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How the Edmonton Oilers can make the most of Duncan Keith

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Photo credit:Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 year ago
The massive move sending shockwaves through the hockey world this week was the Edmonton Oilers paying a pretty penny to acquire the talents of grey-beard defenceman Duncan Keith.
It was a big trade in which the Oilers undersold their own leverage and overpaid in the deal, but one general manager Ken Holland feels will make the team better.
Holland seemed bothered when asked in a presser Monday on using that leverage, asking The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman, who pressed on the matter, if he wanted to get Keith for free. Well, that could’ve been done by waiting Chicago out in hopes they buy out Keith’s remaining two years and then approaching the player in free agency.
Nonetheless, Duncan Keith is an Edmonton Oiler and it’s up to Dave Tippett and his coaching staff to maximize the value of the rearguard.
As I’m sure you’ve probably heard, Keith’s underlying numbers have been amongst the worst in the entire NHL in the last season or two. According to hockeyviz.com, Keith’s even-strength offensive contributions were four percent below league average and his even-strength defensive contributions were a whopping 12 percent below league average. This, all the while playing against middling competition.
On the ice, Keith is likely to be best suited in a sheltered third-pairing role alongside Evan Bouchard but it appears he’ll see the second pair alongside Adam Larsson.
Here’s what Tippett said of the deal to Postmedia‘s Jim Matheson:
“We have a huge hole in our line-up without Klef. We used a variety of guys with Adam. Kris Russell, (Dmitry) Kulikov, Caleb (Jones), (William) Lagesson, (Slater) Koekkoek. We need a strong player in our second pairing, it’s an impact position, matchup-wise. Darnell (Nurse) has developed into a top-notch player and he’ll get his icetime but we need Keith.
“We’re getting a guy who wants to be in Edmonton. He’s still a good player, why wouldn’t we take a chance on him? He’s in phenomenal shape, age is just a number with him. I talked to Duncan after the trade and he’s incredibly motivated. We’ve seen it many times where veteran players get moved and they get invigorated. They know they have to come into a new place and earn their keep, it’s not reputation. Duncan has accepted the challenge every year to be a very good player.”
Last year, the Oilers stapled the top pairing of Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie to Connor McDavid and his top line. The second pair featuring Adam Larsson saw tough matchups, while the third pair was relatively sheltered all season.
This past season, Keith played only 22 percent of his minutes against elite competition, according to puckiq.com. His best results came against bottom-tier players for opposing teams where he in 277 minutes, he posted a 48.4 CF% and 55.60 GF%.
If you ignore the analytics, there’s reason to be hopeful about Keith bouncing back. I do think he’ll come into Edmonton reinvigorated being able to play closer to his son and you obviously can’t discredit what he’s accomplished in his career. He’s a surefire hall of famer and even without accounting for the acquisition cost or his cap hit, there’s definite value in that for a young Oilers team trying to find their way.
The biggest issue I have in all of this is that I don’t like the odds of Keith actually rebounding and being a strong player. I’ve read the articles, I’ve heard people everything people have said about there still being something to his game, but no matter which side of analytics you feel drawn to, the NHL is a results-driven league.
With Duncan Keith on the ice over the last two seasons at 5×5, Chicago controlled just 46.89 percent of the shot attempts and 45.71 percent of the goals. Among 131 eligible defencemen over that time, those numbers put him 122nd and 107th, respectively.
But there’s one interesting scenario where this deal could truly pay off for the Oilers in terms of cap implications.
According to PuckPedia, if Keith were to retire after the 2021-22 season, the Oilers would lose his $5.5-million cap hit and instead have a savings of $3.4-million — a cap hit swing of $8.9-million that would allow them to exceed the NHL’s cap. In the same breath, Chicago would have a $5.5-million cap hit in 2022-23 and a $2-million cap hit in 2023-24 due to cap recapture penalties.
It’s an interesting scenario to follow.
All in all the best case scenario this year is for the Oilers to shelter Keith’s minutes defensively or pair him with Adam Larsson and hope for the best. After all, that’s about all we can do right now.

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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