CHICAGO – No matter who won the Stanley Cup this season, a defenseman was destined to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. It really was a matter of deciding between Duncan Keith and Victor Hedman. One of them got his day. The other will have his in the future.
That Keith deserved the playoff MVP award was beyond dispute. At least that’s the way the 18 members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association saw it. Keith received 18 first-place votes to win the award in a landslide.
In all, Keith played more than 700 minutes of hockey in the playoffs to go with the 2,000-plus he played in the regular season. And there weren’t many of those when he was not the best player on the ice.
“Great selection, right guy, based on a lot of reasons.” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Keith. “A huge goal for us tonight. Active in the play. Defends as well as he does, he still creates a lot of offense for us against top players.”
In these playoffs, Keith had a motor that just never seemed to stop running. No matter the situation, Keith was on the ice. When Michal Roszival went down with a broken ankle and the Blackhawks could not trust their other defensemen, they turned to Keith and their other three workhorses, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya. They were all valiant, but Keith was special. Very special. He made the play look easy most of the time and, with a few rare exceptions, was able to slow the play down and get the puck out of danger in the Blackhawks end every time it came near his stick.
Hedman was just as good at the other end of the ice. For six games, he managed to shut down Patrick Kane and when he wasn’t doing that, he was using his skating and skill to make stunning offensive plays. Had the Lightning managed to win the Cup, there’s no doubt Hedman would have won the Conn Smythe by almost as large a margin as Keith did.
Keith averaged 31:06 of ice time throughout the playoffs and led all defensemen in scoring with 21 points. His goal to stake the Blackhawks to a 1-0 lead in Game 6 was all the offense they needed. It may be a long time before we see a performance over a playoff run as special as the one Keith treated the hockey world to this spring.
“That guy was unbelievable,” goaltender Corey Crawford said. “I don’t think I’ve seen anyone play any better. Whenever we needed a big goal or a big play it seemed like he made it.”
In his usual understated way, Keith was quick to deflect the glory to his teammates. That humility, combined with his brilliance, is part of what makes him such a special player.
“You don’t win a championship without everybody,” Keith said. “I know that might sound cliche, but it really is true with hockey. It is an unbelievable team game. We had everyone going from top to bottom and that’s what you need.”
It also helps when you have a cyborg on defense that can eat minutes and play both ends of the ice like a star player. It’s no coincidence that lately people have been talking about Keith as a future Hall of Famer. And that is not idle chatter. He showed everyone in 2015 why they might want to start preparing a plaque with his name on it.
And that’s if he doesn’t do another thing of note for the rest of his career. And we all know the likelihood of that happening.