Yesterday, a report from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman indicated that the Blackhawks are working with defenseman Duncan Keith on a trade that would send him to either the Pacific Northwest or Western Canada. The move is speculated to be for family reasons which would explain the specific geographical region where he’d waive his no-move clause to go to. With that in mind, let’s look at the potential fit for each of those teams to take on the final two years of his deal ($5.538MM both years but just $3.6MM in total salary combined).
Vancouver – With Alex Edler set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the month, there is a potential spot for Keith to step into if Edler doesn’t re-sign while it would shift Nate Schmidt back to his off-side. Although the Canucks don’t have the cap space to absorb Keith’s contract outright, they have some expiring contracts (Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, and Antoine Roussel) that could be used as offsets to make the money work this year. He’d also be a mentor for top youngster Quinn Hughes.
However, bringing in Keith would also put another roadblock in place for two of their young left-shot blueliners in Olli Juolevi and Jack Rathbone. Juolevi was able to carve out a limited role last season but more is expected from the fifth overall pick in 2016. As for Rathbone, he didn’t look out of place in a late-season stint and could be in the mix for a full-time spot in training camp. Developing some cost-controlled assets will help offset the big money owed to Hughes and Elias Pettersson this summer and Brock Boeser next summer.
It’s potentially for those reasons that they don’t appear to be interested in acquiring Keith at the moment. There are ways to make the money work for 2021-22 but 2022-23 could be a lot trickier and if they want to let Juolevi and Rathbone see some more NHL action, adding Keith would make that more difficult.
Edmonton – The early indications are that Oscar Klefbom ($4.167MM) may not be ready to return at the start of next season so he could be heading for LTIR once again. Last fall, they used that money on Tyson Barrie but they could have to go in a different direction if Barrie prices himself out of what the Oilers can afford. Theoretically, Keith could fill that same role next year although if Klefbom can return later in the year, that would complicate things.
Behind Darnell Nurse, there are few proven options on the left side of Edmonton’s back end. Caleb Jones and William Lagesson have both had their ups and downs to this point in their young careers while Kris Russell is a third-pairing role player at best. Dmitry Kulikov and Slater Koekkoek will both become unrestricted free agents later this month as well. They have high hopes for Philip Broberg, the eighth pick back in 2019, but he probably isn’t ready to step into a top-four role either. Keith could presumably serve as the bridge player for Broberg.
Edmonton also has some pricey contracts that could be moved to offset money. Winger James Neal has two years left at $5.75MM, nearly the same as Keith while goaltender Mikko Koskinen has one year at $4.5MM remaining. Both are buyout candidates as a result and could be included to balance the cap. With the state of their back end, a veteran that can play on the left side of the second pairing could be a useful pickup and Keith could conceivably fill that role.
Calgary – At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be a great fit. The Flames have their top four defenders signed for next year at a cost of $20.75MM. While Keith on the third pairing would certainly improve their depth, paying more than $5MM for the privilege is something they can’t realistically afford.
However, expansion is looming and Calgary appears to be a team that will need to protect seven forwards which means one of their top four blueliners – likely Mark Giordano – will be left exposed to Seattle. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the Kraken take on the final year of Giordano’s contract which would create an opening in the top four and $6.75MM in cap space. That could be an opening for Keith but otherwise, the Flames shouldn’t be the landing spot.
Seattle – For the Kraken to pick him in expansion, Keith would first have to waive his no-move clause. Considering his apparent desire to be in the Pacific Northwest, that shouldn’t be an issue. What will be trickier is finding the fit for a trade. Does Seattle want to take on that contract outright or are they going to want some sort of sweetener or salary offset? The latter can’t really happen until after the expansion draft when they’ll have players to trade which would take picking him off the table.
Those small logistics aside, Keith would certainly be an intriguing fit for an expansion team. There’s a chance he’d wind up in a bigger role than he should have (he turns 38 later this month) but he’s also someone that would potentially be their inaugural captain and help shepherd their roster through what will certainly be an interesting first couple of years. If they take a defenseman with their second-overall pick this month and put him on the NHL roster, Keith would work as a good mentor as well. Generally, players that old don’t make sense for a new team but there’s a fit here.
With such a narrow window of teams to work with (Winnipeg is too far East to qualify as part of Western Canada), Chicago and Keith’s camp will have their work cut out for them. Of the four, Edmonton may be the best fit before expansion while Calgary could become an option after that depending on what happens. And with their clean cap situation, Seattle could be in the mix at any time as well. There are options but likely not enough for the Blackhawks to bring in any sort of sizable return for the 16-year veteran.