Oilers Inexplicably Accept Duncan Keith’s Full Salary in Puzzling Trade

Early response to the news of the Duncan Keith trade to the Oilers is that GM Ken Holland appears to have just gotten fleeced by the Chicago Blackhawks. On Monday, a trade was finalized between the two teams that will bring a 38-year-old defenseman to Edmonton for defenseman Caleb Jones and a third-round pick.


The full terms of the trade are as follows, as per the report by NHL.com:

“The Edmonton Oilers have acquired defenceman Duncan Keith and forward Tim Soderlund from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for blueliner Caleb Jones and a conditional pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. The pick will be Edmonton’s third-round selection in 2022; or, in the event that the Oilers win three rounds in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs and Keith is among the top four Edmonton defencemen in total time on ice through the first three rounds, Chicago will receive Edmonton’s second-round pick in 2022.”

As good as Keith could turn out to be — and that’s a real question mark at this point — no one can seem to wrap their heads around how Holland, who had all the leverage in the world, couldn’t have done better. The Oilers knew the Blackhawks wanted to move Keith and that Keith only wanted to come to a couple of destinations. Holland knew the $5.5 million cap hit was a lot for his team to absorb. He should have known he didn’t need to give up a prospect and pick to get this deal done.

He did it anyways.

Related: Blackhawks Trade Duncan Keith to Oilers

Massive Overpay for the Oilers

Keith could turn out to be a godsend for Edmonton. He could play 17-18 minutes per night and fit right in. He could provide exactly the type of leadership the Oilers need, along with the championship pedigree the Oilers are lacking. That doesn’t change the fact he shouldn’t have cost so much to acquire.

Duncan Keith
Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith – Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr

Admittedly, I haven’t watched enough of the Blackhawks to know just how well Keith will or won’t play. That’s largely irrelevant, except for the fact I have to assume Holland watched Keith a lot and thinks there’s something special there. In an article I wrote yesterday, I said the following:

It’s crazy enough that the Oilers are rumored to be contemplating making this trade and not forcing the Blackhawks to retain salary. The minute Bowman said he didn’t want to, Holland should have said, ‘No thanks.’ … Most successful trades are ones where both sides felt they had to give a little. In this case, the Oilers should walk away the clear winners and Chicago shouldn’t. The Blackhawks main goal here is simply to not get taken to the woodshed.

There were rumors of a “take it or leave it” offer. If this was it, Holland must know something no one else seems to. Jones is a good young prospect, but admittedly, he likely wasn’t sticking around in Edmonton. There wasn’t really a spot for him on the roster and he might have been taken in the NHL Expansion Draft. If Holland wanted to make that deal, fine. Make it, but get the Blackhawks to retain at least $1 million in the process.

On top to taking the full hit of the salary, there was no need to throw in a third-round pick. What’s really crazy? The Oilers apparently moved up to a third-rounder from a fourth. Before the trade was confirmed by multiple sources, Mark Spector of Sportsnet wrote:

Oilers original offer on Keith was Caleb Jones, a fourth-round pick, and they were trying to include Mikko Koskinen in the deal. Hearing no Koskinen anymore, which would have provided a form of salary retention by Hawks. Could still change. Stay tuned.


Holland Has Put Keith in an Awkward Spot

Keith is a true professional. From everything you hear about the player, he’s in tremendous shape, his work ethic is unmatched and he’s a true leader who plays up in big games and key moments. Let’s hope that’s all true because Holland has just put Keith in a situation where he’ll need to be better than good for fans to settle down after this deal.

Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland
Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Paying full price, regardless of Keith’s production, is too much in today’s flat cap NHL. Add the fact the Oilers have so many other things they need to do this summer, allocating $5.5 million to a second-pairing left-shot defenseman could prove problematic.

This was a big gamble on a highly-respected player. It’s possible it pays off, but the odds are not in the Oilers favor.

Part of the appeal for Oilers fans would be that Keith could be an excellent pick up in a more limited role. To get the best return for the full cost of Keith’s contract now, the defenseman either needs to be lights-out good in those 18-or-so minutes or he needs to play more minutes, which poses an entirely different problem based on last year’s production.

Give Keith a Chance

It’s only fair to really judge the acquisition of Keith after he’s played a season for Edmonton. I’ve always been alright with the idea of adding him, for the right price. He’s got a lot to offer and for the right money, he could have been exactly what the Oilers need. People arguing he was a negative outset regardless of the trade are simply looking for reasons to bash this deal. There’s no reason to take it that far.

Was this a good trade? It doesn’t appear to be. Could Keith be a great addition? Sure. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

All Oilers fans can do now is cheer the newest Oiler on and hope Holland was as right about Keith as he was about Mike Smith. Fans lost their minds when Holland brought Smith back for another season and he proved to everyone he still had the goods. If Keith can do the same, the Oilers, specifically Holland, will narrowly escape the wrath of fans who are looking for a reason to be right about how bad this deal looks.