Chicago Blackhawks: Is Duncan Keith over the Hill on the Blue Line?

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Chicago Blackhawks: Is Duncan Keith over the Hill on the Blue Line?
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Have we seen the best of Duncan Keith after seven seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks?

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith is turning 29 this summer. Has he peaked as a player?

Keith is a Norris Trophy winner and Olympic gold medalist. He forms a formidable top pairing for the 'Hawks along with Brent Seabrook and provides a slew of solid minutes for Chicago on the blue line.

For the last two seasons, fans have looked for Keith to return to the form of the 2009-10 season that garnered top defensive honors. What if that season was his high-water mark?

Let's face a few facts. Keith is rapidly approaching age 30. He has logged big minutes for many of his seven seasons, and lead the NHL in minutes per game in each of the last two years.

Keith has been supplanted by Seabrook as the team's top defenseman, if not for the last two years then surely this season. This isn't to say that Keith is ready for pasture. He's still a top player in the NHL and a vital cog at the top of the Blackhawks' defense.

He just may have reached the apex of his production, that's all.

For the second-straight season, Keith's offensive production dropped from the season before. His 40-point effort in 2011-12 was his lowest since the 2008-09 campaign. The four goals Keith tallied was his lowest total since his second season in 2006-07.

Keith's plus-minus rating was back in the black after finishing last year at a minus-one. Still, the plus-15 rating paled to the three seasons from 2007 to 2010, when he averaged a plus-28.

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It's not hard to rationalize the drop offensively. Keith isn't getting his shot to the net and hasn't for the last two seasons now. In his Norris Trophy season, Keith's shooting percentage was 6.6 percent. The number dipped to four percent a year ago and just 2.5 percent this season.

Along with being less accurate with his shot, Keith took fewer attempts as well. The 162 shots Keith got to the net was his fewest in his last four seasons. Of course, he did play in less games this past season.

Keith missed three games back in November with a left hand injury, then five more late in the season when the league suspended him five games for elbowing Daniel Sedin March 21. Keith also revealed after the season that he had some minor surgery done on his elbow last summer.

Keith's been a durable player throughout his career. It appears that he and Seabrook will be Chicago's first pair for the next few seasons. Will he hold up as he continues to pile up the minutes?

Keith is entering the third year of his $72 million deal that runs through 2023. His salary for the 2012-13 season will be $8 million as it has been for the previous two years. Starting next year, that salary begins a slow but steady drop toward the $5 million due to him in 2017-18 at the age of 34.

The salary is soon to begin to slide. Has his game already begun to slip?

In defense of Keith, he's out there trying to stop the best in the league every night and is still capable of doing that better than the majority of defenders in the NHL. Better shot selection, improved accuracy and a more dependable third pairing could make a positive impact on Keith's game.

Keith's performance at last week's World Championships shows that he is still among the better defenseman in the game. Can next season be a return to elite status, or have we seen the best of Duncan Keith?

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