When Duncan Keith was traded to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, it marked the loss of another impact player for the Chicago Blackhawks from their Stanley Cup-winning days.
It could be a while before the Blackhawks see another defenseman like him again, if ever.
“He’s going to have his number retired as a Blackhawk, there’s going to be a statue outside the United Center,” hockey analyst Eddie Olczyk said.
“When you look at competitive players in the League and the durability and the end result, there haven’t been any players better when you look at the last 20 years than Duncan Keith.”
[RELATED: Keith traded to Oilers by Blackhawks]
Keith, who will turn 38 on Friday, was traded along with minor league forward Tim Soderlund to the Oilers for defenseman Caleb Jones and a conditional pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Keith wanted the chance to be closer to his eight-year-old son Colton, who he went long periods without seeing last season, but his time in Chicago will always be dear to him.
“We had great memories, great runs and the Chicago Blackhawks are always going to be in my heart,” Keith said. “Having said that, at this point in my career, I feel that being closer to my son, Colton, who lives here in Penticton (British Columbia), 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 and try to win a Cup in Edmonton.”
Selected by the Blackhawks in the second round (No. 54) of the 2002 NHL Draft, Keith has been the backbone of their defense throughout his 16 NHL seasons.
He was named their alternate captain in 2008, won the Stanley Cup with them three times (2010, 2013 and 2015), including being a unanimous Conn Smythe Trophy winner as most valuable player of the playoffs in 2015, and won the Norris Trophy voted as the NHL’s best defenseman in 2010 and 2014.
Keith scored 625 points (105 goals, 520 assists) in 1,192 regular-season games and 86 points (18 goals, 68 assists) in 135 postseason games. He is second in Blackhawks history in games played, sixth in assists and 10th in points.
With Keith now gone, though, only two players who were also a part of those three Stanley Cup championships remain: forward Patrick Kane and captain Jonathan Toews, who announced June 30 that he plans to play next season after missing this season with what he called chronic immune response syndrome.
“As players, we were lucky to have ‘Duncs,'” said forward Patrick Sharp, who played 11 seasons in Chicago with Keith. “He’s a warrior that should go down as one of the greatest Blackhawks of all time. He had a huge impact on the success of those great Hawks teams.”
Since making his NHL debut in 2005, Keith has averaged 24:56 of ice time per game, fourth among active defenseman, behind Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings (26:16), Erik Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks (25:36) and Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild (25:02). He has proven to be a stalwart on both sides of the ice, averaging 2:31 per game on the power play and 2:56 per game on the penalty kill.
“Style-wise, Duncs’ hockey IQ and play recognition, I mean he’s shut down more plays in the neutral zone than any defenseman I’ve seen,” Olczyk said. “I mean, I’d be hard pressed to go back to the days of playing against a guy like Ray Bourque, somewhere of that ilk of reading and reacting. You have a couple of options when you get the puck and all of a sudden there’s Duncan Keith and all of a sudden you have zero options. He’s shut down more plays in between the two blue lines than any defenseman I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
Keith has been on Chicago’s top defense pair for many years, and over the past three seasons, his partners have included Connor Murphy, Adam Boqvist, Erik Gustafsson and Henri Jokiharju. However, he will be remembered as playing most of his career with the Blackhawks with Brent Seabrook, who announced on March 5 that he could no longer play due to a hip injury.
Although no defenseman is going to completely replace Keith, the question of who takes his spot on the top pair now looms. Murphy has played on the left side some and could move to that side again. Other left-shot options include Calvin de Haan, Riley Stillman and Nikita Zadorov, who is a pending restricted free agent.
Where Keith fits into the lineup for the Oilers also remains to be seen, but his leadership, talent, durability and championship pedigree will be greatly missed by Chicago.
“Look, this franchise has had some great defensemen. Chris Chelios was here, Doug Wilson was here, if you want to go back to Pierre Pilote and guys like that,” Olczyk said.
“You can certainly make a case that Duncan Keith’s the greatest defenseman ever to play for the Chicago Blackhawks, and that’s saying something.”