the Blackhawks, but he can still play a significant role for this team. The problem this year was that the fellow shutdown blue-liner Calvin de Haan missed a chunk of time because of a shoulder injury, which then gave Keith a much larger role than the Blackhawks surely would like at this point. Keith just is not a No. 1 defenseman on a playoff contender at his age, but in a second-pairing role at around 21-22 minutes per game, he could have the chance to thrive once again.
If the NHL’s potential 24-team postseason does go on as planned, expect to see Keith on the Blackhawks top pairing with Boqvist throughout the best-of-five play-in series against the Edmonton Oilers. With a healthy de Haan potentially back in the lineup for that series, the Blackhawks could cut down Keith’s ice time by a few minutes, which will help keep him fresh and at his best to face Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
For more Blackhawks news and updates, follow the author (@TalkinHawkey) on Twitter. Make sure to check out the author’s podcast, Locked On Blackhawks, which can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Twitter (@LO_Blackhawks).