After weeks of negotiation, the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers have finally completed a trade with Duncan Keith as the centerpiece. And despite a future Hall of Fame defenseman heading Edmonton's way, it seems the Blackhawks made out as winners of the tug-o-war.
Keith and Tim Soderlund land with the Oilers in exchange for defensive prospect Caleb Jones and a conditional draft pick in 2022. More importantly, however, when breaking down the swap, Chicago will not retain a dime on Keith's $5.538 million salary over the next two seasons.
Therein lies the problem for Edmonton. It seems the Oilers are acquiring Keith to be the defenseman who was a lynchpin on a three-time Stanley Cup champion last decade, rather than the depth piece he's better served as at this point of his career.
Had they acquired Keith for half the price, he could be considered a No. 4 rearguard, or even a luxury No. 5, in terms of usage and role within the defensive corps. But at over $5.5 million, he's likely destined to assume more responsibility than he can handle at this point in his career, given his struggles in recent seasons with the Blackhawks.
Keith's cost will also make it more difficult for the Oilers to bring in the necessary talent required to take a step forward, as their progress continues to stall in the Connor McDavid era. In particular on defense, Adam Larsson, Tyson Barrie and, to a lesser extent, Slater Koekkoek are all on the cusp of free agency after playing important roles on the Edmonton blue line last season.
Keith's influence has waned at a rate similar to the Blackhawks' fall from an elite team to a very mediocre outfit. His on-ice numbers have followed a sharp downward trajectory in the last two seasons, and his offensive totals bottomed out last season with only four goals and 15 points in 54 games.
Edmonton appears to be banking on Keith's environment having a healthy influence on his performance decline, and that he can still be of service to a top-end defender in a partnership capacity or have the ability to help along one of the several young defenseman in the organization.
From the Chicago standpoint, Jones is still very much a project, having yet to make his mark in parts of five professional seasons. He had four assists in 33 games for the Oilers last year.
More important than Jones (that is, unless it directly assists in attracting his brother, Seth), moving on from Keith will allow the Blackhawks to be more competitive in the trade and free-agent markets.
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