Welcome to our weekly Blackhawks Banter column, where we discuss all things Chicago Blackhawks. Yes, it’s the offseason for our friends in the red, white and black. But there’s plenty of work to be done in preparation for a successful 2021-22 season. Today Shaun Filippelli, Brooke LoFurno, Greg Boysen and Gail Kauchak discuss our future expectations for blueliner Duncan Keith, our thoughts on what to look forward to in the 2021-22 season, and what player we anticipate being lost in the upcoming expansion draft.
Expectations for Duncan Keith
We’ve talked a lot lately here on Blackhawks Banter about the younger players with the Blackhawks. Just in the past few columns we’ve discussed prospects Lukas Reichel and Henrik Borgstrom. We’ve touched on promising young forwards Brandon Hagel, Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik. And yes, there’s been a lot of conversation about the up-and-coming defensemen in Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin.
But one veteran that’s kind of flown under the radar this past season is Keith. Did you ever think just a few short years ago that the veteran blueliner would mostly be part of the background? After all, he’s won three Stanley Cups, two Norris trophies and one Conn Smythe in his esteemed career.
The 37-year-old currently has a no-movement clause and a contract that runs for the next two seasons with the Blackhawks. With all that said, what are your expectations from Keith next season?
I feel somewhat redundant answering this, as my stance from last offseason to this one hasn’t really changed. Despite the fact that the Blackhawks leveraged Keith’s ability to log as many minutes as he could last season, I never thought that was a good strategy for him or his team.
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The Blackhawks are rebuilding, and Keith is in his late-thirties. It’s time to be setting him up for success and utilizing his skill set far more strategically. That said, I expect he’ll be just as ready to be out on the ice as much as he’s called upon, in any and every scenario. However, what I hope changes is head coach Jeremy Colliton’s approach to utilizing the veteran star. Let the youth take over even more so, giving them the chance to step up during those important plays, and let Keith take a step back in every possible way.
My expectations for Keith are stagnant next season. I don’t think he will be better or worse. I believe he will just be himself, which is a useful second-pairing defenseman at this point. I think he will also continue to play the “mentor” role to the rest of the defensive group.
I have very low expectations for Keith heading into this season. It’s evident that he is no longer the elite, No. 1 defenseman we were used to seeing. Unfortunately, there is nobody on this roster that can fill that role. It’s up to the coaching staff to put him in a position to succeed. Keith is a warrior with a tremendous competitive spirit, so it will be hard to get him to take on a lesser role.
What I want to see out of him for the last two seasons of this contract is for Keith to become somewhat of a coach with skates, much like Cody Franson did in Rockford this past season. I want to see him embrace his new role and take the younger kids under his wing, and be their go-to guy for advice and guidance.
At the beginning of last season, I predicted Keith’s ice time would go down as the year progressed. That was not the case. He remained one of the most utilized defensemen on the team throughout the season. I believe this had a lot to do with the plethora of young defensemen Colliton was trying to break in. Keith was a secure and reliable mainstay in the midst of a lot of unknowns.
But this heavy usage showed in Keith’s minus-13 rating. Hopefully this season Colliton will be able to rely on some of the other defensemen to handle more high-pressure situations. We actually saw this happen with Connor Murphy and Keith. By the end of last year’s campaign Murphy was being utilized more than Keith, and lined up on the top defensive pairing while Keith was on the second pairing.
But Keith still logged the most time on the ice of all defensemen overall, as well as on the power play and the penalty kill. I’d like to see that change this season. Take him off the power play altogether. Cut down on his usage on the penalty kill and his minutes during 5-on-5 play. He’s still a very serviceable player, but he’s simply being too heavily relied upon.
Anticipating the Blackhawks 2021-22 Season
This past season was a tough one in that the Blackhawks were once again out of playoff contention. But the good news is management finally came clean and admitted the organization is in rebuilding mode. On top of that, they actually fared better than expected, suggesting the rebuild might be moving along faster than expected. Looking ahead, what are you most excited about for the 2021-22 season?
Seeing the surprise success the Blackhawks were able to achieve during their hottest streaks of last season was energizing as a fan. While we expected the team to struggle, their ultimate results aligned with that reality in that they missed the playoffs. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.
When you look at the impressive rookie performances they were able to enjoy, combined with the veteran presence that still showed up to produce, and the mix of younger talent who are already taking leaps towards superstardom, the Blackhawks are far from being a woeful rebuild. I’m looking forward to seeing if they can pick up where they left off and continue to exceed well beyond expectation, speeding up this plan and becoming contenders much sooner than anticipated.
There isn’t much that excites me about next season unless big changes are made. So on that note, I’m looking forward to seeing what changes will be made to make the team better.
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I also always look forward to seeing Patrick Kane continue to do his thing. He never seems to slow down, and his talent is such a joy to watch every season.
I’m looking forward to seeing this young group of players take another step in their development. It will be good to see them play within an entire 82-game regular season. There will be more growing pains, but that is part of the learning process. There is a long list of players that need to take that leap to reach the next level. Hopefully they all do, but we know some won’t. That will be the intriguing thing to watch in 2021-22.
I’m excited to see what the Blackhawks can do next season with Jonathan Toews in the fold. They fared better than anyone expected without him, so what kind of boost will he add? If he truly does return, he will bring his strong two-way play, his long-time success at the faceoff dot, plus the leadership and mentorship of a veteran captain.
Now I’m not saying Toews is the missing piece that will automatically make this a contending team, but he certainly adds to their depth in a big way. They have the potential to be much better with him than without him.
And gosh forbid even if Toews doesn’t return, there are still plenty of things to be excited about. Will Dach be ready to step up? Can Kubalik and Alex DeBrincat continue to grow into the stars they look to become? What will the lines and pairings be depending on who they add and subtract in the offseason? Does Kevin Lankinen have what it takes to become the No. 1 goaltender?
I think I better just stop now. Is it October yet?!
Expansion Draft Casualty Predictions
Finally, let’s talk about the expansion draft coming up on July 21. Like the rest of the teams in the league, the Blackhawks are going to lose one player to the Seattle Kraken. There are several different scenarios that could play out here depending on who the Blackhawks decide to protect or expose. But let’s just keep it simple. Which player do you think the Blackhawks are most likely to lose to the Kraken? Just name your player, and we’ll discuss the details on our upcoming Blackhawks Banter show!
Shaun – Calvin de Haan
Brooke – Malcolm Subban
Greg – de Haan
Gail – Adam Gaudette
Be sure to join us this Tuesday for our show where we will further debate these subjects and more! You can join us by Subscribing to our YouTube Channel, liking our Facebook Page, and following us on Twitter to catch every new episode. You can also now listen to our show in podcast form on your preferred platform. Our latest episode is featured below.