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Blackhawks breakdown:Duncan Keith

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Blackhawks breakdown:Duncan Keith

Over the next five weeks, CSNChicago.com Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers and PGL host Chris Boden will evaluate the 2011-12 performance of each player on the Hawks roster. One breakdown will occur every weekday in numerical order.

Duncan Keith played in 74 games in 2011-12, scoring four goals with 36 assists (40 points) and a plus-15 rating. One of his goals and 12 assists came on the power play. In 26 minutes and 54 seconds of ice time per game, Keith had 121 blocked shots and was credited with 45 hits. In the playoffs, Keith had zero goals and one assist with seven blocked shots and finished a plus-1 in the six-game series vs. Phoenix.

Boden's take: He set the bar so high in his magnificent Norris Trophy-winning season that it's almost been a curse the past two years. Rather unfairly, that also puts a greater focus on the 11 years and 61 million remaining on his contract. While Keith's offensive numbers have shrunk since that Olympic Gold and Cup-winning campaign, I feel this year was better overall than 2010-11, especially in his own end where he seemed less prone to turning the puck over than a year ago as the team's ice-time workhorse following that short summer.

Let's also remember as integral a part of the title team as he was, he was also helped by the depth of the cast around him. One offensive issue he's continued to run into is opponents blocking his shooting lanes. As an alternate captain, he's been a good leader by all accounts both in the locker room and facing the media through good times and bad.

Myers' take: If anyone was going to benefit from the long offseason entering 2011-12, it was going to be Keith, right? Well, yes and no.

At times, Keith was showing that strong play that earned him the Norris. But at other times, Keith was still struggling. Be it turnovers or his elbow to Daniel Sedin's head, Keith made his share of costly mistakes. Part of it was Keith, once again, playing a ton along the blue line. The moves made last offseason to add defensive depth didn't work out so well -- Sami Lepisto and Sean O'Donnell were onoff scratches and Steve Montador was hurt for the final two months of the season. But Keith was at his best when he and Brent Seabrook were together again toward the end of the regular season. Hey, familiarity breeds confidence.

2012-13 Expectations

Chris: Keith welcomes the workload. His unique lung capacity allows it, and I wouldn't be surprised if that continues next season. But as he enters his eighth season and turns 29, I'm curious to see if he'd inch closer to the Norris level from two years ago if 2-3 minutes of average ice time were shaved off. More than one long-time NHL observer has told me Keith shouldn't be leaned upon on the power play, in addition to his penalty-killing and top-pair duties.

Maybe the Hawks' offseason priority should be targeting a top-four defenseman with size, who has a cannon from the point for the power play and a nasty streak to help Seabrook clear the doorstep for the second pair and on the kill.

Tracey: Keith's currently at the World Championships in Finland; but after that he'll get another offseason of good rest. Keith could get back to his strong play again next season, but truly adding depth to that blue line would help him. Whenever someone gets hurt or fails to carry their weight, it usually falls on Keith to take up the extra minutes. That can't happen again. Give him a normal workload, and he should be steady again.

How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out the highlights above for some of Keith's best games of the season.

Up next: Niklas Hjalmarsson

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If Kyle Schwarber's back, the rest of the National League will have another reason to worry about the second-half Cubs

If Kyle Schwarber's back, the rest of the National League will have another reason to worry about the second-half Cubs

Kyle Schwarber’s proper introduction to the Cubs-Sox rivalry came in the summer of 2015 when a fan on the South Side threw a half-empty “tall boy” at him in left field. A little more than a year removed from college, Schwarber didn’t understand why someone wouldn’t finish all the beer first.  

David Ross chimed in, raising his voice loud enough so Schwarber and a group of reporters could hear him inside the visiting clubhouse: “You should have shotgunned it and then went over there and found him.

“I tell you what: I’d hate to try to wrap up Kyle Schwarber. I guarantee you that whoever threw that beer doesn’t want (any) part of Kyle Schwarber. I promise you that one.”

That was the rookie orientation before Schwarber: blasted five playoff home runs that October; suffered a devastating knee injury that almost wiped out his entire 2016 season; made a dramatic return to the World Series; and experienced newfound fame and fortune that would change his life forever.

Mess with Schwarber? That aura of invincibility is gone after his detour to Triple-A Iowa before the All-Star break. But the first-place Cubs will take Thursday night’s 6-3 win over the White Sox as another sign that he is almost back, yet another reason why the defending champs look ready to continue this second-half surge. 

“I told him that if he had a couple more push-ups in there, he would have had three homers tonight, but we’ll take a triple,” winning pitcher Jon Lester said afterward. “Schwarber’s been swinging the bat great since he’s been back.”

No doubt, the Cubs caught the sell-mode White Sox at the right time during the final days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. Even in going 3-for-4 and blasting his 16th and 17th home runs – which traveled 814 feet combined at Guaranteed Rate Field – Schwarber is still only hitting .191 with 90 strikeouts in 79 games this season.     

But the Cubs have always given Schwarber the benefit of the doubt and will point to his big personality and encouraging numbers since his Triple-A reset ended on July 6, getting on base almost 37 percent of the time and hitting safely in 10 of 13 games with five homers, three doubles and that triple.

“Retrospectively, we should not have expected that much,” manager Joe Maddon admitted. “I’m guilty of that kind of a narrative or a dialogue also, because I was really eager to watch him play a full season of Major League Baseball.

“But the guy missed the whole season and did really well in a small window of time at the end of the year. So maybe my expectations exceeded what they should have been.

“I do believe he is that good. I do believe you’re going to come back and see him play at the level we anticipated. But he might have just needed more time. And we just didn’t recognize that.

“I might have been as guilty as anybody regarding the promotion of that. But I believe in him fully. I know it’s going to happen. There’s been some really good major-league hitters that have gone through the same thing.” 

At this point, the Cubs (54-47) would love to see what kind of wrecking ball Schwarber could be for a half-season. To his credit, Schwarber has been the same throughout all the ups and downs, someone who looks and sounds like a guy you would drink tall boys with.

“I just want to worry about putting the barrel on the ball,” Schwarber said. “I’m just trying to stay within myself, be short (with my swing) and it’s paying off.”