They called them “hot stoves,” pals Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook did, and what that meant wasn’t complicated at all. Imagine a pair of inseparable defensemen up late swapping hockey stories, and you pretty much have it. But one night, on the road before a game in Edmonton, they sat in somebody’s hotel room — it could’ve been teammate Patrick Sharp’s because he was there, too — and BSed until about 6 a.m.
Let’s just say the ensuing game was a disaster.
“So my advice to you prospects would be to make sure to get your sleep at night before a game,” Keith, a Hall of Fame-bound Blackhawks great, joked Tuesday as he announced his retirement.
But there was no sleeping on Keith throughout his 17-year NHL career and his 16 seasons with the Blackhawks, because he was always ready to go with the very best of them. He roared in as a rookie in 2005 and led the Hawks in ice time, as he would season after season, and playoff run after playoff run, until it was nothing less than automatic. He excelled at both ends of the rink, playing with speed and skill but also toughness and an edge. He blocked shots, spit teeth — seven of them at once in perhaps his signature moment, in the 2010 Western Conference finals — and always came back for more.
And did he ever shine alongside Seabrook — for over 1,000 games, more than any other NHL blue-line pairing ever.
“A lot of great teammates from my time in Chicago, too many great players to name them all,” Keith said from Rogers Place in Edmonton, where he played his final season. “But when I think of those teammates and the special bonds and memories we created, the one guy who sticks out is Brent.”
Four days before his 39th birthday — and one year to the day after the Hawks traded him to the Oilers in part so he could be closer to son Colton — Keith sat with his boy, 9, beside him, and other family members, several from Edmonton, in attendance. Keith grew up in Fort Frances, Ontario, just across the river from International Falls, Minnesota, but he plans to remain in the Edmonton area, where he and brother Cameron can coach their children in hockey together.
“There’s still some part of me that knows I could still play,” Keith said, “but I think that’s kind of how I wanted to go out, knowing I still had some game left in me and I’m still relatively healthy.”
Keith mentioned teammates Marian Hossa, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell and Sharp. He thanked Dale Tallon, who drafted him, and Joel Quenneville, who coached the Hawks to Stanley Cup titles in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
“The list goes on and on,” he said. “We wanted to be great every single night.”
He also thanked Hawks fans, who can have fun debating whether Keith is the best Hawks defenseman since Chris Chelios, since Doug Wilson, since Pierre Pilote or since the very first Hawks puck dropped in 1926.
“They really guided us and helped us,” he said, “cheered us through the ups and downs.”
Rarely has it been more down for the Hawks and their fans than it is now. What the heck happened? Pieces of an elite puzzle were lost. Front-office missteps were made. Seabrook, Keith and other long-timers got older and lost a step. The pandemic arrived. The tremendous shame of a 2010 sexual-assault scandal and coverup in the organization stained a championship era. Now, the more-unrecognizable-by-the-hour Hawks are in the early stages of a full-blown rebuild. Any chance No. 7 overall draft pick Kevin Korchinski is the next Keith? No, that wasn’t a serious question.
Juxtaposed with all that, though, Keith’s excellence on the ice impresses even more than it did in real time. He won Norris Trophies in 2010 and 2014 and the Conn Smythe in 2015. He was a two-time Olympic gold medalist and was selected to the NHL’s 2010s all-decade team, along with Drew Doughty, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and teammate Kane. Only Stan Mikita played more games as a Hawk. Only Wilson scored more points as a Hawks defenseman.
Keith finishes with 646 career points, 625 of them with the team that selected him in the second round out of Michigan State in 2002.
For the record, he called Oilers teammates Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl “the two best players in the world” and said if Kane or Toews were mulling a possible trade to Edmonton, he’d give the Oilers “a glowing recommendation.”
Things sure have changed. But once upon a time …
“We were a group of young players back in Chicago,” Keith said. “We all cared. We were passionate.”
And when it came to stopping the other guy, let’s tell it like it is: No. 2 was No. 1.