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Duncan Keith retirement adds Oilers cap space, Blackhawks penalty

Duncan Keith retirement adds Oilers cap space, Blackhawks penalty

CALGARY, AB - MAY 26: Duncan Keith #2 of the Edmonton Oilers in action against the Calgary Flames during Game Five of the Second Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome on May 26, 2022 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The Oilers defeated the Flames 5-4 in overtime to win the series four games to one. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

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Duncan Keith has announced his retirement from the NHL. This is, of course, huge news for the player and his fans. It’s also noteworthy from a salary cap standpoint, as it opens up room for the Edmonton Oilers while the Chicago Blackhawks face a recapture penalty.

At least some of that tension is mended by the Blackhawks’ being in a full-blown rebuild. Maybe?

Duncan Keith retires after a tremendous career

This ends quite the career for the 38-year-old defenseman.

Keith spent 16 of his 17 NHL seasons with the Blackhawks, who drafted him in the second round (54th overall) in 2002.

During his time with the Blackhawks, Keith won two Norris Trophies, three Stanley Cups, the 2015 Conn Smythe Trophy, and made multiple All-Star teams. Keith played 1,192 of his 1,256 regular season games with Chicago, and suited up for 135 of his 151 career playoff games as a member of the Blackhawks.

Last offseason, the Blackhawks traded Keith to the Oilers for Caleb Jones and a pick. At the time, it was noted that the Blackhawks didn’t need to retain salary to trade Keith.

Naturally, Keith’s decision to retire complicates that part of the analysis.

[NHL free agency tracker 2022: Full list of offseason signings]

Keith retirement helps Oilers as they navigate salary cap challenges; Blackhawks face recapture penalty

Sometimes, it feels like a team gains breathing room with each day. In the case of the Oilers, that’s been literally true during the past couple days.

On Thursday, the Oilers sent some picks to the Coyotes to take on the remainder of Zack Kassian’s contract. On Friday, news surfaced about Keith retiring.

Keith was to carry about a $5.534 million cap hit in 2022-23. Instead, the Blackhawks foot that bill for 2022-23, and face an additional salary cap recapture penalty. About the only silver lining is that Chicago’s deep into a rebuild, so they won’t be counting every dollar in the same way they did during much of Keith’s prime.

Granted, it’s still dead money, and the Blackhawks might have wanted to weaponize their salary cap space more than they already had. It’s another example of the NHL’s excessively punitive response to teams legally “circumventing” the salary cap.

Keith might not be the only Oilers player who retires this summer, either. It’s believed there’s a real chance Mike Smith may also end his career or get placed on long-term injured reserve.

Chances are, whoever ends up in the Oilers’ net will cost more than Smith’s $2.2M cap hit. Still, it’s clear that the Oilers have opened up a lot of salary cap space recently, at a time when it’s badly needed.

What happens next is crucial. Will the Oilers be savvy about how they use (still-limited) salary cap space to improve the supporting cast around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? Or will they just make the same mistakes and ask those two to clean up those errors?

It hasn’t always been pretty, exactly, but Edmonton has breathing room to make some moves.