Duncan Keith has become a whipping boy for Blackhawks fans since winning the Norris Trophy in 2010. Perception is that his play has dropped off, and some fans consider him a player that could be traded.
Is Keith really expendable?
No, Keith isn’t expendable.
Are there moments from Keith that make fans scratch their head? Absolutely. Have beer sales at the United Center been directly impacted by his play over the last couple seasons? Certainly.
But a realistic look at what Keith brings to the Blackhawks indicates he’s still an elite defenseman, and someone the team cannot afford to replace.
Only four defensemen in the NHL have reached the 40-point plateau in each of the last four seasons: Keith, Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber and Dan Boyle. Of course the last two Norris winners have been Chara and Keith, and both Weber and Chara are nominated again this year.
Six other players have reached 40 points in three of the last four years, a group that includes retired Red Wings Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. Also reaching 40 points three times in the last four years have been Dennis Wideman, Keith Yandle, Christian Ehrhoff, and Mark Streit.
Only 56 different defensemen have reach the 40-point mark over the last four years total. What Keith has been able to produce on a yearly basis over the last four seasons puts him in elite company.
But it isn’t only his offensive production that would be hard to replace.
Only three defensemen in the NHL have averaged over 25 minutes per game in each of the last four seasons: Keith, Chara and Jay Bouwmeester. Indeed, Keith has been either first or second in the league in average ice time for a defenseman in each of the last three seasons. Only 25 different defensemen have averaged over 25 minutes on ice in a season over the last four years.
Keith’s combination of durability and production are incredibly rare. If we combine those two statistics, we find only two defensemen in the NHL that have averaged over 25 minutes per game and registered more than 40 points in each of the last four seasons: Keith and Chara, who happen to be the last two players to win the Norris Trophy.
Now for arguably the most important frame of reference: cost. Keith’s cap hit of $5,538,462 ranked 13th among NHL defensemen last year. His contract’s relative affordability will only continue to improve as Ryan Suter undoubtedly passes him on the list and Weber signs a long-term deal with a cap hit well above Keith’s figure this summer.
At the end of the day, fans have every right to want, indeed to expect better play from the former Norris Trophy winner. And the argument has been made that his partner on the Blackhawks’ blue line, Brent Seabrook, has eclipsed him as the best defenseman on the roster in Chicago.
But to argue Keith should be replaced is based more on emotion than fact. Reality indicates that there simply aren’t many players in the NHL – one to be exact - that bring to the table what Keith has been for the Blackhawks over the last few years.