The news of the Chicago Blackhawks trading Duncan Keith was a slow burn. We first heard the “rumblings” a few weeks ago, and steadily, the rumors progressed. Eventually, the Edmonton Oilers became the front-runners, and a deal was struck: The Blackhawks sent Keith and minor-leaguer Tim Söderlund to the Oilers in exchange for Caleb Jones and a 2022 third-round (conditional) draft pick.
So now what?
The Blackhawks will not be retaining any of Keith’s salary, a $5.538M AAV cap hit for the final two years of his deal. That’s huge for Chicago, a team that for the first time in a long time, actually has cap room to work with in an offseason. In moving Keith, they also no longer have to use a protection slot for him in the Seattle Expansion Draft because of his no-movement clause in his contract. They also add a young, depth defenseman in Caleb Jones who could benefit from getting an opportunity in Chicago that he wasn’t getting with Edmonton, and they get a mid-round pick.
Of note: Caleb Jones is not exempt from the expansion draft. With Duncan Keith off the roster, the Blackhawks will have to choose three defensemen to protect from this list.
Calvin de Haan
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) July 12, 2021
As far as the upcoming Expansion Draft, the Blackhawks will now have three protection slots to use on their defensive group. The most likely player to be protected is Connor Murphy, you can pretty much take that to the bank. Beyond Murphy, you could roll the dice on two of the remaining four and you would have a case on all of them to be protected. Likely, Calvin de Haan will be left exposed because the Blackhawks seem content in losing his $4.55M cap hit for the final year of his deal, and really seem interested in protecting Riley Stillman and Nikita Zadorov. Stillman was signed to an extension late last season and Zadorov is reportedly closing-in on an extension with the Blackhawks as this summer progresses.
"I think it is unlikely they protect De Haan, based mainly on his contract. I think they will protect Stillman and Zadorov along with Murphy. Maybe they protect Jones over Stillman, but I think it will be Stillman." @BenPopeCST now on @TSN1260 on Hawks protection.
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) July 12, 2021
There is a small chance that after acquiring Caleb Jones, they may leave him exposed to Seattle, banking on the Kraken taking de Haan. But that’s a risk for the Blackhawks on Jones, since their likely long-term plan involves Caleb enticing his older brother Seth Jones to accept a trade to the Blackhawks.
With no salary retained in Duncan Keith trade, #Blackhawks opened up $5.538 million in cap space and you can bet Seth Jones will be a top priority if both sides are open to long-term extension.
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) July 12, 2021
The elder Jones has one year left on his current deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets with a $5.4M AAV cap hit. He also has a ten-team no-trade clause on his deal. Jones and the Blackhawks have been linked ever since the 26-year-old defenseman became available via trade this summer. Earlier this month, The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline gave a number of potential trade packages that he believes would land Seth Jones. For his Chicago trade, he wrote that the Blackhawks would need to offer Nicolas Beaudin, Philipp Kurashev, Lukas Reichel, and Chicago’s 2022 first-round pick. Following the Keith trade, the Blue Jackets may have some leverage to require Chicago to up their ante, knowing that without Keith they would need Jones even more.
In my opinion, I wouldn’t want the Blackhawks giving up that many future pieces for Jones, even if he would be worth it. I’d rathe them shoot for Dougie Hamilton in free agency, where acquisitions cost only money, but even then that might be a bigger gamble.
Landing Caleb in the deal with Edmonton is probably a big incentive piece for Seth to want to make a move to Chicago. With the newly added cap space as well, the Blackhawks and Jones could work on an extension with the team following a potential trade and make him their No. 1 defenseman of the future. He’s younger than Hamilton and may end up costing less than the Hurricane’s defenseman would on the open market.
Until the Blackhawks do or do not make a move for Seth Jones, they have a gapping hole in their defensive rotation now without Keith. Not that he was still the Norris-caliber defenseman he once was, but Keith was the go-to guy for the Blackhawks defensively. You don’t lead the team in minutes per game your entire career for nothing. Without him, and potentially losing de Haan in the expansions draft, Chicago is left with Connor Murphy, Adam Boqvist, Wyatt Kalynuk, Riley Stillman, and Ian Mitchell on their roster FOR SURE next season. With Zadorov needing a new contract and Beaudin possibly being used in trade packages, the need for the Blackhawks to have a No. 1 defenseman is as big as it has been in 16 years.