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Everybody Has One…

There’s an old saying that opinions are like *ssholes, everybody has one. That axiom was on full display today when word started to trickle out that the Edmonton Oilers had acquired Duncan Keith from the Chicago Blackhawks for Caleb Jones and a conditional third-round draft pick in what was essentially a telegraphed shot.

Reading social media, Oilers’ fans who like the deal Ken Holland made with Stan Bowman to improve the left side of his defence and add a veteran presence are outnumbered in a big way by those who don’t. Some fans, leaning on Keith’s advanced statistics from last season, figure the 38-year-old blueliner is washed up.

A handful of people think Holland gave up too much by sending Jones and a draft pick to Chicago, especially since Keith had asked Bowman for a trade. On top of that, and this is what really grinds critics of the trade, is Holland is taking on a $5.5 million AAV with no salary retained. Unless I’m missing something, Holland had the hammer and he didn’t use it. He overpaid to make this deal.

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I fall into that last camp. I don’t know how the trade is going to play out, nobody does for certain, but I do know Holland paid full freight for a 38-year-old player when it looked like he had all the leverage in the deal but didn’t use it. What we don’t know about why it played out this way might be plenty, but I’m having trouble figuring out why the deal worked out the way it did.

FULL FREIGHT

Apr 6, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) shoots the puck against the Dallas Stars during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday I wrote: “If Chicago GM Stan Bowman won’t move on retaining money, there’s no way Keith is worth a prospect like Caleb Jones, Ryan McLeod or a more established player like Ethan Bear plus another asset. As is the case with Tarasenko, Bowman has a player who wants out and has to be dealt or protected before lists are submitted for the expansion draft. Given that reality, and that the Blackhawks believe acquiring Caleb Jones will aid in landing brother Seth Jones, Holland has the hammer. If he’s set on Keith, he has to use it.” The item is here.

I’m not really concerned about losing Jones. He went from prospect to suspect in my mind last season when he was made a healthy scratch by coach Dave Tippett, who didn’t have enough confidence in the kid to play him at times. With just 93 games on his NHL resume, there’s a chance Jones might prove his critics wrong. It’s possible. I just don’t think it’s probable. I stand to be proven wrong, which has happened a time or two. That aside, with Keith keeping his NMC, Holland must protect him and expose somebody else for the expansion draft.

I’m not concerned that the wheels have fallen off Keith, who is certainly somewhat diminished from prime years that saw him win the Norris Trophy twice and sip from three Stanley Cups. He was miss-cast in Chicago last season with top-pairing minutes (23:25) and is more suited to second-pairing minutes, which he’ll play behind Darnell Nurse here. Diminished, in this case, doesn’t mean done.

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We’re also led to believe – Oilers Now host Bob Stauffer has referred to it more than once on his show lately – that the Oilers leadership core is on board with the move. I’m guessing that’s the likes of @connor McDavid, @Leon Draisaitl and Nurse, which isn’t a bad place to start.

While leadership and experience are intangibles some people have little use for because it can’t be charted or measured, I see value in it – as long as Keith can still walk the walk out on the ice. If he can, that plays into the win-now mode Holland has talked about. If he can’t, well, then it’s a disaster. I don’t see that being the case. I see Keith being substantially better alongside a partner like Adam Larsson than he was playing with youngsters last season.

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

I think Keith, especially with Oscar Klefbom’s status in question, is a fit in Tippet’s second pairing. I think he has a chance to make a positive difference with this group of players. What I don’t know for sure on the day the trade has been made is how everything will play out, how Keith will perform here and what will become of Jones. Neither does anybody else.

What I do know is having Keith in the line-up instead of Jones makes the Oilers better right now. What I do know is Holland over-paid. As for the rest, there is no choice but to wait.

UPDATE:  Late word on the Keith trade has the Oilers also getting Swedish centre Tim Soderlund, a fourth-round draft pick in 2017, from the Blackhawks. Soderlund, 23, split last season between Almtuna (10-6-16) in Sweden and the Rockford Ice Hogs (0-5-5) in the AHL.

Previously by Robin Brownlee