Blackhawks

Blackhawks 2019-20 season in review: Duncan Keith

Blackhawks 2019-20 season in review: Duncan Keith

The NHL put its 2019-20 season on pause March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but remains hopeful to award the Stanley Cup at some point. Although it's unclear if or when it could return, NBC Sports Chicago will recap the season of each Blackhawks player to date in our "season in review" series. Next up is Duncan Keith.

Duncan Keith is a physical specimen and the Blackhawks have been spoiled by his ability to play at an elite level while staying healthy for the last decade and a half. No Blackhawk has logged more minutes in the regular season and postseason than Keith since he entered the league in 2005-06. And they’re hard minutes, too.

But for the first time in what feels like forever, the Blackhawks felt what life was like without their two-time Norris Trophy winner after he missed nearly three weeks with a groin injury that nagged at him for a month before it worsened on Nov. 29 against Colorado and forced him to take some time off to recover. And it didn't go very well.

The Blackhawks went 3-5-1 in the nine games Keith missed and had the fourth-worst points percentage (.389) in the NHL over that span. They also had a minus-13 goal differential and penalty kill percentage of 76.7, which ranked 21st. When he was in the lineup, the Blackhawks were 29-25-7 with a plus-7 goal differential and 83.1 penalty kill percentage, which would rank No. 5.

No one player can replace what Keith brings to the table on a nightly basis. It’s a committee approach, and that’s what the Blackhawks were forced to do.

"It's one of those things you're so used to having him on the back end doing what he does, it's almost like you take it for granted," Jonathan Toews said of Keith in November. "A lot of minutes he plays, what he does offensively and defensively, just how he makes the game easier on his own partner and everyone around him too. Hopefully he'll be back soon; not used to being out there without a guy like him and definitely hurts a lot."

Keith plays more even-strength and penalty-kill minutes than anybody else on the team and logs the most power-play minutes among team defenseman. His ice time average of 24:23 is his highest since the 2016-17 season when he averaged 25:37 per game.

Even as he approaches age 37, Keith remains a valuable part of the Blackhawks. 

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Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

The NHL and NHL Players' Association worked diligently into the late hours on Tuesday and reportedly made significant progress as the two sides look to come to an overall agreement on the protocols and safety measures for Phase 3 and 4, transition rules and a Collective Bargaining Agreement extension. 

Nothing is official until the entire deal is ratified — the voting could take place Friday or Saturday — but, barring any last-minute breakdowns, Edmonton and Toronto are expected to be named the two hub cities for the league's 24-team Return to Play plan, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie. Chicago was among the four finalists from a field that started with 10 candidates.

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Vegas was a clear frontrunner from the beginning because of its appealing and tight bubble environment, but the NHL and NHLPA were forced to shift its attention elsewhere after an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases.

It was originally believed that the league would put each conference in opposite regions to eliminate any sort of competitive advantage, but that no longer appears to be the case. The Western Conference is expected to play in Edmonton while the Eastern Conference will go to Toronto, which means the Blackhawks will head to Edmonton if or when hockey officially returns.

Both hub cities will host exhibition games, the qualifying round and Rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs, but only one of them will host the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final. It's unclear which city will host the latter.

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

When the NHL's Return To Play plan and 24-team playoff format were originally being hashed out, there was some hope that the Blackhawks could receive some much-needed defensive depth from Ian Mitchell. But that may not be the case.

Chicago could use all the help they can get in their potential best-of-5 play-in series against the Oilers under the league's format.

Mitchell, 21, was drafted by the Hawks in the second round (No. 57 overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. He spent the past three seasons at the University of Denver, captaining the Pioneers this past year and setting a career high in goals (10) and points (32) through 36 games.

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The promising defenseman signed a three-year entry-level contract with Chicago in April after the NHL paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11.

Wednesday morning, TSN's Bob McKenzie reported players in a similar boat to Mitchell who signed during the pause, as well as unsigned draft picks, are not expected to be eligible if and when the NHL resumes to finish the 2019-20 season.