Blackhawks: Three Reasons Now Was The Right Time To Trade Keith

By Joseph Felicelli
Duncan Keith #2, Chicago Blackhawks Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Duncan Keith #2, Chicago Blackhawks Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /
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Duncan Keith #2, Chicago Blackhawks
Duncan Keith #2, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) /

What It Does For The Organization

The Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers are being questioned by their fan base for making this move, taking on $5.5M in cap allocation for a (soon-to-be) 38-year-old D-man who has declining play metrics the last few years. But they wouldn’t have made the move if they didn’t think it would help them get better these next two years. Here’s what Edmonton is getting in their new player:

  1. Leadership: Duncan Keith is a respected voice in any locker room. He has the “pelts on the wall” in 3 Stanley Cup Rings, 2 Norris Trophies, and multiple Olympic and World Championship Appearances for Team Canada. His work ethic is legendary and will be a tremendous example for the young players on the team, such as Philip Broberg, Evan Bouchard, and Ethan Bear. His preparation will also aid the young players (and the not-so-young). Darnell Nurse could also take another step in his evolution by learning from Keith.
  2. Experience: Keith is a relentless student of the game. He has seen it all and done it all. Having a stabilizing presence on the back end not only helps the young defenders but also helps the forward group. Having a wizened vet back there can allow players like McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins to be a little more aggressive in the offensive zone, knowing Keith would not leave them exposed to rushes the other way.
  3. Versatility: There is not a single situation where you wouldn’t feel comfortable putting Keith on the ice. He can kill penalties, QB the power play, and is effective in his own zone, the offensive zone, and the neutral zone. You can pair him up and down the lineup, and know you will get responsible, solid play. That is a big boost to a roster.

The Chicago Blackhawks

Sooner or later, the ‘Hawks were going to have to experience life without Keith. Not many expected it to happen with 2 years left on his deal, but that is precisely what they will need to do this upcoming season. The Blackhawks are losing a tremendous icon of the franchise, but they are gaining some things as well:

  1. Cap Space: Duncan Keith’s $5.5M cap charge is now completely off the books, and with no salary retention (that provision qualifies as larceny in my opinion), the ‘Hawks can use all of it in pursuit of upgrades to the roster, whether at F or on the back end. Or they can use it to re-sign Hagel, Suter, AND Gaudette, and maybe have some leftover.
  2. A Roster Spot for a D-Man: No defenseman on the roster right now is anywhere close to being the next Duncan Keith, but the ‘Hawks had a bit of a logjam on the left side. Pending the Expansion Draft, Calvin DeHaan, Riley Stillman, and Wyatt Kalynuk are all under contract for next season, and they also have Zadorov as an RFA, and Nicolas Beaudin in Rockford that has NHL experience. They needed to clear space to give the young D a chance to step up in more prominent roles.
  3. Accelerating the Rebuild: If the ‘Hawks are being honest with themselves, they knew that the future of this team wasn’t going to include Keith and Seabrook, and potentially not even Kane and Toews. Seabrook announced his playing career is over, and now Keith is moved on. They can rebuild that part of the roster, while still keeping fan interest high with Kane and Toews on the roster. Win-win for the Blackhawks organization.

This is a rare case where both teams benefit in multiple ways by making what is certainly an unconventional move. The conditional 3rd next year (can improve to a 2nd with unlikely-to-be-earned criteria) and Tim Soderlund are minor considerations, but in the end, both teams have a chance to get better this upcoming season.