Chicago Sun-Times

LOW- KEY KEITH

Fans seem to take him for granted, but those who know him best don’t

- MARK LAZERUS

LOS AN­GE­LES — Dun­can Keith’s hands are fid­get­ing be­neath the ta­ble, palms pressed to­gether, fingers in­ter­laced, knuck­les turn­ing white as he squeezes and twists and squirms. It’s All- Star week­end me­dia day, and he’s be­ing asked about his least fa­vorite topic: Dun­can Keith.

But when asked if it both­ers him to toil in the con­sid­er­able shadow of Jonathan Toews and Pa­trick Kane, Keith loosens up a bit.

“I don’t have to talk to me­dia as much,” he said with a chuckle. “I don’t mind it. I think Kane and Toews de­serve what they get. They are what they are. … I don’t feel like I need more, or that I’m not get­ting what Kane and Toews are get­ting as far as recog­ni­tion. I’m to­tally fine with that. It’s not what I play for. It’s not what I’m all about.”

For a guy who’s won three Stan­ley Cups, two Nor­ris Tro­phies, a Conn Smythe Tro­phy and two gold medals, Keith some­how still flies un­der the radar — at least, com­pared with his more fa­mous team­mates. Ca­sual ob­servers seemed al­most sur­prised he was named one of the 100 great­est play­ers in NHL his­tory on Fri­day night, when his ré­sumé is eas­ily the most im­pres­sive among cur­rent Hawks. Re­ally, he was the only shoo- in on the team.

It’s un­der­stand­able why he’s not al­ways the first guy fans think of when they think of the best de­fense­men in the world. He doesn’t have a sig­na­ture char­ac­ter­is­tic, a trade­mark move, a style all his own. But ask his team­mates, coaches and op­po­nents about him. To the peo­ple who’ve been lucky enough to play along­side him, or un­lucky enough to go against him — peo­ple that re­ally know, who re­ally see, who re­ally un­der­stand the game — Keith is as good as it gets.

“Not knock­ing fans or any­thing like that, but there are maybe some things that they don’t see,” said Carolina’s Justin Faulk. “He brings it all. You saw in the play­offs, he can play damn near the whole game. And he plays well

at that level. It’s not some­thing you see ev­ery night from a nor­mal de­fense­man. He’s just able to bring it ev­ery night.”

Keith doesn’t have the boom­ing slap shot of Mon­treal’s Shea We­ber. He’s not a point ma­chine like Ot­tawa’s Erik Karls­son. He doesn’t score goals at the re­mark­able rate of San Jose’s Brent Burns. And he doesn’t have the per­son­al­ity and on- ice flair of Nashville’s P. K. Sub­ban.

But there are no holes in his game.

“I think that’s what makes him so good,” said Colum­bus’ Seth Jones, who had his bat­tles with Keith dur­ing his years in Nashville. “He doesn’t have the hard­est shot and he might not be the fastest, but he does ev­ery­thing just as good as every­one else. He’s so smart with the way he plays the game, as well. He never put him­self in a bad sit­u­a­tion. He al­ways seems to make the right play, make the right read.”

Jones called Keith “a pain, man.” Burns called him “feisty.” Tampa Bay’s Vic­tor Hed­man called Keith a role model. But the word that kept pop­ping up among the league’s elite de­fense­men was “con­sis­tency.” Keith logs heavy min­utes in all situations, and rarely is off his game.

“He’s as steady as they get,” Kane said. “You look at your de­fense, and if you ever take him out of the pic­ture, things are look­ing a lot thin­ner back there.”

But what re­ally sets Keith apart, ac­cord­ing to Sub­ban, is how much bet­ter he makes the play­ers around him. Sub­ban re­called a con­ver­sa­tion he had with Keith shortly af­ter he won his first Nor­ris Tro­phy, and be­fore Sub­ban won his.

“I said, ‘ Wow, you won the Nor­ris, what’s it like?’ ” Sub­ban re­called. “And he said, ‘ Well, look at the team that I play on. … And for me, it clicked that he un­der­stood the im­por­tance of play­ing with great play­ers, and us­ing play­ers around him. He’s an amaz­ing player, he’s going to have suc­cess re­gard­less of who’s around him. But his abil­ity to un­der­stand how to use the guys around him, and con­serve his en­ergy, is what makes him so great.”

Of course, Keith’s not hurt­ing for ac­co­lades or recog­ni­tion, even if he’s still some­how un­der­rated and over­shad­owed. He’s the most dec­o­rated and ac­com­plished de­fense­man of his era, which is why he was a no- brainer for the NHL 100.

But even Keith said he was com­pletely sur­prised by the call from com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman that he was named to the list. Maybe he doesn’t think of him­self in that way, and maybe ca­sual fans of the sports don’t, ei­ther.

But for those on the ice with him, those that know him and the game best, Keith is al­ready an all- timer.

“He’s ob­vi­ously elite,” We­ber said. “He’s been elite for a long time, and he con­tin­ues to play at a high level. He’s one of those guys that does ev­ery­thing well. There’s not that one thing that re­ally stands out, but he does ev­ery­thing. Ev­ery­thing about his game is al­ways good and solid.”

“He’s ob­vi­ously elite. He’s been elite for a long time, and he con­tin­ues to play at a high level. He’s one of those guys that does ev­ery­thing well.” Cana­di­ens de­fense­man Shea We­ber, on Dun­can Keith

 ?? | GETTY IM­AGES ?? Dun­can Keith, who was named one of the 100 great­est play­ers in NHL his­tory, doesn’t mind toil­ing in the shad­ows of Jonathan Toews and Pa­trick Kane.
| GETTY IM­AGES Dun­can Keith, who was named one of the 100 great­est play­ers in NHL his­tory, doesn’t mind toil­ing in the shad­ows of Jonathan Toews and Pa­trick Kane.
 ?? GETTY IM­AGES ?? De­spite hav­ing won three Stan­ley Cups, two Nor­ris Tro­phies, a Conn Smythe Tro­phy and two gold medals, Dun­can Keith con­tin­ues to fly un­der the radar.
GETTY IM­AGES De­spite hav­ing won three Stan­ley Cups, two Nor­ris Tro­phies, a Conn Smythe Tro­phy and two gold medals, Dun­can Keith con­tin­ues to fly un­der the radar.
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