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Report: Duncan Keith to retire, and what that means for the Blackhawks’ salary cap

A cap recapture penalty awaits.

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

While the Chicago Blackhawks on and off-ice future is being charted during the two days of the 2022 NHL Draft, news emerged on Friday regarding a central figure from the team’s dominant past that will have ramifications in the present.

According a report from Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, former Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith — now with the Edmonton Oilers — will retire from the NHL after his 17 seasons in the league.

If that’s the road Keith pursues, it’ll end one of the best hockey careers in the history of the NHL.

Keith played in 1,256 regular-season games across 17 seasons, including 1,192 during his 16 seasons with Chicago. He averaged an absurd ice time of 24:57 during that Blackhawks tenure, indicative of how important Keith was to the success of those years.

He was even more important in the postseason, appearing in 135 Stanley Cup Playoffs games with Chicago while averaging an incredible 28:00 of ice time per game. In three postseasons — 2012, 2015, and 2016 — Keith’s average ice time eclipsed 30 minutes per game. His never-ending reservoir of energy powered Chicago to three Stanley Cup championships and a massive list of individual awards, including a pair of Norris Trophies and the 2015 Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

Keith is, at a minimum, the best defenseman in franchise history and might be the best player to ever skate for Chicago.

Keith spent the majority of his Chicago tenure playing on a 13-year contract worth $72 million or just over $5.5 million annually — an incredible value for one of the game’s all-time greats. That long-term contract comes with a cost now, though.

That penalty is due to the difference between Keith’s salary (as high as $8 million for the first three seasons of it) and his cap hit and is a retroactive penalty for teams that signed these long-term contract to circumvent the salary cap.

But this penalty arrives as the Hawks are entering a rebuild when they likely won’t be flirting with the salary cap ceiling for several years. If this is part of the cost for a trio of Stanley Cups is a mild inability to weaponize salary cap space, it feels like a justified cost, doesn’t it?