The Duncan Keith Decision has Been Made… Now What?

Photo credit:Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Yaremchuk
1 year ago
After an absolutely legendary career that saw him play in over 1200 regular-season games and 151 Stanley Cup Playoff contests, Duncan Keith is calling it a career. The defenseman won two Norris Trophies, three Stanley Cups, and a Conn Smythe trophy. On the international stage, he captured two Olympic Gold Medals with Team Canada.
He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
For the Oilers, he was a strong veteran presence who gave them somewhat inconsistent results on the ice during his short tenure. While there’s no denying his experience and presence in the room were valuable, it’s also fair to say that he was not quite worth the $5.5 million cap hit that he carried.
While he may not have been the player he once was, he does still leave the Oilers with a hole on their blueline that they must fill.
The first move that Holland should make is to re-sign Brett Kulak. The local product is reportedly interested in returning, should only cost around $2.5 million per season according to Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, and is a better defender than Keith at this point. This move should happen.
By adding Kulak’s salary and subtracting Keith’s cap hit, the Oilers will save about $3 million.
Now, they could run with Philip Broberg on the left side and have Nurse and Kulak play the top pairings then on the right side they would have Bouchard, Ceci, and Barrie. It’s not a bad top-six at all, but with Nurse recovering from an injury the Oilers will need to add another defenseman. You usually need at least eight to get through a season and while Niemalainen is around, they need a vet.
With this new found cap space, maybe they could take a look at a guy like Calvin DeHaan? He’s a player who I talked about a lot around the NHL trade deadline. He’d be a nice third-pairing option. Mark Pysyk is a pending UFA and I think he would be a really nice addition as well.
TSN’s Ryan Rishaug says that the Keith news means that Barrie could likely be sticking around for another season, but I’m not sure if that’s the best idea for the Oilers. Even without Keith, Barrie is still a player that’s probably making a bit too much money for the role he’d play on the team.
Ceci handles the tough assignments on the right side and Bouchard is more than ready to take over on the top powerplay unit. That means they’ll be paying Barrie $4.5 million to just play third-pairing minutes. There are more efficient ways to spend that money.
If you could sign De Haan and Pysyk for a total of $4.5 million, and you could get an asset for Barrie, I think you come out ahead. You have more insurance on the blue line, better defensive options on the blue line, and a trade chip that you could use the improve the forward group.
That’s at least my little arm-chair GM idea.
The case for keeping Barrie is that there is already a lot of roster turnover happening and to his credit, Barrie was actually really solid down the stretch and into the playoffs. Injuries will happen to every team so moving out a legit NHL defenseman maybe isn’t the best idea. I get that, but the Oilers are still in a position where every little bit of cap space matters. 
If you bring back Kulak, then having him and Barrie as a third pairing actually makes a lot of sense. Kulak seemed to get the best out of Barrie when they were together and even though it’d be an expensive pairing due to Barrie’s salary, it would likely be effective.
The other big question is between the pipes. Does the extra money entice Ken Holland to go from maybe targeting Jack Campbell or a cheap option on the trade market to looking long and hard at Darcy Kuemper? I think they were interested before but the extra cap space may make paying Kuemper around $5.5-6 million a season easier to stomach.
We got some interesting news over the last 24 hours and while the Oilers have lost two players off their roster, they’ve gotten more cap space than those two were worth and if Ken Holland can weaponize it properly, then the Oilers could really improve their roster.

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