No, I never thought we’d see the day that Duncan Keith would be involved in trade discussions that take his talents away from the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite encountering a natural regression of effectiveness, his presence has always come across like the type that would be everlasting in Chicago. Although recent reports suggest otherwise, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.
It’s not that he’s done anything wrong to warrant being forced out of town. Quite the opposite, actually. He’s managed anything and everything that this team has asked of him over the past 16 years, including workloads seemingly unfit for someone in their late-30s.
Just because he can, doesn’t mean he should. Chicago’s coaching staff have continually put Keith in positions to fail and he deserves better. He has for years now.
With that said, the decision to dictate what comes next in his career should be only his to make. That’s exactly where we find ourselves at the moment, as this request seems to have come from his side. The franchise can make good on treating him as the legend he’s become by fulfilling his wishes. All the while, it works in their favour anyway.
Rebuilding the Right Way
As the Blackhawks continue attempting to trend in the right direction with this rebuild, it’s imperative that they make good on one of the central commitments they originally outlined.
“We’re committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster,” read the letter, published Tuesday. “We want more than another window to win; we want to reach the summit again, and stay there — an effort that will require a stockpile of emerging talent to complement our top players. The influx of youth and their progression will provide roster flexibility and depth throughout our lineup.”
Supporting the development of their younger players and prospects alike, means those athletes are given an opportunity to perform. Yet, Keith averaged 23:25 of ice time throughout the 2020-21 campaign. In other words, those were minutes that were therefore unable to be shared among anyone born after 1983.
Perhaps that’s one reason as to why 20-year-old Adam Boqvist was only able to log 16:59 per night, owning the ninth-highest average ice time among non-goalies. The former eighth overall pick, who many look to as the future leader of Chicago’s defensive core, has to have more runway to work with.
The Blackhawks need to infuse players like Boqvist into play as often as possible, forcing them to face challenges that will work to expedite their development. Navigating such scenarios in their early 20s means those respective athletes will then be that much more poised to persevere throughout the rest of their careers.
Making mistakes is part of that process, but it’s impossible to progress without being given the chance to. Just because Keith has become a reliable presence that coaches can count on, doesn’t mean he should take playing time away from another hoping to create their own reputation.
This is a rebuild, after all, is it not?
Freeing Up Financials
Despite it having once been considered one of the better long-term deals throughout the league, the 13-year term that Keith agreed to in December 2009 has to be looked at in a new light these days. Not because he hasn’t done enough to justify the over $5.5 million AAV or no-movement clause in place, but because that type of spend can help a rebuild in different ways.
Rather than having millions tied up in a veteran defenseman for the next two years, freeing those financials would better position the Blackhawks when it comes to securing future contracts. Besides, Keith isn’t battling for a roster spot — he’s working towards retirement.
Pius Suter, Brandon Hagel, Adam Gaudette, David Kampf, and Alexander Nylander are all up for renewal at the conclusion of the 2021-22 schedule. Things won’t get any easier for the club the following offseason either, with the likes of Boqvist, Kevin Lankinen, Kirby Dach, Dominik Kubalik, and Philipp Kurashev all due for a raise by the end of 2022-23.
What else do those that made this list have in common? They’re all in their early to mid-20s. Right around the age bracket that best reflects a supposed rebuild’s core.
It’s not about being ageist against Keith, as he can certainly provide a steady presence within any lineup. However, if his multi-million dollar salary is available to be distributed in a way that supports Chicago’s youth movement, then that’s a tradeoff the franchise has to leverage for the good of their future.
Keith’s Right to Decide
Above all else, Keith has done enough for the Blackhawks to warrant an elevation in the treatment he receives at this point in his tenure. Whatever his reasoning, if he expressed a desire to be playing elsewhere then he’s earned the right for those in charge to make it so.
One of the best to ever suit up in Chicago, Keith has played in 1,192 games to date. He’s accumulated over 620 points, averaged nearly 25:00 per game, and has a plus-144 rating. None of which even includes the 135 postseason contests he’s been part of, en route to capturing three Stanley Cups for this city and a Conn Smyth Trophy. He’s also won the James Norris Memorial Trophy, as the league’s best defenseman, twice.
Keith will most certainly be remembered as one of the all-time greats to ever man a Blackhawks’ blue line. As he nears the twilight of his career, rewarding him with the ability to control what comes next should be an easy decision for management.
All signs point to Keith still having it in him to compete and it’s been mentioned that he wants to be playing somewhere that’s closer to his son. So, why not let that occur in a place that permits a more family-friendly conclusion to his career? If that’s what he wants, Chicago needs to make it his reality.
Not only does he deserve that type of treatment, but it’s a best-case scenario for the direction this team is heading towards at the moment. Keeping Keith happy, even if it’s in a non-Blackhawks sweater, works to everyone’s advantage.
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Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.
Find more of my work at mralwayswrite.com.