Duncan Keith retires from Oilers, giving Blackhawks salary cap penalty

MONTREAL — Duncan Keith is hanging up his skates after 17 years in the NHL.

The grizzled defenseman reportedly decided Friday to retire with one year remaining on his contract, bringing to a close a legendary career that featured three Stanley Cups, two Norris Trophies and one Conn Smythe Trophy with the Blackhawks. He’ll turn 39 later this month.

But his earlier-than-expected retirement unfortunately also inflicts on the Hawks a massive salary cap recapture penalty. They’ll lose just over $5.5 million in cap space in 2022-23 and another $1.9 million in 2023-24.

Keith spent 16 of his 17 seasons in Chicago, skating –unfazed by all sorts of injuries and adversity as a stalwart of the Hawks’ vaunted blue line –in 1,192 regular-season games and another 135 postseason games.

After his trade to the Oilers last summer, bringing him closer to his son Colton (who lives in British Columbia), Keith willed one more solid season out of his aging body. He averaged 19:44 of ice time in 60 regular-season appearances and helped the Oilers make a run to the Western Conference Final.

“The Chicago Blackhawks are always going to be in my heart,” Keith said last summer. “It’s a great organization, and we were always treated first-class as players. [I] was really part of a transformation of that team, and I just feel grateful to have been a part of it.”

For the Hawks, the cap penalty is unfortunate but hardly devastating.

General manager Kyle Davidson has emphasized the value of financial flexibility during the rebuild and likely wasn’t planning to venture anywhere near the $82.5 million cap ceiling this coming season anyway, especially after trading Alex DeBrincat. By the time the Hawks try to spend heavily to contend again, Keith’s contract will be long gone.

But the cap penalties do temporarily reduce the amount of space the Hawks could theoretically weaponize to take on other team’s regrettable contracts with sweeteners attached, like Davidson did Thursday with Petr Mrazek and the Maple Leafs.

The penalties themselves might be the last of their kind, too.

Recapture penalties were introduced during the 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement to disincentivize teams from front-loading long contracts to reduce the overall cap hit (which is calculated based on the annual average value), then retroactively applied to at-the-time fully legal contracts signed before 2013.

Keith’s 13-year, $72 million contract, signed in 2010, fit that description because it paid him $8 million each of its first three seasons but just $2.1 and $1.5 million in its last two.

But with Keith retiring, only two NHL players are still on contracts signed before 2013 –Sidney Crosby and Shea Weber –and Weber has already de-facto retired due to injuries. Crosby is still going strong for the Penguins with three contract years left.

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