Two dominant, puck-moving defensemen. Two Stanley Cup winners. Which would you rather have? Scott Burnside and Craig Custance go at it.
BURNSIDE: All right, my friend, the more I think about this Western Conference finals series, the more pumped I get for Game 2. And while there are myriad storylines driving this series forward -- even through its multiple days off -- one of the most compelling is the head-to-head clash between two of the finest young defensemen in the game: Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. Both have multiple Olympic gold medals, they own three Stanley Cup rings between them and one of them seems is almost certain to earn another in a matter of weeks. They are both fierce competitors and are key personalities in each of their respective locker rooms.
In Game 1, it was Keith ripping a hard shot that deflected off a defender's stick and then the ice before rocketing over Kings netminder Jonathan Quick's shoulder for what would be the game winner. Doughty, meanwhile, led all players in ice time and power play time. Talk about a great battle. Which begs the question: Whom would you take to build a team around?
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman told me during the conference semifinals that when he took the job, one of the first calls he made was to Keith's agent to ensure that Keith wanted to stay with the team long-term. Keith wasn't too concerned about the money but wanted to be sure the team wasn't going to be one-and-done. As Keith told me, when you're done playing, all you'll have are memories, so you might as well have as many memories about winning. So far, so good for both he and the Blackhawks.
CUSTANCE: They're two great players who can change the game with one rush up the ice. You can build a team around either one and you're doing just fine. While it pains me to pick someone over a fellow Michigan State Spartan, I'd lean toward Doughty if I were building my franchise. In fact, there are not many players in the league I'd want at any position more than Doughty. Maybe Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby. That's about it. First, it's his age. Keith turns 31 years old in July, which still means he has plenty of good years left since defensemen typically have a longer shelf life in their peak than forwards. But Doughty is just 24. Twenty-four! He's got two Olympic gold medals, a Stanley Cup ring and he hasn't cracked 25 years old yet. It's amazing. The magic number you hear with defensemen is that it takes a good 300 NHL games to learn how to play defense in this league and he's at 442 already at his age. I had a good chat today with Marian Gaborik about getting to know Doughty since the trade from the Eastern Conference and he raved about his teammate.
"Once you start playing with him, you start to see how good he is, how much professionalism he has," Gaborik said. "He can do it all. He has finesse. He plays hard. He plays physical. He's got a great shot. Great hockey sense. He sees the ice very well, very smart. That's what you want from a defenseman. He's the whole package, that's for sure."
Did I mention he's 24?