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Teammates back Keith as Norris Trophy candidate
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/10/2009 4:51 PM | Updated: 4/10/2009 11:54 PM

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When the Blackhawks finish their wildly successful regular season this weekend, there will be much analyzing done about what made it so special.

Without a doubt, Nikolai Khabibulin has been terrific in goal, Martin Havlat has dazzled with 29 goals and 74 points, and captain Jonathan Toews quickly matured into a star center.

But the backbone of the team, night after night, shift after shift, has been defenseman Duncan Keith. Check out these numbers with two games to play: Plus-32 with 44 points averaging almost 26 minutes a game.

"If he got half as much ice time on the power play as Brian Campbell, he'd have 60 points," said an NHL insider.

As it is, Keith has only 5 points fewer than Campbell, the Hawks' $7 million defenseman.

What's Keith going to demand when he hits the open market as an unrestricted free agent after next season? General manager Dale Tallon already is sweating over that.

The immediate question with Keith is, as members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association ready their ballots for postseason honors, does he merit serious consideration as a Norris Trophy candidate?

They are biased, of course, but Keith's teammates say it's a question that needn't be asked, so obvious is the answer.

"I've talked to a lot of my friends around the league and they say there's not too many defensemen around better than Duncan," Adam Burish said. "I would say his name should 100 percent be in the hat with the top guys.

"He should be a finalist. I mean, every night he's playing against the best players and with his plus-minus and the productivity he's had, he's one of the top guys without a doubt.

"When you're playing against the best players in the league and have that plus-minus, that tells me you're one of the best defensemen in the league."

The odds-on favorite to capture the Norris Trophy is Washington's Mike Green, who has 31 goals, 73 points and is plus-25 on a team that won the Southeast Division.

Boston's Zdeno Chara, Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, San Jose's Dan Boyle and Nashville's Shea Weber all figure to get plenty of votes along with Keith.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville believes Keith belongs in the Norris team picture with those guys.

"Look at his numbers, his job description, and what he's done," Quenneville said. "I know there's a lot of defensemen in the league who have got a lot of attention and recognition, and hopefully Dunc gets noted as well.

"This is one year where nobody is talking about the same guy every day. It's probably more wide open than it's ever been."

Lidstrom, the Red Wings captain, has won the last three Norris Trophies and has six total.

Keith got a handful of fifth-place votes last season, which would make for quite a jump if he finished as one of the three finalists.

"He doesn't get a lot of recognition for the things he does, but a plus-60 over the last two years? Those numbers speak for themselves," Hawks defenseman Brent Sopel said. "Basically if you get points, that's the only way you get noticed.

"Guys that do the shut-down work and play the way he plays, fans don't recognize that. But to teammates, what he does is appreciated, and the score at the end of the game is all we care about."

Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, 2 p.m.

TV: Channel 9

Radio: WGN 720-AM

At a glance: The Hawks and Red Wings haven't played since the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field. The Hawks have yet to beat Detroit in four tries, going 0-2-2. The Red Wings, who will finish as the second seed in the West, could be without Marian Hossa (lower-body injury) for the weekend.

Next: Detroit Red Wings at the United Center, 1 p.m. Sunday