On July 12th, 2021, the Edmonton Oilers acquired Duncan Keith and Tim Soderlund from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Caleb Jones and a conditional 2022 draft pick. The pick was the 94th selection and Arizona (who had traded with Chicago) selected Jeremy Langlois.
The Keith trade was a huge win for the Oilers.
I was on record that I liked the trade at the time. The main reason Chicago didn’t retain any money was because Keith could retire this summer and the Hawks would have a massive cap recapture penalty. They have a $5.538m cap hit this year and $1.938m next season. Had Keith remained in Chicago they likely could have come to an agreement for him to go on LTIR this season, earn his remaining $1.5m and the Hawks would have gained $5.538m in cap space with him on LTIR. When traded, that option wasn’t there, which is why there wasn’t any retained salary.
For the Oilers, the trade worked out gloriously. Yes, Keith played top-four minutes, and for the final three months of the season he mentored Evan Bouchard. Bouchard spoke glowingly about how much he learned from Keith. In one of the first discussions they had, Keith told Bouchard there was an invisible line down the middle of the ice, and each would stay on their own side, just to try and simplify things for the rookie. Of course, sometimes you have to change sides, but getting used to staying on your side and trusting your partner is key to success.
In the first 44 games of the season, Bouchard played 757 minutes at 5×5 and mainly with Darnell Nurse. His breakdown of opponents was 228 min v. Elite (30.1%), 248 v. Middle (32.8) and 281 v. Grit (37.1%) via PuckIQ.com.
His GF-GA was 7-9 v. Elite, 6-13 v. Middle and 20-16 v. Grit. A total of 33-38 (46.48GF%). In the same 44 games Keith’s GF% was 52.8 (28-23) — the best among the Oilers top-five defenders.
When Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson were hired, they changed their defensive pairs. They put Darnell Nurse with Cody Ceci and gave them a heavy dose of Elite competition, and paired Bouchard with Keith. Both pairings worked.
Bouchard played 551 minutes in 38 games, mainly with Keith. He played 124 v. Elite (22.5%), 193 v. Middle (35%) and 234 v. Grit (42.5)
His GF-GA was 10-4 v. Elite, 11-12 v. Middle and 8-5 v. Grit for a total of 29-21 (58%). Keith led Oilers defenders with a 64.86GF% (24-13) under Manson.
Manson reduced Bouchard’s minutes v. Elite and Middle players by a total of 5%. He sheltered him a bit more with Keith and it worked. Putting players in better positions to succeed is one of the most important aspects of coaching.
Keith wasn’t a Norris Trophy caliber player in Edmonton, but his possession numbers were solid. He finished the season with 52%CF%, 51.9FF%, 51.4SF%, 50.7xGF%, 48.9HDCF%, and in actual goals he had a 57.8GF% and a 63.08HDGF%.
He led all Oilers defenders in GA/60 at 2.14. Limiting goals is rather important. I can’t comprehend why some people keep repeating that Keith had a mediocre season. He was close to the top on most categories and led in some key ones for the Oilers defenders.
Many will mention he allowed zone entries. That is one stat, but it didn’t impact his goals against. And yes the odd time Keith would get beat wide, but getting beat wide now and again doesn’t erase the times he made good plays. I’m still shocked people rip him about Adrian Kempe goal in overtime. Keith had been on the ice for 70 seconds, Kempe just stepped on the ice and was in full flight, while Keith had moved to the middle of the ice anticipating making a change, before Evander Kane fell in the neutral zone and Kempe picked up the puck at full speed. People act like Keith made some egregious play on that goal.
Keith played top-four minutes for the Oilers, he helped mentor Evan Bouchard, he was a calming voice in the dressing room when the Oilers trailed LA 2-1 and 3-2 in the series his teammates said, and the Oilers made it to the Conference Final. I don’t see how anyone can view the trade as negative. Keith was a positive influence for one season, and now he retired and it frees up $5.538m. It cost them Caleb Jones, who couldn’t have done what Keith did in Edmonton, and a third round pick.
The only way the trade could have worked out better was if the Oilers had made it to the Stanley Cup, but they weren’t as good as Colorado. If the Oilers had Victor Hedman in Keith’s spot, they still would have lost that series. Colorado was too deep, but Keith’s presence in Edmonton was nothing but positive when you look at results, and listen to Connor McDavid and others talk about what they learned from Keith. He wasn’t a big talker, but when he spoke about staying calm, even keel and not getting down, when they trailed the Kings, those words had a major impact on his teammates. If they believe his words mattered, how can people not in the room claim they didn’t?
Keith will officially retire this week, and then he will wait three years before being a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He had a spectacular career, and his one season in Edmonton helped him end his career on a positive note while helping the Oilers gain some much needed playoff experience.
Often the toughest decision is admitting you made an error and then trying to rectify it. Ken Holland overpaid Zach Kassian when he signed him to a four-year, $3.2m AAV. At the time the Oilers didn’t have Evander Kane or Zach Hyman, Kailer Yamamoto was in the minors and Jesse Puljujarvi was struggling. Holland clearly hoped Kassian would produce more, but he didn’t.
Holland could have bought out Kassian, but I actually think the trade to Arizona for a 2024 third round pick and 2025 second rounder was the better option. Neither were great, and they were self-inflicted, but Holland didn’t let the initial error fester and remain a detriment.
The key to the Kassian trade, and opening up $3.2m in cap space, is ensuring Holland doesn’t overpay someone else with that money. Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi could each get $1.6m of it and both would have $2.7m salaries next seasons. Maybe they come in a bit lower, or higher, but from my seat that would be good use of the cap space. I recognize that Puljujarvi might get dealt, seems more likely he will, but if he doesn’t (Holland won’t give him away), then I see that raise as fair.
He could also use some of Keith’s cap space to sign Brett Kulak. There aren’t many left D-men on the market, and none I view as clear upgrades over Kulak. Kulak and Philip Broberg would be the second and third pair LD. Kulak hasn’t regularly played top-four, but if Manson plans to run Nurse-Ceci heavy minutes against elites again next year, then Kulak, even in a second pairing, won’t be asked to do much more stronger competition than he has in the past, so signing him make sense. Just remember if they sign him, and at times he struggles in a top-four role, don’t freak out, because he’s yet to play there consistently. Asking players to do more than they usually do is fine, but if it doesn’t succeed don’t hate the player, just realize it wasn’t the greatest plan to begin with.
With Detroit acquiring Ville Husso and signing him to a three-year, $4.75m AAV, Darcy Kuemper and Jack Campbell are the two most appealing UFA goalie options for Edmonton to pursue in free agency. Kuemper made $5.5m last season ($4.5m AAV), while Campbell’s salary was $1.8m with a $1.65m AAV. Kuemper just won a Cup, and even though they didn’t have a great playoffs, he’s still a Stanley Cup champion and that will carry some weight when free agency begins on Wednesday.
Kuemper will cost more, but he also has a longer resume than Campbell. In the past nine seasons Kuemper has started 282 games. He has a career Sv% of .918 and in his last five regular seasons his Sv% from 2018-2022 is .919, .925, .928, .907 and .921. His playoff performance was impacted by the fact he had to go for eye training every few days, and he was suffering vision issues from an earlier concussion.
Campbell is two years younger than Kuemper, but has much less NHL experience. He’s started 120 games the past four seasons. He started 25, 26, 22, and 47 games in that span and his yearly Sv% was .928, .904, .921 and .914. He hasn’t been as consistent as Kuemper.
However, the past two seasons they have been quite close.
Kuemper started 84 games and went 47-23-7 with a .917Sv%, 2.55 GAA and seven shutouts.
Campbell started 69 games going 48-12-8 with a .916Sv%, 2.49 GAA and seven shutouts.
Last season was Campbell’s first as a regular starter. In his first 20 starts, he was on fire posting a .939Sv% and 1.89 GAA. But then in his next 19 starts, he posted an ugly .886Sv% and 3.51 GAA. He missed a month due to injury (and maybe some of the previous 19 games the rib injury was a factor), and in his final eight starts, he had a .915Sv% and 2.59 GAA. He started strong and finished solid, but he had a rough middle.
Campbell should sign for a lower AAV than Kuemper. Kuemper was fifth best in saves above expected in the regular season and Campbell was 26th among goalies with 30+ starts. Kuemper has been the most consistent goalie, and Edmonton was close to acquiring him last season, before Seattle signed Grubauer, and Colorado sent Arizona a better trade offer for Kuemper.
Here are UFA goalie contracts from the past two seasons:
Matt Murray four years $6.25m AAV with Ottawa.
Jacob Markstrom six years, $6m AAV with Calgary.
Braden Holtby two years, $4.6m AAV with Vancouver.
Linus Ullmark four years, $5m AAV with Boston.
Jonathan Bernier two years, $4.125m with New Jersey.
Philipp Grubauer six years, $5.9m AAV with Seattle.
Freddie Andersen two years, $4.5m AAV with Carolina.
Ville Husso three years, $4.75m AAV with Detroit.
I could see Kuemper asking for contract similar to Markstrom, while Campbell is closer to Husso and Ullmark. Kuemper could command more term and salary, but with term comes more risk.
Who would you sign and at what term and AAV?
If Kuemper is willing to sign here, he’d be my first choice, then Campbell. Edmonton should not consider acquiring Murray, and I know some Oilers fans love nostalgia, but Cam Talbot’s numbers have been going down. I’d avoid him as well. If they miss out on Kuemper and Campbell, then try to acquire James Reimer from San Jose, as they have three goalies. Well, three on their roster, as Kappo Kahkonen has yet to sign. I’m not sure the Sharks will want to trade Reimer with his low cap hit, and their owner wanting them to compete for a playoff spot, but at least Holland could ask.
DRAFT FINAL THOUGHTS…
Montreal was an excellent host. The draft went very smoothly, the atmosphere from the fans was excellent, there was drama at the start of the draft, some big trades and overall it was very eventful.
The Chicago Blackhawks are completely tearing down everything. I wonder if Seth Jones has signer’s remorse. His new eight-year deal begins now, but it doesn’t look like the Hawks will be competitive for at least five seasons. Trading Alex Debrincat and Kirby Dach, who are 24 and 21 respectively was very odd to me. I kind of understand the DeBrincat deal because he has to be qualified at $9m next year, but Dach is only 21 and they only got a 13th and 66th pick for him. Is Frank Nazar for sure going to be better than Dach? That trade was baffling to me.
But the tear down could put Patrick Kane on the market. Why would he want to stay through a scorched-earth-no-chance-to-win rebuild for the next five seasons? Only Connor McDavid has more points than Kane over the previous five NHL seasons. Kane would be highly sought after he if asks for a trade, but if he does, he will have a short list of teams, likely all American, that he’d go play for. I’d have to think those teams would be quite interested in acquiring his services, and the cost, based on DeBrincat and Dach returns, might not be that high.
For the third consecutive year the Oilers used their first round pick on a player with a late birthday who will turn 19 this season. They took Dylan Holloway in 2020, Xavier Bourgault last year and Reid Schaefer this year. All three had one more year of development, but they are also one year from turning pro when drafted (unless the Oilers were to send them back to junior at 20, which is rare). Edmonton didn’t take them solely due to their age, but it is a factor and it allows them to have those picks in the system quicker.
Schaefer was so excited to get drafted by the team he grew up loving. He was a big Shawn Horcoff fan when he was younger, but said now he’s two favourite players are Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. In a few years he might be their teammate. Crazy, and what a moment for him, his family and the community of Spruce Grove.
And lastly I’d appreciate some positive vibes. My plane was delayed four hours this morning, so I’m just hoping to get home tonight.
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