by PuckStopsHere on 07/29/10 at 12:21 PM ET
Duncan Keith won the Norris Trophy as best defenceman in the NHL this season. That makes it clear that he is a pretty good player, but just how good is he?
There is a thread up on hfboards about the top 10 defencemen in hockey and many do not rank Keith at the top. He is often third, fourth or even fifth on the lists people offer. The Las Vegas odds for the Norris Trophy had Duncan Keith in a distant second place. There is a considerable lack of respect for him and a failure to pick him as the best defenceman in hockey.
This lack of respect is not deserved. Duncan Keith had a tremendous season in 2009/10. He was the top puck possession player in the league, as is shown by his Corsi rating both before and after adjustment. Duncan Keith was the highest scoring defenceman at even strength in 2009/10. Duncan Keith was a candidate some backed for the Conn Smythe Trophy. There should be little question that he was the NHL’s best defenceman last season. He was the best one by a significant margin.
It can be argued that was only one season and may not be repeatable, but at age 27 he is likely moving into the prime years of his career, so that may not be a good bet.
Who are these defencemen that are rated above Keith? Several of them are older players who are beginning to show signs of decline. Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger and Zdeno Chara tend to top this list. These players are all still top defencemen, but it is a stretch to call any of them the best one in the league right now. The other defenceman often picked ahead of Keith is a projection. Drew Doughty is a very good young defenceman who is only 20 years old and has only played two seasons in the NHL. They have been very good seasons, as is shown by his Norris Trophy nomination this year, but neither have been as good as Keith’s seasons in the past two years. If Doughty is yet to outplay Keith, it is odd to rank him above Keith.
I pick Duncan Keith as the third best player in hockey today. I rank him below Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. I think he is clearly the best defenceman in hockey today. I think he is like Nicklas Lidstrom in that his game is so smooth that it is often possible to overlook all of the things he does. Lidstrom had won three Norris Trophies and been runner up to the three before that by 2003. It took a run of that quality before some people began to realize just how good he is. Duncan Keith is similar in many ways and he may have to win multiple Norris trophies before people start to realize that he is clearly the best defenceman of the era.
Duncan Keith has all of the tools and all of the ability to be one of the all time great defencemen. He is well on his way. His 2009/10 season was an outstanding one, where he was the top defenceman in the league by a significant margin. Fans around the league have been very slow to realize this.
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