01/26/2010 9:39 AM - Joel Quenneville would rather have the steak than the sizzle.
And now that trophy talk has started to envelop one of his star defensemen, the Chicago Blackhawks' coach is quick to praise Duncan Keith for the meaty minutiae of his blue-line work.
"The best part for us, as far as measuring a defenseman's efficiency, is consistency -- and predictability," Quenneville tells NHL.com. "And Duncan has been that, game in and game out.
"His numbers offensively have increased this year. (Thanks to) his quickness, his shot seems to be penetrating more this year," Quenneville said. "Certainly we really like the energy he brings, shift in and shift out. You know he's going to get the job done."
Keith has begun to elicit widespread praise in his fifth full NHL season — not the least of which has come from Hockey Canada brass, who selected the Winnipeg, Canada native, along with his partner Brent Seabrook, as a Canadian blue-line package deal for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Keith is considered by many to be a serious contender for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, and that's no surprise to his Blackhawks teammates.
"Duncan is an elite defenseman, and now that the talk about a Norris Trophy has started, I definitely think his name should be in there," said Seabrook, who's been paired up with Keith for the past couple seasons. "He's really elevated his offensive game. He's making some great plays. He's doing all the little things that make him successful — getting the pucks to the forwards, and getting the pucks through, which is creating a lot of the opportunities in terms of goals and points for us."
A second-round choice of the Blackhawks during the 2002 Entry Draft, Keith has excelled this season at both the conspicuous and inconspicuous aspects of his job.
The former Michigan State Spartan already has 46 points in 51 games, which eclipses his career single-season high of 44, etched in 2008-09, and places him second in scoring output among NHL rearguards, five points back of Washington's Mike Green.
It's no secret that Keith and Seabrook are considered the best shut-down pairing in the League. Keith boasts a spiffy plus-18 rating, second on his team behind Seabrook (plus-23). And Keith is now among the league leaders in ice time, logging an average of 26:29 a game and trailing only Carolina's Joni Pitkanen in that department.
Keith scored an empty-net goal Thursday night during Chicago's 3-1 win over the Flames in Calgary.
"The more important games you play, the more confidence you get. This is my fifth year now, and I feel more confident than I ever have," Keith, 26, tells NHL.com. "We've got a solid team here in Chicago, and that's a big reason. We've got so many skilled players; it's just fun to be out here playing.
"A lot of it comes from not being satisfied with anything. Really, what's there to be satisfied about for me? I haven't done anything yet. I haven't won anything," adds Keith, who in early December signed a 13-year, $72-million contract, the richest in club history. "I've gotten better, and I want to keep getting better. It comes down to hard work, and a determination to try and get better."
Chris Chelios was the last Blackhawk to capture the Norris Trophy, back during the 1995-96 season, but the buzz has really begun to surround Keith.
Nick Lidstrom, a six-time Norris winner, recently said of Keith: "He's matured as a defenseman. I think he's getting better and better. He's good at knowing when to get up the ice and join the rush, and when to sit back and pinch. It looks like he's had some good experience, because he's great in all areas of the game."
And no less an authority than legendary NHL coach Scotty Bowman — biased, to be sure, but one of the greatest minds in the game — calls Keith "a top (Norris) candidate, for sure."
"I knew a couple of years ago that he'd be a good player, but I can't honestly say I projected him to be this good," the Blackhawks' senior adviser of hockey operations recently told the Calgary Herald. "What he's really improved this year is his shot. Great wheels; such a good skater. Great laterally. A lot of minutes ... he's calm; you never see him running all over the place."
Keith and Seabrook "play against all the top guys. So (Keith) gets no softies," added Bowman. "Some players, their stats are maybe inflated because a coach spots them and doesn't trust them against certain top players.
"Not with Keith. He earns everything he gets."