Friedman: Edmonton Oilers players said Duncan Keith was “difficult defensively” in Edmonton bubble

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
2 years ago
We’re now a day out from the massive Duncan Keith deal and some interesting news slipped out about the work Ken Holland did ahead of the deal.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recorded a 31 Thoughts podcast not long after Holland’s Monday night presser where he spoke about Holland’s discussions with his own players about Keith.
Those discussions resulted in those players talking about how difficult Keith was to play against:
“I believe one of the things Ken Holland was doing over the past couple of weeks was asking some of his top players about Duncan Keith. I think he asked his top guys what do you think about Duncan Keith? I know last year his numbers weren’t very good but I think a number of those players talked about that Chicago-Edmonton series in the bubble and how difficult defensively they found Keith to deal with. I think that’s one of the reasons the Oilers did that deal. I heard that today and I double-checked that in a couple of places and got confirmation on it that I think some of the input a couple players gave on the way Keith played in that series in the bubble is one of the reasons Edmonton made this deal.
“I think it’s more than just hard to play against. Hard to play against is sometimes in hockey lingo ‘he put his stick through my nose.’ I think it was more than that. I think it was that they found it really difficult to play offence against him. That this was still a guy who knew how to play defence and at least made it challenging to deal with him when he was on the ice. It’s different than ‘hard to play against.’ I think they still respected his ability as a defensive player, I think that’s a better way to put it.
“I’m with you and everyone else: I was stunned Chicago didn’t have to either eat some of the cap hit, or take say Koskinen back to buy him out. I don’t think James Neal was ever a legitimate factor to buy him out because that’s a four-year buyout, and I don’t think the Blackhawks were ever interested in that. It came down to even though he’s a 5.5 cap hit, his cash is 3.6 the next two years. I think that’s where Chicago held the line. I think they said ‘we are going to take a run at Jones and or Hamilton and we are not hurting ourselves in our ability to do that.
“The Caleb Jones thing, I understand how everybody feels about Jones as a player and I do think Jones last year — I think he needed to get out of Edmonton the way last year went for him and what Edmonton has coming. Caleb Jones needed a new start. I don’t think he wanted to be back, and I think the Oilers understood he wasn’t going to be back. And to be honest, I think they thought they were going to lose him anyway so they made the deal with Jones in it.”
This is all kind of confusing. At 5×5, the Oilers top players didn’t have much issue in scoring against Chicago when Duncan Keith was on the ice.
Connor McDavid scored 5.75 goals for per hour. Leon Draisaitl scored 8.2 goals for per hour. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored 6.22 goals for per hour. Darnell Nurse scored 4.52 goals for per hour.
We of course don’t know who the players are that Holland spoke with, but it’s fairly safe to assume the aforementioned four are top players on the Oilers. Do the players feel he was physically imposing on the back end? I’m not sure.
Keith played 25:36 TOI/gm against Edmonton in that series and his TOI climbed through each of the four games. He scored four points in four games, and posted a 43.75 goals percentage in all situations and an even 50 percent at 5×5. It provides a bit more insight into why the Oilers made the move, and Friedman noted in the podcast, too, that the Oilers were looking to get one of their offseason checklist items done.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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