Duncan Keith

Duncan Keith: 2010 Stanley Cup champ Blackhawks could've been a 'mean machine'

Duncan Keith: 2010 Stanley Cup champ Blackhawks could've been a 'mean machine'

Some Chicago sports fans were lucky to witness two three-peats in the mid-90s, courtesy of Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

Could the Blackhawks have reached those lofty heights? Or at the very least, could they have secured a back-to-back championship?

15-year Hawks veteran Duncan Keith was part of all three Stanley Cup champion teams— 2010, 2013 and 2015. But even he, like so many die-hard Blackhawks fans, wonders ‘what could have been.’

The longtime defenseman was part of the recent 2010 Chicago Blackhawks Player Reunion Show, which celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the team winning its first of three Cups in six seasons.

“It was a two-year team in the making,” Keith said. “The year before, we lost to Detroit in the Western Conference Final and it kind of carried over. I look back on that team…you had guys end up going to different organizations and starring and being captains and top players. Had that team been able to stay together…we would have been able to really show what we could do with confidence knowing that we’d won before.”

The 2009-10 season was one for the books for Keith. In addition to being the anchor of the blue line, he notched career highs in goals (14), assists (55) and points (69). He also won the first of two Norris Memorial Trophies that season.

The Hawks’ win over the Flyers that season helped wipe away 49 years of anguish for the franchise. Patrick Kane’s game-winner in overtime of Game 6 gave Chicago its first Stanley Cup title since 1961.

[MORE: Ever wonder where the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup-winning puck is?]

But some of the team’s key cogs soon went elsewhere. The Blackhawks traded Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Bren Sopel to Atlanta. Then they dealt Colin Fraser to Edmonton for a sixth-round draft pick. A week later, Kris Versteeg was part of a five-player trade with Toronto. Andrew Ladd was traded a day later— the same day Adam Burish signed as a free agent with Dallas. In September, goaltender Antti Niemi would sign as a free agent with San Jose. Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky were dealt the following summer.

“If we would have been able to stick together, it would have been a pretty mean machine to deal with,” Keith said. "We were a confident group as it was. But if you’d just imagine the confidence that we would have had as a group had we been able to stick together with a championship under our belt already. I guess it’s always easy to look back and think what could have happened.”

And if you ever wondered why the celebration after the 2010 Cup was so special — lasting well into the days and weeks that followed — Keith made it clear.

“That celebration— I think a lot of it was just the fact that we knew kind of in the back of our minds that we weren’t going to be able to keep everybody around…and the team was going to get broken up because of the cap so I think there was some subconscious stuff going on there knowing that we wanted to do it for each other. That’s how close we were.”

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Ryan Dempster partied with Blackhawks after 2010 Cup win, pitched for Cubs next day

Ryan Dempster partied with Blackhawks after 2010 Cup win, pitched for Cubs next day

As the Blackhawks reached hockey’s mountaintop in 2010, winning their first Stanley Cup since 1961, the Cubs were beginning to decline. They went 75-87 that season, Year 1 of a five-year rebuild. 

You’ll have to forgive then-Cubs ace Ryan Dempster, an avid hockey fan, for how he felt watching the Blackhawks run through the 2010 playoffs while his own club struggled. 

“I think at times, I was more excited for what they were doing out on the ice than what we were doing on the baseball field,” Dempster told NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan last week. “Especially in 2010 and watching them go through all that was incredible.”

RELATED: Ryan Dempster wanted to be next Mario Lemieux, not baseball pitcher

Dempster befriended fellow Canadians Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews, and those friendships provided him the chance to celebrate with the Hawks after they won the Cup against the Philadelphia Flyers — though he almost passed up the opportunity.

Kaplan explained what happened that night, June 9, 2010, on his radio show Tuesday.

[Dempster] said he's asleep, and what I found out later was he was in Milwaukee. He had to pitch in Milwaukee the next day at 1:10 and he's asleep in his hotel room and the phone rings. 

It's Brent Seabrook: 'Dude, we won the Cup. Get out here.' [Dempster] is like 'I got a game tomorrow.'

He got someone to drive him to Chicago and he stayed out late, like 5:30 in the morning. Got back to Milwaukee and then actually pitched into the sixth inning.

The Cubs lost on June 10, 2010 via a walk-off, but Dempster pitched well, tossing 5 1/3 innings while allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits and five walks with three strikeouts. The late-night rendezvous seemed well worth it.

“Sometimes I don’t highly encourage those kind of things, but every once in a while when you have something special like the Stanley Cup coming through,” Dempster said, “you have to make exceptions but be willing — if you’re going to stay out with the owls, you gotta get up and soar with the eagles in the morning.”

“For a Canadian kid, I grew up watching hockey night in Canada, I loved hockey. “To be able to hold the Stanley Cup, to sip a beer out of a Stanley Cup, what an incredible moment at a time that I’ll forever be grateful for those guys sharing a little bit of their time with their trophy with me."

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Four reasons why the Blackhawks could make a run in 24-team format

Four reasons why the Blackhawks could make a run in 24-team format

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman outlined the league's return-to-play plan on Tuesday, which included a 24-team format involving the top 12 seeds from each conference. And while there are many hurdles to overcome before play actually resumes, the announcement gave fans something to be excited about.

If you're a Blackhawks fan, you're thrilled. Their playoff hopes were just about zero prior to the March 12 pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic and now they have a chance at making some noise.

The top four teams in each conference will compete in a round-robin format to determine their seeding while the bottom eight teams will compete in a five-game play-in series for the final four spots in their respective conferences. That means the No. 12-seeded Blackhawks will square off with the No. 5-seeded Edmonton Oilers for a chance to secure a playoff berth.

Here are four reasons why the Blackhawks could make a run with this format:

1. A healthy lineup

The Blackhawks were one of the most impacted teams this season when it came to man games lost, many of which were key players: Drake Caggiula (concussion), Duncan Keith (groin), Connor Murphy (groin), Brandon Saad (ankle) and Dylan Strome (ankle) were all sidelined for an extended period of time on separate occasions.

But most notably, the Blackhawks had four season-ending injuries: Calvin de Haan (shoulder), Brent Seabrook (shoulder/hips), Andrew Shaw (concussion) and Zack Smith (back). If the NHL returns around late July or early August, you have to wonder whether any of those four players would be medically cleared to finish the season. The Blackhawks aren't a team that can afford not playing at full strength, so this would certainly be a boost.

The Oilers were a healthy group going into the pause. Connor McDavid did not play in one of the three matchups against the Blackhawks this season because of a quad injury, but he recorded 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in nine games upon returning to the lineup.

2. Corey Crawford

You can say this every postseason, but now more than ever goaltending is going to be a major factor in the qualifying round and Stanley Cup Playoffs. The team whose goaltender can get back to performing at a high level the quickest very well might be the team to make a surprise run.

How does a two-time Stanley Cup champion sound? 

The Blackhawks couldn't ask for a better situation with Crawford, who was one of the best goaltenders down the stretch. In his last 15 appearances, he went 7-7-1 with a 2.46 goals-against average, .927 save percentage, 7.60 goals saved above average and 9.76 high-danger goals saved above average, which ranked No. 1 among all netminders over that span, according to Natural Stat Trick.

If Crawford can regain that form, that's not good news for the Oilers.

3. A Top 10 penalty kill

While they may be the No. 5 seed in the West, the Oilers weren't a very good 5-on-5 team this season. They had a minus-16 goal differential compared to the Blackhawks' even differential, which is a surprising discrepancy.

Where the Oilers have been lethal is the power play, where they were converting at a 29.5 percent rate. That's a ridiculous number and it's thanks to superstars Leon Draisaitl and McDavid, both of whom ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, among all skaters in scoring.

But the Blackhawks may be able to combat the Oilers' strength.

After a historically bad penalty kill last season, the Blackhawks finished tied for eighth in that department this season with an 82.1 percent kill rate. They went only 4-for-7 on the penalty kill in their three games against the Oilers this season, but stymying Draisaitl and McDavid with the man advantage could be the difference in a series that's likely to be high scoring.

4. Championship pedigree

Patrick Kane probably deserves his own bullet point, but the Blackhawks have three Conn Smythe winners on their roster and the Oilers don't have a single Stanley Cup winner on theirs. That means something when the stakes get higher in the postseason.

While no fans in attendance will certainly take away from the atmosphere, the games will still carry a lot weight and feel like a big deal to players. And when the lights are shining brightest, that's when players like Crawford, Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews are at their best.

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