There's no shortage of storylines to follow over the next few weeks for the Blackhawks, which includes a head coaching search and whether or not Alex DeBrincat will be traded ahead of the July 7-8 NHL Draft. But we can add another mini one to the list.
The Edmonton Oilers have respectfully asked veterans Duncan Keith, who turns 39 in July, and Mike Smith, 40, to let the organization know of their future plans by July 1, according to Sportnet's Elliotte Friedman. Both of them are entering the final year of their contracts, with Keith at a $5.5 million cap hit and Smith at $2.2 million.
If Keith retires, the Blackhawks would be hit with a $7.5 million cap recapture penalty that would be allocated over the next two seasons — a $5.5 million cap hit in 2022-23 and $2 million cap hit in 2023-24 — because his 13-year deal was signed when he was a member of Chicago in 2009. The rule was originally put in place to penalize teams for potential cap circumvention from front-loaded long-term contracts.
While it wouldn't be the end of the world for the rebuilding Blackhawks, it still wouldn't be an ideal situation for GM Kyle Davidson, who wants to have financial flexibility moving forward. The Oilers, on the other hand, would get $3.4 million of cap space in this scenario, which is essentially the difference between Keith's cap hit ($5.5 million) and his base salary ($2.1 million) from this past season.
The Blackhawks may not have anything to worry about, though. Keith has shown no indication that he's considering hanging up his skates, and actually said in 2017 he'd like to play until he's 45 years old (although he might have been trying to prove a point at the time more than anything that he's still got plenty left in the tank). The former two-time Norris Trophy winner is also coming off a postseason in which he played a significant role by logging the third-most minutes among Edmonton blue liners, and it's well-documented how big of a nutrition and fitness freak he is, so there's no concern there.
It might be a different story for Smith, who was dealing with some injuries this season and his body might be betraying him. The Oilers would probably look to put him on long-term injured reserve if he walks away from the game.
Keith requested the trade out of Chicago last summer because he wanted to be closer to his son Colton, and he said in his exit interview that Year 1 in Edmonton went "better than I ever could have imagined."
"He was able to experience a lot of cool moments this past year," Keith said. "There's too many to count. It was nice to be able to see him more. It's such a family atmosphere here with the organization, where not just my son but Smitty's children and Derek Ryan's and [Kyle] Turris's. Everybody's around. It's a pretty neat and special atmosphere.
"As an older guy now, having a son and having them be a part of it, it's memories that they're going to take with them and it means a lot to us older guys. I know Connor [McDavid] probably gets tired of signing autographs, but the guys were great. It was a lot of fun."