It’s the beginning of July, 2021. Duncan Keith’s name has surfaced in recent trade rumours surrounding the Edmonton Oilers. Does a deal make sense for the Oilers? What would the Blackhawks be looking for in a deal? Looking for more information on the soon-to-turn 38 year old three time Stanley Cup winner, I’ve turned to managing editor Dave Melton from SB Nation’s Second City Hockey.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.
Copper and Blue: First off, Duncan Keith is a decorated NHL player. He’s a three time Stanley Cup Champion, he’s won two Norris Trophies, and he’s a three time all star. There’s no denying that he’s had a very, very successful career up to this point. Now in 2021, there’s plenty of talk right now about the Oilers being in line for Duncan Keith’s services. If the Oilers were to swing a deal with Chicago for Duncan Keith, what are the Blackhawks realistically looking for in return?
Second City Hockey: Given that the Blackhawks current organizational philosophy is focused on building for the future, the preferred return is likely picks and/or prospects. There’s not a ton of value here because Keith is the one who reportedly initiated the trade request, has a no-movement clause and has a small list of teams he wants to go to to be closer to his family (especially his son) who all live in British Columbia. Considering he’s in his late 30s with a cap hit over $5 million, it seems like a mid-round pick or a mid-level prospect is up near the ceiling of what to realistically expect in return.
Copper and Blue: Duncan Keith just finished the abbreviated 2021 season by playing the most minutes among defencemen on the Blackhawks, averaging nearly 23 and a half minutes per game. Some have him pencilled in as a second pair player behind Darnell Nurse, especially if Oscar Klefbom is unable to rejoin the Oilers in 2021-22. Is second pair a good spot for Duncan Keith?
Second City Hockey: Keith playing the most minutes among Hawks defensemen is more of an indictment of Chicago’s current roster than anything else. Keith is not the Norris Trophy winner he was earlier in his career but his skills haven’t totally fallen off a cliff, either. His possession numbers are awful but a few caveats exist: 1) Chicago was among the worst possession teams in the league last season and Keith can’t outperform that anymore. 2) His top two D partners last season were Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell, both NHL novices. The Keith-Boqvist pairing actually put up decent possession numbers (relative to the team) but did get some sheltered minutes. Keith’s No. 3 most frequent partner was Connor Murphy and those two were often paired whenever Chicago was defending a lead late in the game, which is going to have an adverse effect on any D pairing’s numbers.
That Keith-Boqvist pairing is probably the best indication of where Keith can succeed, in a somewhat sheltered role, probably as the No. 4 guy on the defensive depth chart.
As a long-winded way to answer your question: yes, he can be a decent second-pairing option. But that probably still needs to be a more sheltered role.
Copper and Blue: Keith has scored 40 or more points 9 times in his career, those numbers have trailed off quite a bit over the last two seasons even though his most common forwards are Patrick Kane and Dominik Kubalik. Why do you suppose that is?
Second City Hockey: When the Hawks were at their peak, Keith made a living out of cutting off opposing rushes at his blue line and then getting the puck moving in the opposite direction, often leading to a quick counter-attack goal with Keith picking up a primary or secondary assist. Chicago’s current system is not as aggressive at denying zone entry, so defensemen are not as involved in scoring plays as they used to be. That’s probably the top reason, regardless of what forwards Keith is skating with.
Copper and Blue: Let’s talk about special teams for a second. Can Keith run the power play? Is he a valuable penalty killer?
Second City Hockey: Keith has been seeing power play minutes in Chicago for the last decade even though it’s not really a strong attribute of his. He can certainly help on the PK, though, because his hockey IQ helps his stick and his body be in the right place most of the time, even if his foot speed isn’t what it used to be. Wouldn’t recommend putting him on your No. 1 PK unit but he can still eat up PK minutes.
Copper and Blue: Finally, you’re Stan Bowman. Duncan Keith has come to you asking to help him orchestrate a trade to Western Canada or the Pacific Northwest. Do you want to trade Duncan Keith? Why, or why not?
Second City Hockey: They probably don’t want to trade Keith at all but if he wants out and they can find a worthwhile trade partner, it makes sense from a salary cap perspective. Taking his $5 million cap hit off the books would allow Chicago to be more aggressive in free agency and go after, say, Dougie Hamilton (just speaking this into existence here).
Copper and Blue: Anything else to add?
Second City Hockey: Keith’s cap hit is over $5 million but his salary is just $2.1 million next season and $1.5 million in its final year during the ‘22-23 season. Seems like that could make his deal more appealing to a cash-strapped (but not cap-strapped) team.
Thanks go to Dave for his time.