Recently I've been saying that Patrick Lalime may not be the MVP of the Blackhawks, but that he has been a savior of sorts. I call him that because he has produced when the Hawks have needed him most, breaking losing skids at the most crucial moments of the season.
If Lalime is the savior, then who is the MVP as we head down the stretch? For a while there I think it would have made a great debate. Where would the Hawks be without Patrick Sharp's 30+ goals? When Jonathan Toews left the lineup, this team started losing; when he returned, it started winning. Isn't that the very definition of an MVP? Maybe.
All in all, though, there really is just one candidate. He has blossomed into one of the best in the league on defense. When he made the All-Star team, I thought, "What a nice honor," but never thought of him in the same class as some of the 'best in the West'.
Boy, was I wrong. Duncan Keith is an absolute rabbit out there and it is paying off for him -- and the Hawks -- big time.
All facets of his game have improved so dramatically that it's almost like night and day. When he first came up we all could see he could skate, but nothing else about his defensive game said 'All-Star in his third season'.
There was no doubt he could play, but how he has taken it to another level has been eye-popping. We expect a lot out of 2nd round picks, but being taken 54th overall in the draft, as Keith was, doesn't guarantee you much more than a chance. He's done more than make the most of it.
His defensive positioning, ability to slide with the puck and find the shooting lane, and pure speed in jumping on the puck during dump-ins has been a pleasure to watch. He'll make even more noise on a national level as his points increase.
The ability to get the puck to the net might be his most improved quality. Watch him with the puck on the power play. He gives that little backward wiggle to find the lane and then boom! Both the goals and assists will increase with that ability.
Having said all of the above, my favorite moments watching Keith come during penalty killing situations. I contend that teams will have to adjust their strategy when he's on the ice. You simply can't dump it in without a very good chance of Keith skating it down and getting it out before an opponent gets near the puck.
As I said before, it's like a rabbit chasing down a carrot, only this rabbit then flings it down the length of the ice, taking valuable seconds off the power play.
Finally, as I'm sure you've heard by now, Keith has an incredible plus/minus rating for a team that is where the Hawks are. At this writing his +27 is 4th in the league, and the players that surround him are on teams with far better records than the Hawks -- teams that give up fewer goals and score more than the Hawks.
Yet when Keith is on the ice it's like the Hawks are one of those teams and the numbers support it. And by the way, this isn't a 15-minute-a-night player who has lucked into a +27. Of the top 30 plus/minus players in the league, Keith plays the second most minutes behind the great Nik Lidstrom, and he plays against the other teams' best lines.
For all that and more -- and even though there are games to be played -- Duncan Keith is the Hawks 2007-08 MVP.
Email pre- and post-game radio host Jesse Rogers at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to "Inside the Hawks" with Jesse and special Hawk guests on WSCR 670-AM.