CHICAGO — Duncan Keith is heading to the Edmonton Oilers in the latest departure of a cornerstone player from the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup core, a move that could help the club speed up a long-term rebuild.
Chicago traded Keith, a two-time Norris Trophy winner, to Edmonton on Monday along with forward Tim Soderlund for young defenseman Caleb Jones and a conditional 2022 third-round draft pick. Keith asked the Blackhawks for a trade to Western Canada to be closer to his 8-year-old son, Colton, who he went long stretches without seeing last season.
“I knew I didn’t want to go those long periods of time without seeing him,” Keith said on a video conference call. “That was a huge thing for me, and I just felt like the Edmonton Oilers — right now it was a good fit, a great fit and I’m excited to start this new chapter of my career.”
No salary was retained in the first blockbuster trade of the NHL offseason since the Stanley Cup Final ended last week. Keith has two years left on his contract at a salary-cap hit just over $5.5 million. He turns 38 on Friday.
“You can retain up to 50%. If we were getting Duncan Keith at $2.75 (million), the price would’ve been a lot higher than it was today,” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said. “If we wanted to lower salary, we would have to put more assets with our offer.”
The 2022 pick becomes a second-rounder if Edmonton reaches next year’s Stanley Cup Final and Keith is among the top four Oilers defensemen in total ice time through three rounds. Asked what he had left in the tank, Keith said: “I feel like I have a lot. … We’ll see what happens when we get on the ice.”
Chicago general manager Stan Bowman said Keith “will go down as one of the best and most driven defensemen this game has ever seen.”
“Recently, Duncan came to us with a request to be traded to a team closer to his son and we were happy to work something out that was mutually beneficial for Duncan’s family and the future of the Blackhawks,” Bowman said in a statement.
Keith is the latest member of Chicago’s three-time Cup-winning core to depart while the embattled Blackhawks attempt to rebuild their roster amid an investigation into sexual assault allegations from their 2010 championship run.
Longtime defense partner Brent Seabrook announced his retirement in March because of injuries. Blue-line staple Niklas Hjalmarsson was traded to Arizona in 2017. Captain Jonathan Toews said he expects to play in 2021-22 after missing this past season with an illness.
“Life rolls on,” Keith said. “It’s tough to leave Chicago. I’ve been there for 16 seasons, I was drafted there. It’s a great organization. We were always treated first class as players and were really part of kind of a transformation of that team and I just feel grateful to have been a part of it and play with so many great players.”
Jones just turned 24 and has 95 regular-season and playoff games of NHL experience. The brother of Columbus defenseman Seth Jones is under contract through next season at a salary of $850,000, slightly above the league minimum.
“Caleb Jones is a smooth-skating, versatile defenseman who brings a well-rounded game to the Blackhawks,” Bowman said. “He brings some size to our group, and we believe his best hockey is in front of him.”
This move could make the Blackhawks a more attractive suitor for Seth Jones, who is a year away from unrestricted free agency and being shopped by the Blue Jackets this summer. Jones has some control over where he plays next based on which teams he would and would not sign a long-term extension with.
Keith had all the power over his destination thanks to the full no-movement clause that was included in the $72 million, 13-year contract he signed in 2009 — months before he helped Chicago end a lengthy title drought.
“As I get older and my career moves along, I want to be able to compete at the highest level and win,” Keith said. “I want to compete and challenge myself to be at my best, and that’s when I’m at my best — when I’m challenged. The Oilers are going to need me to be at my best, and I’m aware of that and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Winnipeg, Manitoba, native goes to a contender in Edmonton that has the past two Hart Trophy winners as league MVP: Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, the latter of whom is considered the best player in hockey. The Oilers have long struggled to keep the puck out of their net and won only one playoff series since drafting McDavid in 2015.
That was just after Keith won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in leading the Blackhawks to their third Stanley Cup title in six seasons. Keith won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in 2010 and 2014 in the midst of Chicago’s championship era.
Keith has 625 points in 1,192 regular-season games since the Blackhawks drafted him in the second round in 2002. More important, he has 86 points in 135 playoff games, averaging 28 minutes of ice time.
“Whatever little bit of experience I can bring to the team, I’m going to bring that,” Keith said. “But my work ethic on the ice is what I’m going to have to bring.”
Whyno reported from Washington.
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