Oilers Scribe Finds Genius Way To Work Around Duncan Keith’s Cap Hit

Fans of the Edmonton Oilers are watching closely what happens with the team’s contract situations this summer, some specifically watching the Duncan Keith situation to see if he retires. Most insiders believe Keith will return, and that means the Oilers will be stuck with his $5.53 million cap hit for the 2022-23 season.

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There was some talk about a potential cap credit if Keith were to retire but the NHL has since shot that discussion down, confirming that no team will receive a cap credit should a player on an old long-term, now-illegal contract see it end early. The Chicago Blackhawks would be dinged a cap recapture penalty, but the Oilers wouldn’t get any extra “bonus money” to play with.

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So, unless the Oilers find a really creative way to juggle Keith’s cap hit and still keep the player, he’s going to cost some money on the books next season.

There Is a Way to Work Around Keith’s Big Salary

Jason Gregor of TSN’s The Jason Gregor Show tweeted on Tuesday that the Oilers could potentially work out a trade that would see Keith moved, then brought back to the Oilers organization as a free agent. Gregor tweeted that Keith could be moved, bought out by another team, then signed again by Edmonton.

Specifically, Gregor suggested that the Oilers trade Keith to the Arizona Coyotes where the Coyotes would buy out the remainder of his contract. As per CapFriendly, doing so would cost Arizona about $1 million per season over the next two seasons. Once that buyout is complete, the Oilers could re-sign Keith at a lower salary of $1 million per season.

The benefit here for the Oilers is Keith is still on the roster, but at a much lower cap hit. The benefit for the Coyotes is that they would get a sweetener from the Oilers for completing the buyout. Gregor suggests it would be a 3rd and a 6th-round pick as compensation in the trade.

Is This Legal in the NHL?

There is some debate about whether this type of move is considered cap circumvention. It was a heavy debate among the comments in Gregor’s tweet. Ultimately, he wasn’t 100% sure but he argues that similar moves have been completed in the NHL. When it was brought up that this might be illegal, Gregor argued, “he has to agree to waive his NMC…but WSH did it with [Brooks] Orpik, and no rule has been written since that says you can’t.” He adds, “How is it different than trading a guy to ARI who just sits on LTI. You free up cap space and ARI gains it.”

Related: Plan A and Plan B At Each Position for Oilers in Free Agency This Summer

He also argues that the Calgary Flames bought out Michael Stone, then re-signed him seven weeks later and that was in 2019.

Duncan Keith Edmonton Oilers
Duncan Keith, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This might be frowned upon and perhaps it’s something the league might take a look at, but so many things have been ignored by the league in the past, this seems like a non-issue. If it’s not in the CBA, the Oilers could certainly argue their case.

Creative Way To Move Cap Space

Teams in the NHL have been moving salary cap space around for multiple seasons now. LTIR has been just one of the many issues fans and teams have taken aim at when arguing that the rules can be a bit goofy and that some clubs are abusing the rules and not abiding by them as intended. Doing something like this with a player like Keith was bound to happen. The Oilers might as well be the first to try.

Keith would have to sign off on this, as would the Coyotes and the Oilers. Why not give it a shot though, especially if all parties are willing and Keith winds up right back where he started? Heck, he might not even need to board a plane or make an appearance. Just wait for the ink on the paperwork to dry.