Top Trades, Landing Spots for Blackhawks Defenseman Duncan KeithJuly 2, 2021
Top Trades, Landing Spots for Blackhawks Defenseman Duncan Keith
All of a sudden, 2015 feels like a long time ago.
Particularly for fans of the Chicago Blackhawks.
It was six years ago June 15, in fact, that the Blackhawks won the third of three Stanley Cups in a span of six seasons, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 at the United Center.
Only three players from those three championship teams—leading scorer Patrick Kane, team captain Jonathan Toews and defensive stalwart Duncan Keith—remain on the roster, but that could soon change.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported Wednesday that the Blackhawks are working with Keith to facilitate a trade that would send the two-time Norris Trophy winner to either the Pacific Northwest or western Canada.
Friedman said Keith wants to be closer to family.
Now 37, Keith was born in Winnipeg and later lived in British Columbia and played junior hockey there. He's spent his entire NHL career in Chicago after the Blackhawks drafted him in 2002 and he debuted in 2005.
He won the Norris Trophy in both 2009-10 and 2013-14, earned the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2014-15 and was named on the list of the 100 greatest NHL players during the league's centennial in 2017.
But the team around him has gotten younger as many core veterans have either moved on or retired, and Keith's effectiveness has waned. He averaged 44 points per 82 games through his first 14 seasons but has skidded to slightly below 30 points over the past two, including just 15 in 54 games in 2020-21.
He has two seasons remaining on the front-loaded 13-year, $72 million contract he signed in 2009, carrying an annual cap hit of $5.54 million—though his base salary for the two seasons will amount to $3.6 million.
The idea that one of Chicago's signature players might exit set off alarm bells in the B/R hockey writing room, prompting us to compile a list of places where the future Hall of Famer could wind up.
Click through to see what we came up with, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.
This isn't the first time a trade rumor has emerged.
And history shows plenty of deals that seem imminent never come to pass.
So there's a chance that Keith remains where he is and finds himself back in a No. 2 sweater in Chicago this fall or simply walks away after 16 seasons, three championship rings and having earned more than $70 million.
That will be a decision made behind the scenes by Keith and Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman, and it will probably have quite a bit to do with what sort of market there is for the player's services and what Chicago is able to get in return now that his apparent desire to leave has been made public.
Particularly if Bowman's GM counterparts find Keith's price tag too hefty.
Bottom line, if you're set to wager on him playing elsewhere come October, it might be wise to hedge a bit.
It does make sense. But it doesn't make sense.
On one side, if a guy wants to go to western Canada, Vancouver is the spot when it comes to the NHL. Plus, he played junior hockey in British Columbia and still has family in the province.
If it's all about sentiment, the Canucks are among the front-runners.
On the other side, though, are the hockey and the economics. Vancouver is looking to build back toward the level that saw it in the Stanley Cup Final a year after Keith and his Blackhawks won a title in 2009-10.
Adding a guy who will be 38 come opening night doesn't seem to jibe with that approach.
The Canucks have young restricted free agents Quinn Hughes (21) and Elias Pettersson (22) to tend to this offseason and a handful of young defensemen in the pipeline—Olli Juolevi was picked fifth overall in 2016—so the hunk of change needed to get Keith isn't exactly easy to come up with. Nor is the need for him great.
Unless he gives a "Vancouver or bust" ultimatum, don't expect a British Columbia homecoming.
Like the Canucks before them, the Flames seem a maybe-maybe not proposition.
Calgary makes sense geographically too, and an argument can be made that a championship veteran like Keith could help a roster that's been full of promise but short on production for several years.
And he could make even more sense after the expansion draft if the team suddenly finds itself without one of its top-four defensemen and looking to plug a hole with a proven player, not a fledgling prospect.
But don't go out and buy the new jerseys just yet.
Keith's cap hit will be too onerous for Calgary to take on if he's relegated to a lower-pairing role, and it could be argued that his declining production makes it an unnecessary proposition regardless of cost.
Not as unlikely as Vancouver, perhaps, but it's definitely a long shot.
OK, let's clarify.
We're aware that Winnipeg isn't exactly western Canada.
In fact, Manitoba's provincial capital is essentially due north of the Minnesota/North Dakota border in the U.S., and it's as close to Chicago as it is to nearest NHL western neighbors Edmonton and Calgary.
So if we're looking solely at geography, the Jets would be a no-go for Keith.
But he was born there. And the Jets, who eliminated the Oilers in the first round of the playoffs before being swept by the Montreal Canadiens, do have a pressing need for help on defense.
Both could put Winnipeg back into play, particularly if GM Kevin Cheveldayoff looks at the blueliners presumably available via free agency or trade—Carolina's Dougie Hamilton, Minnesota's Matt Dumba and Columbus' Seth Jones among them—and decides their asking prices are too high.
The Jets have 13 players signed and slightly more than $20.5 million remaining in cap space, which makes it a possibility financially, particularly if Bowman is willing to retain some cash in the deal.
File Winnipeg as a dark-horse contender.
And now, the needle moves a bit.
The Edmonton Oilers boast the league's best player in Connor McDavid and another star in Leon Draisaitl, who preceded his captain as the Hart Trophy winner.
What they don't have is the sort of success talent of that caliber typically brings.
As mentioned earlier, the Oilers were bounced from the 2020-21 playoffs by Winnipeg and suffered the same fate against Keith and the Blackhawks when play resumed for the 2019-20 qualifying tournament.
What they do have are a few million bucks coming off the books this summer and the ability to offer buyouts to veterans James Neal and Mikko Koskinen, which could provide enough financial wiggle room for general manager Ken Holland to add Keith as a reliable veteran presence with some tread left on the tires.
It's a script he followed during his GM days in Detroit, and he specifically mentioned the value of "greybeards" during a season-ending press conference in May.
It won't be popular with Oilers fans clamoring for front-end talent to complement Nos. 97 and 29, but the team does have a need for blue-line depth, and if it coincides with Neal and Koskinen exiting, it's legit.
If Keith winds up playing in Canada, the guess here is he's in Edmonton.
Pacific Northwest location? Check.
Enough salary-cap room? Check.
Need for veteran leadership? Check.
Unless there's something we're missing or Keith simply decides he can't bear the idea of playing in a uniform that's not red, white and black, there's no more likely landing spot than the Seattle Kraken.
And the NHL's newest franchise will have two chances to get him.
Presuming Chicago doesn't have Keith on its list of protected players for the expansion draft, the Kraken could get him without a personnel return while also assuming full responsibility for the salary-cap number.
Or if Seattle GM Ron Francis deems the cost too high, he and Bowman could make an arrangement where they send a salaried player back to Chicago or get a future draft pick to make the pill easier to swallow.
Either way, Keith gets his apparent wish to change scenery and the new team gets a useful, established player with precisely the sort of street cred needed to galvanize a group of young players.
Book the airfare and order a celebratory latte: the Kraken have themselves a captain.