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?
BURNSIDE: So, I read somewhere that Doughty is just 24 and yes, that is impressive. I know in talking to scouts and others that they continue to be wildly impressed with Keith's ability to knock down passes and turn those kinds of turnovers into instant offense.
"I'm a defenseman so I'm a little bit biased, but I think most plays offensively start in your own end with that first pass," former NHL defenseman Sean O'Donnell told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "I think the two of them are similar in ways that they skate very well, they go back, they get the puck quickly and they move it up quickly.
"Duncan's very fortunate with the team that he has in Chicago. They have so many weapons offensively that he's able to work and complement [Marian] Hossa and Toews and some of those guys up front where Drew creates a lot on his own.
"They're both underrated, I think, defensively. They put up good numbers but 25, 26, 27 minutes a night for their team, and there's a reason why these teams have played as many playoff series as anybody in the last three years."
Even Doughty had high praise for Keith. Though I didn't ask whether he'd rather have himself or Keith on his team if he had to choose.
"I think we're kind of different players," Doughty said. "I guess we have kind of the same offensive instincts. I'd say he's more of a passer than a shooter. He's a very good player. He's not going to go and hit guys and that's kind of what I do. When I'm low, I kind of play more of a physical game than him, that's for sure. But he's so good with his stick and he's so fast. It's tough to get around him. He's always a good player and someone we need to key on."
"Personality-wise, he's a nice guy off the ice, really nice guy. He's pretty funny. Always having fun and stuff like that. Good guy off the ice. But I'm not going to let that come into play on the ice," added Doughty, who was part of two gold-medal efforts with Keith for Team Canada, in Vancouver in 2010 and in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.
CUSTANCE: So is this you picking Keith over Doughty? I'm not sure you've specified yet. The Olympics further bolster the case for Doughty. He was the best defenseman on the best team in the tournament, one that included Keith. I remember before the Olympics, Mike Babcock said to keep an eye on Doughty. And that was in 2010. He's now turned in two standout Olympic performances against the best players in the world.
"He was huge for us in the Olympics," Patrick Sharp said when asked about Doughty on Tuesday. "He was often the guy carrying the puck up the ice. When the European teams were sitting five guys back, he was the guy skating it. He's a great player."
While I'm sure Sharp would pick Keith if you put him on the spot, he certainly has an appreciation for his Team Canada teammate whom he's now facing in the Western Conference finals.
In six Olympic games, Doughty had six points, including four goals. That's four more than Keith, if we're doing a head-to-head comparison.
BURNSIDE: I also read somewhere that Duncan Keith has two Stanley Cup rings and a Norris Trophy to his name. And if my guess is correct, he'll have his name engraved on both those trophies again within the coming months. Yes, he's not 24. But there has been some question about Doughty's consistency through the regular season. Those issues are moot, of course, as we head into the heart of the Western Conference finals, but through one game, it's Keith who has made his presence known in a more meaningful way.
Let's put it this way, would it be a surprise if someday Drew Doughty is in the Hall of Fame? Probably not. But at this stage is there any doubt that it's Keith who has assembled a Hall of Fame resume? I would answer my own question (before you can) and say the answer is an unequivocal no. And this for a man who still has likely a decade of top-level hockey left in him, should he choose to play that long. Plus, he likes to sing off-key in the locker room shower. Every day.
CUSTANCE: Very true. Both Keith and Doughty were on my Norris ballot, although I think Zdeno Chara should win. That's another debate we can have closer to Las Vegas. I had Keith No. 2 on my ballot instead of No. 1 only because the pair of Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson often gets deployed by Joel Quenneville against the tougher assignments, which helps free up Keith to produce offensively. During the regular season, Hjalmarsson had the highest Relative Corsi quality of competition on the Blackhawks at 1.759 (per behindthenet.ca data). Keith was No. 11 on the team at 0.681. Meanwhile, no defenseman on the Kings saw tougher competition than Doughty, always drawing the toughest matchups from coach Darryl Sutter. Despite that, Doughty's possession numbers were ridiculous. I don't want to bog this debate down with numbers, but when Doughty was on the ice at even strength, the Kings controlled 58.5 percent of the shot attempts (per ExtraSkater.com research). The only defenseman better in the league was his (often) partner Jake Muzzin. Now, Duncan Keith was no slouch at 56.6 percent, but when you factor in the quality of competition, you have to give the edge to Doughty. Again.