The Blackhawks have traded defenseman Duncan Keith to the Oilers, sending away one of the franchise’s most significant players.
In return the Blackhawks will reportedly receive defenseman Caleb Jones and a conditional 2022 third-round draft pick. That draft pick will become a second-round pick if the Oilers win three playoff series and Keith is one of the Oilers’ top-four defensemen in terms of ice time during those rounds.
Edmonton will also receive AHL center Tim Soderlund as part of the trade.
The Blackhawks are also reportedly not retaining salary as part of the trade, a move that would clear more than $5.5M in cap space in each of the next two seasons.
This move has been rumored for a couple of weeks now as word initially surfaced that Keith and the Blackhawks were trying to work out a deal to send him to either the Pacific Northwest or Western Canada, where he is from. The Oilers were one of the teams that seemed to be a logical destination given their need for defense.
The question is going to be whether or not this is the move the Oilers needed. Keith’s resume as a player speaks for itself, and is probably good enough to put him in the Hall of Fame when his career ends. He is a two-time Norris Trophy winner, a Conn Smythe Trophy winner, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and was consistently one of the best all-around defenders in the league for more than a decade, all while playing for one of the best teams in the league. There is a good argument to be made that he was the best player on that team.
But he is also 38 years old, is not the same player he was at his peak, and still carries a pretty significant salary cap hit that the Oilers are now completely taking on.
The bottom line for the Oilers is this: Keith might be an upgrade to their defense and make them somewhat better. But is he enough of an upgrade to justify the cost and salary commitment? If Keith were a free agent this offseason would he get $5.5M per year on a two-year contract? That might be a tough sell in a flat salary cap environment and given where he is in his career. The Oilers are not only paying all of that, they are also giving up two assets (a solid depth player in Caleb Jones and a pick) for the right to do it.
If this is the biggest move they make this offseason there will still be a lot of questions with this team in the short-term. Especially when there were a lot of other options available this offseason, ranging from Seth Jones and Matt Dumba in a trade, to Dougie Hamilton in free agency. There was a real opportunity to try and swing for the fences.
This trade also makes it seem likely that Adam Larsson will not be re-signing with the Oilers prior to the expansion draft later this month. With Keith now in the mix, he will almost certainly be the third defender they protect alongside Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear. By not re-signing Larsson until after they will not have to use a spot to protect him, while it is unlikely that Kraken will bother to negotiate a contract with him.