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Out Of The Grey

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With Duncan Keith’s name being tossed into a possible Pacific Division trade, the Oilers would be wise to move along

Nashville Predators v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

We had a lot of fun yesterday. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins signed an eight year deal in the low 5s that has the ability to take him from cover to cover as a member of the Oilers. As good as it was for Nugent-Hopkins, it has a really good chance to be a good deal for the Oilers too. Solid all around.

What do you got for us today?

I don’t want these rumblings.

Ken Holland said in his end of year media availability that he believes that every championship club needs a few “greybeards”. He’s had quite a few in his time with the Red Wings. Chris Chelios, Luc Robitaille, Igor Larionov. You know the type he’s talking about - the grinding forward, the character fourth liner, the grizzled veteran defenceman. It’s something he pined for quite openly in the media availability. These are the players that were among his star players in Detroit - ones that he’s convinced will be difference makers when it matters the most.

You can imagine the initial reaction when Elliotte Friedman dropped this bit of information on us tonight, especially since it’s very possible that Oscar Klefbom won’t be ready at the start of the 2021-22 season. A left defenceman announces he possibly wants to be traded to Western Canada, and the Oilers are likely down a left defenceman prior to the start of next season?

I didn’t have Duncan Keith on my list of possible offseason acquisitions for the Oilers, and there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t either. That’s not to say that Keith hasn’t had a killer career up to this point. He’s been on three Stanley Cup teams in Chicago, he’s won the Norris Trophy on two occasions, he’s a three time All-Star player. The guy’s had plenty of time in the sun, and it’s been well-deserved. It’s also worth noting that there’s nothing that suggests that a deal with the Oilers is imminent at this time. There’s always a chance that this deal never gets off the ground, or that he could end up in Calgary or Seattle. Those two destinations would be just fine. Keith holds a full NMC, and it’ll play a key role if he ends up somewhere other than Chicago to start the 2021-22 NHL season.

Duncan Keith is a left shot defenceman currently employed by the Chicago Blackhawks. He’ll be 38 years of age in two weeks, he’ll be entering his twelfth year of a thirteen year contract signed by Chicago in December of 2009. He has two years remaining on a deal with a cap hit of 5.54 million this year and next, but there are only 3.6 million actual dollars remaining on the deal. At first blush, this looks like a deal that would be headed to a club like Ottawa who is usually just trying to find the cap floor.

Keith played the most minutes of any Hawk defenceman this past season, the results were not good. Keith averaged just about 23 and a half minutes on ice per night, he finished the season with 15 points (4-11-15) in 54 games. When Keith was on the ice at evens, the ice was tilted badly towards the Hawks zone. It didn’t matter with whom he played. Ian Mitchell partnered with Keith the most out of any Blackhawks defenceman this past season. Keith also got time with Connor Murphy and Adam Boqvist, both of whom had better underlying numbers when away from Keith. Keith’s numbers look strikingly similar to Nikita Zadorov overall, which is a good indicator to take a long, cool drink of water and step back.

A club that takes on Keith’s contract may see better results by limiting his minutes, but this would be a leap of faith while incurring a significant cap hit. If the Oilers could turn him into a third pair defenceman that averages say, 15 minutes a night, there’s an argument that less minutes could boost his performance a bit. While this could be a viable option for a player in a different circumstance, I’m not sure why the Oilers would be interested in taking on a 5.4MM cap hit to do so, much less on a player that will be 38 years of age. Edmonton already has a handful of potential third pairing defencemen as it is.

THE BUYOUT?

Shipping James Neal to Chicago for Duncan Keith for purposes of a buyout is something I’ve seen pop up a few times tonight. The Oilers would actually do better buying out James Neal themselves, as Duncan Keith’s deal is buyout-proof. With Neal, the Oilers would be on the hook for just under $2MM a year for four years. Buying out Keith would hit the club for $4MM in 2021-22, then 4.7MM in 2022-23 before dropping to 600K in 2023-24 and 2024-25. It’s not in Edmonton’s interest to do this.

Duncan Keith has had a great career, and he’s got two more years on his deal that he’ll play out somewhere. If Western Canada or the Pacific Northwest is his destination, the Oilers can’t get wrapped up in a situation where they depend on Keith to play big minutes. At his cap hit, they’d be very wise to look elsewhere.