Published November 20, 2014
CHICAGO -- Sure, their playing styles complement one another. But that's only the half of it -- only the half of what makes Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks doubly effective as a whole.
Keith and Seabrook just might comprise the best defense pair in the world right now. And it is as much the traits they share and the personal connection they've forged as the difference in their games that make that so.
"They've got a neat bond," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told NHL.com during Thursday's Media Day at the Stanley Cup Final. "And sometimes, they probably get on each other, like a husband and wife would. But they've really grown together. Not too many defensive pairs have spent as much time together as a pair or off the ice."
At first, making Keith and Seabrook inseparable off the ice was the inspiration of former Chicago GM Dale Tallon and then-coach Trent Yawney. Seabrook was a 20-year-old just out of junior hockey. Keith was only 22 and also an NHL rookie, but had played two years in the minors and had experienced life on his own during two college years at Michigan State.
"I was a young guy who was 20-years-old and had never played pro -- I was just out of junior," Seabrook told NHL.com. "The idea to get Dunc to show me the ropes, or whatever, was a good thing."
Before you cue the "Odd Couple" theme, it should be pointed out that neither Keith nor Seabrook played the fastidious Felix Unger role during the year they shared an apartment on the edge of Lincoln Park in downtown Chicago -- although one of the two did possess some culinary skills.
"His room was always a disaster," Keith said. "But then, mine is a disaster too. But he likes to keep the kitchen clean, and I don't care what it looks like.
"I remember I would always be cooking and he didn't really cook. He was basically living off salads. And anytime I made a meal, he would want the kitchen cleaned up right away before I could even finish the meal."
Seabrook confirmed that he was no Emeril Lagasse in their kitchen. But he disputes the notion that he ever got Keith to clean up anything.
"No, I would clean it up," Seabrook said. "He wouldn't do anything. He'd just sit there and eat for two hours. He'd sit on the computer and eat."
The temptation is to quip that Seabrook, the stay-at-home defensive conscience of the pair, now spends his on-ice time cleaning up after the more adventurous Keith. But then, while Seabrook definitely provides the rock-solid and physically punishing home base from which Keith can launch the kind of rushes that added up to a career-best and Norris Trophy finalist-worthy 14 goals and 69 points this season, neither routinely forgets that they are called "defense"-men.
Continually matched up against opponents' top lines -- as they were against the Sedins in the Conference Semis vs. Vancouver and the Thornton line in the West Final vs. San Jose -- Keith and Seabrook are the Hawks' shutdown pair as well as their top point-producing duo. They were a combined plus-41 during the regular season and are a combined plus-11 in the playoffs going into Game 1 of the Final Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).
"They both play power play; they both kill penalties; the minutes for both are big," Quenneville said. "Their job is always the top matchup. And to be plus players and to be as effective as they are is not an easy thing to do."
"They’ve got a neat bond. And sometimes, they probably get on each other, like a husband and wife would. But they’ve really grown together. Not too many defensive pairs have spent as much time together as a pair or off the ice."
-- Chicago coach Joel Quenneville
"They just know each other so well," goaltender Antti Niemi said. "They always know where the other is going and what he's going to do. They talk on the ice. But sometimes, I think they just know."
Actually, Keith and Seabrook tried life apart for a while -- but it didn't last long. Seabrook bought a place in another neighborhood in the city. Soon after, Keith purchased his own home a few blocks away.
"We're five, six blocks away from each other -- I think he was missing me," Seabrook said with a laugh. "I bought a house in the area we live in now first. A year and half later, he bought one right down the street. So I think he was missing me."
To hear Quenneville tell it, having Keith and Seabrook in close proximity to one another is simply the natural order of things.
"They've been together for so long that I think they really know each other's tendencies and strengths," Quenneville said. " I think Dunc's more his quickness and retrievals and Seab's more abrasive and tougher and physical. So I think they both bring a little something to that pair.
"They work off each other. They're positionally strong. They kind of read off each other's positioning, which complements the pair. And I think their anticipation is high end and their awareness of one another really makes it a nice tandem."
And that all stemmed from the year they shared an apartment.
"They still basically do," Quenneville said, chuckling. "Whether they live together or not, they live together."