Oilers acquire veteran defenceman Duncan Keith in trade with Chicago

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EDMONTON — Veteran defenceman Duncan Keith wanted to be closer to home, and the Edmonton Oilers appeared to be the right fit.

The Oilers acquired Keith and forward Tim Soderlund from the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday in exchange for blue liner Caleb Jones and a conditional third-round draft pick in 2022.

Keith went to Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman this off-season looking for a move that would get him into Western Canada.

The Winnipeg native says being near his eight-year-old son Colton, who lives in Penticton, B.C., was the No. 1 reason to request a trade from Chicago, with the Oilers becoming the best suitor after a couple weeks of back-and-forth dialogue.

"At this point in my career I feel that being closer to my son Colton, that was a huge thing for me and I just felt like the Edmonton Oilers was a good fit, a great fit," said Keith.

"And I'm excited to start this next chapter of my career and try and win a Cup here in Edmonton."

Keith had all the say in his destination thanks to the full no-movement clause that was included in the US$72 million, 13-year contract he signed in 2009. This trade allows Chicago to take another rebuilding step and puts Keith closer to home.

"I think in Edmonton it's going to be a competitive environment and I'm going to do everything I can to earn the respect of my new teammates and coaching staff, but also the people in Northern Alberta. They're a passionate fan base and they want the team to be successful and I'm well aware of that."

"As I get older and my career moves along, I want to be able to compete at the highest level and win," said Keith. "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."

Keith, who turns 38 on Friday, had spent his entire 16-season NHL career in Chicago, where he emerged into one of the league's elite defencemen.

He won the James Norris Trophy as the NHL's top rearguard in 2010 and 2014 and helped the Blackhawks win Stanley Cup titles in 2010, 2013 and 2015. In the last of those Cup runs, Keith captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as post-season MVP after putting up three goals and 18 assists in 23 games.

Keith has 625 points in 1,192 regular-season games since the Blackhawks drafted him in the second round in 2002. More importantly, he has 86 points in 135 playoff games, averaging 28 minutes of ice time.

"Certainly an exciting day for the Edmonton Oilers," said Oilers general manager Ken Holland. "Obviously Duncan has been one of the best defencemen of his era.

"It's hard to pass up a player that has as much experience and success as Duncan has".

The 24-year-old Jones, younger brother of NHLer Seth Jones, was selected by the Oilers in the fourth round, 117th overall, at the 2015 NHL draft.

He has five goals and 14 assists in 93 career games with the Oilers, but has yet to certify himself as a full-time NHLer, according to Holland.

If the Oilers make it to the 2022 Stanley Cup final and Keith is amongst the top four Edmonton blue liners in total time on ice through three rounds, Chicago will receive Edmonton's second-round draft pick in 2022 instead of its third rounder.

No salary was retained in the first major trade of the NHL off-season since the Stanley Cup. Keith has two years left on his contract at a salary-cap hit just over $5.5 million.

Since his last all-star appearance in 2017, Keith's numbers have been in a steady decline. He had four goals and 11 assists and a plus/minus rating of minus-13 last season as the Blackhawks finished sixth in the Central Division and missed the playoffs.

"If we were getting Duncan Keith at $2.75 (million) it would have been a lot higher price than it was today," Holland said about why he didn't try and get Bowman and Chicago to retain any of Keith's salary. "End of the day, basically if we wanted to have the lower salary we would have had to put more assets with our offer."

"I don't know if this is a numbers decision. What I'm saying is I can't put a price on three Stanley Cups, two Norris Trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy, two gold medals and his leadership, what he's meant to the Chicago Blackhawks franchise."

Holland says he envisions the veteran with an easier workload than he had in Chicago playing second pairing behind Darnell Nurse. A new contract for soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Adam Larsson is being discussed, with Holland saying he has put money aside to make the signing but that "it's Adam's decision." Holland added that Oscar Klefbom is recovering from last year's season-ending shoulder injury and that the chances of him playing at all in 2021-22 "are very very slim."

Bowman said Keith "will go down as one of the best and most driven defencemen 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.

"Life rolls on," said Keith. "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."

The 23-year-old Soderlund spent last season split between Almtuna IS in Sweden, where he appeared in 23 games and produced 10 goals and 16 points, and the American Hockey League's Rockford Ice Hogs. Hee dressed in 23 games with Rockford and recored five assists. The five-foot-nine, 165-pound forward from Skelleftea, Sweden was selected in the fourth round, 112th overall by the Blackhawks in the 2017 NHL draft.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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