The Chicago Blackhawks have missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, and although the team emphasized prior to the last campaign that they were planning on rebuilding, they took a massive step in that direction on Monday, reportedly trading defenseman Duncan Keith to the Edmonton Oilers for defenseman Caleb Jones and a third round draft pick.
The move caps off drama that started two weeks ago when it was reported that Keith and the Blackhawks were working on a trade that would ship him to the Pacific Northwest. The move also ends a lengthy Blackhawks career for Keith, who won three Stanley Cups, two Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe Trophy during his time on the West Side.
The question, of course, is what the deal means for the Blackhawks moving forward. Here’s a breakdown:
Salary Cap Savings Galore
According to multiple reports, the Blackhawks will not have to retain any of Keith’s cap hit in the deal, meaning that his $5.5 million cap hit over the next two seasons will be taken care of solely by the Oilers.
When you factor in Jones’ $850,000 salary, that means that the Blackhawks will save more than $4.7 million on the cap next season, giving them more flexibility as they look to address holes in their roster.
The Name Game
If the name “Caleb Jones” doesn’t look familiar to you, don’t fret. The defenseman has played in 93 career NHL games, with five goals and 14 assists to his credit in those contests.
The big story for the Blackhawks is whom Caleb Jones is related to: Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman, and soon to be highly-sought-after trade target, Seth Jones is Caleb's brother.
Seth Jones’ current contract with the Blue Jackets runs through the conclusion of the 2021-22 season, and he carries a cap hit of $5.4 million. That number is nearly identical to Keith’s cap hit, meaning that the Blackhawks could, theoretically, just replace one salary with another if they can somehow pull off a move to bring Seth to Chicago.
Seth Jones reportedly is seeking a trade from the Columbus in order to get a jump on his free agent market, and that could give the Blackhawks ample opportunity to swing a deal with the Blue Jackets and acquire a top-pairing defenseman in the process.
If the Blackhawks aren’t able to acquire the second Jones brother, then they will still have other opportunities to put their newfound cap space (and roster space, for that matter) to good use.
The team will need to come to new contracts with several restricted free agents, including Pius Suter, Brandon Hagel, and Nikita Zadorov. While none of those players will command truly massive pay bumps, they likely will all receive higher salaries if the Blackhawks decide to retain them, and Keith’s cap hit will give them some room to maneuver.
The Blackhawks could also use the extra money to wade into the free agent pool. The defensive market is admittedly a bit thin this season, with Dougie Hamilton basically serving as the only top-tier blue line option available, but there are plenty of intriguing forwards and goaltenders who will also be hitting the market, giving the Blackhawks a chance to add some veteran presence in areas where they’re mostly relying on youngsters and unproven commodities.
If none of that floats the Blackhawks’ proverbial boat, then they could also give more playing opportunities to other young blue liners with Keith’s vacated roster spot. Alec Regula is a player the Blackhawks’ brass has had an eye on for a while, and Nicolas Beaudin could also work his way into a more regular role in the team’s rotation after the deal.
Jakub Galvas and Isaak Phillips are also waiting in the wings, and Ian Mitchell and Wyatt Kalynuk could also see an increase in responsibility with Keith, and potentially another veteran like Calvin de Haan, potentially on the move.