Friday, August 06, 2010

The Game's Best Defensemen Are Always Here

Duncan Keith is pretty good. He is always here.

Vancouver Canucks fans are raw about the 2010 playoffs. They're raw because we lost to the Chicago Blackhawks--again, and because we lost in such a spectacular way: the profligate defense, the bankrupt penalty kill, the bedraggled goaltending... Pavol Demitra... Vancouver Canucks fans are raw because we thought we were better, that we deserved better. But here's the thing: we were treated to something incredible special during those playoffs--something that no other team can brag: we got to watch Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith destroy us for twelve games.

It was magical.

It's often hard to notice a good defenseman, primarily because a good defenseman doesn't make mistakes, and defenders primarily get noticed when they're beaten. NHL defense is subtle and fluid, remarkably so at the elite level. This is excepting the prodigous ones, the defensemen so good they can't help but stand out every moment they're on the ice. Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty? These guys basically glow. They do things no other defensemen can do, and you have to notice because you never see it. What's more, they do it at high-speed, with a mind-boggling grace and ease. They rush the puck like all-star forwards, they backcheck at lightning speed, they run a seamless power play, they possess the puck like no one else, and they dig the puck out of the boards while being completely unhittable.

Think about it: how many times did Duncan Keith swivel around and retrieve a Canuck dump-in? How many times did you scream, "Hit him!" only to discover the puck was already out, the 'Hawks were in transition, and the Vancouver offense was behind an odd-man rush. Duncan Keith was blink-and-you-missed it incredible all series long, and you saw it because you were exposed to him for six games.

What blows me away is that Drew Doughty was arguably better. We hated him more, because he singlehandedly carried that Kings team. In retrospect, who but Doughty made any noise at all? Other Kings scored, sure, but only Doughty made us clench our fists and pray to the hockey gods he passed the puck to someone less brilliant, less prodigous.

Keith, Doughty, it was a treat to see these guys, to have such a long, in-depth look at what makes them the best defensemen in the game. This article is to ensure that we appreciate this. Sure, one of them beat us, and the other nearly did all by himself, but despite our bias, let us understand that Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty, the Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin of NHL defensemen, treated us to something rare.

People talk about how the biggest problem with the Canucks is that we don't have an elite defenseman. We look at Doughty, Keith, and Weber, and we shake our heads, saying, "why don't we have one of those?"

I think our petty jealously blinds us to how truly jealous we should actually be.

These guys don't grow on trees. They're generational talents. Rather than demand Gillis gets us one, which is unlikely considering it would be like Gillis finding a Dragon Ball, we should bask in their rare and special greatness every time they come to town. In fact, I'm getting tired of hearing about how all the stars are in the Eastern Conference. No they aren't. Crosby and Ovechkin are. After that, it's a dead heat offensively (they have Stamkos, Gaborik, Backstrom, we have Sedin, Thornton, Kane) and defensively, we have everyone. Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Neidermayer. These are guys that can control an entire NHL game from the backend and control it in a way that is visible to the average hockey fan. Who in the Eastern Conference does that? Zdeno Chara, maybe? Chris Pronger? Maybe when motivated. Not every night, that's for sure.

As Canuck fans and as Westerners we should take stock of the privilege we have to watch The Sedins every night, to watch Keith and Doughty multiple times each year, and potentially see them up close and personal over a seven-game playoff series. We need to stop complaining about how the East doesn't care about us, how our geographical plight prevents us from seeing the game's stars. It's not true. During the 09-10 season, we got downright sick of seeing the game's best defensemen. We were spoiled.

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