After reports surfaced that the Chicago Blackhawks might be trying to help defenseman Duncan Keith facilitate a trade to Western Canada or the Pacific Northwest, the chatter about what teams Keith might be considering was almost immediate. Was he looking at the Vancouver Canucks? Could the Seattle Kraken be an option?
One team that fits in the description (at least geographically speaking) of where Keith would be willing to go is Edmonton. There’s no word that the Oilers are on his list — Keith has a full no-move clause — but there are some things to like about where the Oilers are headed; things Keith might be attracted to.
The question is, even if Keith has Edmonton his list, should GM Ken Holland kick tires on the blueliner? The answer is yes.
The Downside of Duncan Keith
Acknowledging that there will be those who think this is a player the Oilers shouldn’t go near, the reason is probably his age (37), his cap hit ($5.4 million) and his drop in production. Keith posted four goals and 15 points in 54 games for the Blackhawks this past season. Those numbers don’t exactly scream value.
More than that, his underlying numbers haven’t been strong the past few seasons. He’s being pinned in his own zone, his offense has struggled because of it and the player has a lot of miles on him because the Blackhawks continue to play him like he’s the same player now that he was five or six seasons ago.
There is a chance this is simply a player in rapid decline. That shouldn’t be ignored if the Oilers are interested.
The Upside of Duncan Keith
Keith’s analytical numbers have suffered and his game has arguably slowed with age. That is true. Still he’s playing 24-27 minutes per night on a less-than stellar Blackhawks team. It is bound to affect his most recent totals and if his numbers were limited a bit more, he could see those totals bounce back up.
Get him in the lineup for around 17-18 minutes per game and slot him in behind someone like Darnell Nurse and there’s potential for him to be just fine. The argument is that he simply needs to be put in a position to capitalize on what he can still bring and not to make him the No. 1 guy.
In fact, he might not even be the No. 2 guy in Edmonton if Oscar Klefbom is still with this team when the playoffs roll around. If Klefbom returns later in the year or for postseason with no salary cap ramifications, Keith can even take third-pairing minutes.
As Lowetide points out, “He’s eroding for sure, but he still played over 200 minutes against elites and came out with a plus number relative to other ‘Hawks blue. Third pair? Keith for Koskinen? Keith is 37, so Holland will consider him mid-career.”
A Strong Leader With Mike Smith-Like Fitness
Outside of what he can on the ice in the right situations, Keith is a strong leader with a ton of hardware to show he knows how to win. He’d be an ideal locker room presence and there’s no way he plays as much as he does without the right regiment and training routine. There’s a lot to current group of Oilers can learn here.
The Oilers will be quick to admit how big a personality like goaltender Mike Smith is. The young core love having him around. Keith just adds another element of that. As Holland has said in the past, he likes having “NHL pros” on his team. Can you name a player that fits the description more than Keith?
How a Keith Trade Could Work for the Oilers
There are few things the Oilers need to do if they’re going to take the idea of adding Keith seriously. First, the team shouldn’t and hopefully won’t be willing to add his $5.4 million cap hit without sending something back or having the Blackhawks retain part of that contract. It doesn’t matter that the actual dollars that to be paid to Keith are quite low. It’s the cap hit that matters here.
Whether it’s Koskinen who goes the other way or James Neal, the Oilers don’t want to invest $5.4 million in a second-pair or third-pair left-side defenseman for two years. But, if they can move out other money, or get a sweetener from the Blackhawks, it lessens the blow and it’s not a terribly long-term commitment.
The Blackhawks may have to throw a sweetener in the deal to get it done. The Oilers should full take advantage of that reality. This is not a player you just add because ‘Keith would look good as an Oiler.’ There’s too much that could go sideways here considering his age and cost. If the Oilers view this trade as a way to add depth to their left side and move something out, Holland needs to be having that conversation.
Keith is expensive and his game is declining. That said, he’s not useless. He’s effective for his age and in the right situation and under the right circumstances a trade with the Oilers could turn out to be a win for Edmonton and the player.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”