The 2021 offseason is expected to be a doozy with the Kraken’s expansion draft and the unforeseen flat cap looming for the upcoming 2021-22 season.
Now the first domino has fallen, as the Blackhawks parted ways with three-time Stanley Cup champion Duncan Keith, sending him to the Oilers on Monday. The 2015 Conn Smythe winner requested a move to Western Canada to be closer to his son, Colton, who lives in Penticton, B.C.
“Last year was pretty difficult, not being able to see him,” Keith said on a Zoom call with reporters after the trade was announced. “I went almost three months without seeing him and then had a quick little visit and another close to two months without seeing him. . . . I knew I didn’t want to go those long periods of time without seeing him.
“So I’m excited to be closer to him and be able to see him more frequently and have him more involved and being able to come down to Edmonton.”
It’s hockey, but this trade has much more to it than just the on-ice product. It has more meaning to it than, really, any other trade can have. Off the ice, it’s an A+ to all the teams involved, but there is, of course, the on-ice aspect that fans will be focusing on. So, having said that, here’s a look at how each team did:
Jones surely sweetens the pot for the Blackhawks. What pot you may ask? The one that gets them his brother, Seth Jones. The latter Jones brother will be a free agent next summer and has reportedly expressed a desire to move out of Columbus.
Would Seth waive his no-trade clause and keep Chicago off his no-trade list? Possibly, so the siblings could play together a la the Niedermayers or (some) of the Sutters. The move made that acquisition slightly less than a pipe dream, as it also opened up some cap space for the Blackhawks. Keith’s cap hit was $5,538,462, and Jones’ cap hit would be $5,400,000.
Regardless of the Seth possibilities, Chicago gets a young defenseman in Caleb with 93 games of experience under his belt (33 in 2021). He hasn’t posted big numbers in the NHL, but Caleb has shown he can bring an offensive game with 29 points in 50 games with the Oilers AHL affiliate in Bakersfield in 2018-19 and 11 points in 14 games in 2019-20.
The move could be good for Caleb, as he didn’t have much room to grow and develop at the NHL level. There were a bunch of guys blocking him and ascending into the lineup on a nightly basis, such as Kris Russell, William Lagesson and Dmitri Kulikov (if he is re-signed).
It should be noted that, if the Blackhawks somehow swing a deal for Seth, it would behoove a big boost on the final grade here.
Intangibles. That’s what led to Oilers general manager Ken Holland adding Keith. Holland’s seen the analytics. He’s seen the declining numbers, including a minus-8 goals scored above average that was the third-worst mark for any NHL player over the past two seasons (minimum 100 games), per ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski.
But this trade wasn’t about any of that from the Oilers’ perspective. It was about the intangibles.
“I can’t put a price on three Stanley Cups, two Norris Trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy, two gold medals and his leadership, what he’s meant to the Chicago Blackhawks franchise, how he’s won, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2015. Is he the same player today? No. He wouldn’t be available,” Holland said. “Am I aware of the analytics? Yeah. His analytics aren’t as good as they were in his prime, but I’m not asking him to be our No. 1 defenseman, to play 25 minutes against the other team’s best players. Darnell Nurse is going to do that.”
The expectation is Keith will be slotted on the second defensive pairing, which will pit him against the opposition’s weaker lines. Last season, he led the Blackhawks in ice time (23:25), but as Holland noted, he won’t have to do that now with Nurse on the blueline. Not being on a top D-pair will also limit his exposure to the league’s superstars, which could help shore up Keith’s game and elevate his skill level.
And Keith is hungry to show he’s not done yet despite turning 38 in four days.
“I feel like I have a lot,” Keith said when asked how much is left in his game. “Once we hit the ice, we’re going to see who’s a step behind out there. I’m not much for talking. It is what it is, and we’ll see what happens when we get on the ice.”
Does Keith have to put together an All-Star season? No, because, as mentioned, it’s not about the on-ice game as much as it is the intangibles.
Last year’s Oilers roster had one guy who won a Stanley Cup: Alex Chiasson, who won with the Capitals in 2018. Keith has three and a Conn Smythe Trophy. Adding a guy that can bring leadership to the locker room, that has been in the trenches and knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup — multiple Stanley Cups — is invaluable to a locker room.
“I had to try to do something to make our team better, and I believe I made our team better today. We added a legitimate top-four defenseman,” said Holland, who is taking criticism for the cap hit and not making the Blackhawks retain as much as 50 percent of Keith’s salary. “I know that he’s 37 years of age, but he’s motivated, he’s excited and he’s bringing in lots of intangibles that it’s hard to put a price on. I don’t know what they’re worth, but I do know the teams that go on playoff runs and that are good — and we just watched recently this past week and you look at the veteran players and the impact that they have on those teams. I think it’s because of their experience, and certainly, that’s the hope.”
Time will tell if Keith will feel rejuvenated on a new team, but he does add that element the Oilers were missing. They already have guys who can bury the puck in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They already have top defensive talent like Nurse. Now they have the guy who knows how to win.
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