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Photo Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

A Telegraphed Shot

At opposite ends of the opinion spectrum, Duncan Keith is either too old and too expensive to make a difference for the Edmonton Oilers or the two-time Norris Trophy winner and three-time Stanley Cup champion is a great bet to provide GM Ken Holland with exactly the kind of experience and leadership his team needs.

There’s no question that Keith, who turns 38 on July 16 and has a contract that packs a $5.5 million AAV for another two years, is on the downside of what will be a first-ballot HHOF career with 1,192 regular season games and 135 more playoff games on his resume. The $64-question, with his underlying numbers less-than-flattering with the Blackhawks this season, is how much Keith has left and if the ability he retains can help the Oilers?

What we do know after all the speculation and media reports of late, is Holland is definitely interested. Should he be? Well, that’s made for lots of debate. The reality, for better or worse, is Holland, who has a history of making deals for older defencemen like Larry Murphy, Brian Rafalski and Chris Chelios, calls the shots. You and I, whether we’re using eyeballs, advanced stats or both, don’t. Like I wrote Sunday, I’m not keen on bringing Keith in. Again, doesn’t matter.

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Keith wants out of Chicago and would like to come west. He’s represented by Edmonton-based Gerry Johannson. So, is there a scenario in which Keith makes sense for the Oilers? Not by playing the kind of first-pairing minutes he’s historically logged with Chicago, but in a second-pairing role? Does his experience and leadership make him a good fit at this time on this team on left defence alongside somebody, like say, Adam Larsson?

Holland thinks so. I don’t base that on having talked to Holland, but on what Oilers Now host Bob Stauffer had to say today. While Stauffer isn’t the only guy around the league in the know, he’s plugged in and I’ve listened to him long enough to know a telegraphed shot when I hear one. I’d bet the house I heard one today. Episode here.

WHAT HE SAID

Apr 15, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) during the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

“The bottom line is where the player is slotted,” Stauffer said. “You’re asking a guy who for the last 16 seasons has been in the No. 1 pairing for Chicago. If you were, theoretically, to get him, he would be playing second-pairing minutes. And, oh, by the way, the Oilers have a hole there because they have to plan as though Oscar Klefbom isn’t going to come back. That’s just the reality of the situation.

“Take a look at the history that Holland has. I would assert to you the one position you want to have experience is on defence. I’m going to tell you right now, I can totally foresee a scenario where, regardless of who gets Keith, he’s got two years left on his deal, I could see him playing in the NHL at 41, 42, 43 because of the level of conditioning he’s in, because of the competitiveness he has.

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“Some of you personally have been in bad situations being at work, maybe in relationships. You know you’ve got to get out of it and you get out of it and you get rejuvenated with a new opportunity. It happens all the time in sports. I don’t think Chicago wants to trade him. The reports we have is they were surprised by this. If they are to trade him, you know they’re going to be in on Dougie Hamilton and in on Seth Jones. I do know there would be interest in the Keith camp to be in Edmonton. That doesn’t happen all the time. It’s just the reality of the situation . . .”

So, Keith wants out of Chicago. Check. He and Johannson have an interest in coming to Edmonton because it’s closer to home. Check. Holland sees value in Keith and how he might fit here, and he has a history of valuing older blueliners. Check. Check. Check. Can the Blackhawks and Oilers make the money work? Are Holland and Stan Bowman working on that right now? 

THE BOTTOM LINE

Apr 23, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) looks to pass the puck against the Nashville Predators during the first period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

“He (Keith) is probably going to be successful where he goes because he’s not going to play as much,” Stauffer said. “So, instead of the Oilers going out and grabbing a guy and thrusting him into an accelerated role, this is a scenario where the player would be decelerated in the minutes played. There’s one more thing – the players.

“The players know. Edmonton had some younger players crater to the point that the coach couldn’t even play them on the ice at times in the series against Winnipeg. Having a little bit of know-how with a guy that’s won three Stanley Cups and won a Conn Smythe, if you don’t think that doesn’t resonate with the players if you get a guy like that, it does. I’m going to tell you that right now. I can 100 per cent guarantee it.”

Whether you and I agree or disagree with acquiring Keith, will anybody be surprised when it happens? Not me.

Previously by Robin Brownlee