Chicago Blackhawks blue-liner Duncan Keith capped off a wonderful season, in which he won Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup, by receiving the Norris Trophy as the top defenceman in the NHL.
But his spirit was somewhat subdued because hours before the NHL annual awards ceremony at the Palms Hotel, the breakup of the Blackhawks had begun. Chicago general manager Stan Bowman began the difficult task of alleviating his team’s salary cap concerns by shipping out power forward Dustin Byfuglien to the Atlanta Thrashers in a multi-player trade.
The Winnipeg-born, Fort Frances and Penticton, B.C.-raised Keith found out about the trade from teammate Patrick Sharp while the two were enjoying the bright lights and excitement of Las Vegas.
Byfuglien, veteran defenceman Brent Sopel, fourth-liner Ben Eager and prospect Akim Aliu were moved to Atlanta in exchange for the 24th and 54th overall picks in Friday’s draft as well as forward Marty Reasoner and Kitchener Rangers forward Jeremy Morin.
Sopel a veteran influence
The trade was difficult to stomach for the 26-year-old Keith. He was close with Byfuglien. The two attended their first Blackhawks prospect camp together, played junior against one another and were teammates with the team’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk.
In terms of Sopel, Keith was living in B.C. when Sopel broke in with the Vancouver Canucks and the younger Keith watched the veteran perform with interest.
“Well, it really does sadden me,” Keith said. “You know things are going to change when you win the Cup, the way our cap situation was. It's too bad it had to be like this, but at the same time we've got to start looking forward. When these things do happen, I'm sure there might be some more, and it's not going to be fun.
“A lot of times that's part of the business. It's hockey. Teams change every year and you lose friends, you lose teammates. You stay in touch. But it's not really the same as playing with them.”
Keith won over second-place finisher Mike Green of the Washington Capitals and the dynamic Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.
With the retirement of Rob Blake and Scott Niedermayer, and Chris Pronger and Nicklas Lidstrom near the end of their careers, Keith’s win over Green and Doughty signalled a changing of the guard with the game’s top defencemen.
“I know they're not that much older than me,” Keith said. “But when you're a 12-year-old and these guys are in their 20's, it's a big difference. Lidstrom and Pronger and Niedermayer retiring, and Rob Blake, those guys we all looked up to as players and try to emulate. To me Lidstrom, you know, he's everything. To me, he's still the best. We watched him play and I've learned so much from him, and I can't say enough.
Mental coach a big bonus
“It's kind of funny, but those guys to me are still the best and still look up to those guys in a lot of ways.”
Keith, who had seven teeth knocked out by an errant puck in the Western Conference final and recently underwent a seven-hour procedure to have some temporary plastic teeth put in, felt he benefited from the fact that he played on a such a strong team.
He had his acceptance speech cut off. When he arrived in the media room he finished off his prepared discourse and thanked his defence partner Brent Seabrook, who also performed alongside Keith on the Canadian Olympic team, and the Blackhawks mental coach Dr. James Gary.
“When I turned pro, back in Norfolk he's been a guy that's been huge for my career and developing the mental side of my game,” Keith said. “I think that he's a really big reason. Maybe I should have thrown him in there [earlier] in my speech.
“I wasn't playing well, [and] maybe the first round of the playoffs I started talking to him more in-depth again, and really just one talk I felt like I turned my game around. Like I said, I've used him ever since I came into the Blackhawks organization. And as far as I'm concerned, he's the best thing we've got in that organization.”
Sedin edges Ovechkin for Hart
Henrik Sedin definitely was the best player in the Vancouver Canucks organization this past season. While Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin won the Ted Lindsay Award, the MVP honour as voted by his peers, the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association named league’s leading scorer, Sedin, as the league MVP.
Sedin had 46 first-place votes, six more than Ovechkin and 26 more than third-place finisher Sidney Crosby. This was only the 14th time in 39 years that the two players split the Lindsay and Hart.
“It's great sharing the spotlight with him,” Sedin said. “It's two great players. They're both, I believe they're the best players in the game, and just to be with them, it's an honour. When they said my name, winning the Hart Trophy was surreal for sure.”
Sedin remarked that it was special because former Hart Trophy winner Peter Forsberg is from the same hometown in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.
Meet the all-stars
The all-star teams unveiled at the NHL awards were as follows:
First all-star team — G Miller; D Keith, Green; C Sedin; RW Patrick Kane; LW Ovechkin.
Second all-star team — G Ilya Bryzgalov; D Doughty, Lidstrom; C Crosby; RW St. Louis; LW Daniel Sedin.
All rookie team — G Jimmy Howard; D Myers, Michael Del Zotto; F Matt Duchene, Niclas Bergfors and John Tavares.