In an article on theScore today, Duncan Keith was apparently closer to being a Flyer than you may think. Citing Mark Lazerus of The Athletic, an interview held with former Blackhawks GM Mike Smith disclosed that his successor, Bob Pulford, was extremely close to trading Keith. A prospect at the time, Keith would have been packaged with three other unnamed players for Tony Amonte and Jeremy Roenick.
The major hangup had to do with the 2004-05 lockout, and subsequent roster freeze. With the AHL still in business, Keith played the 04/05 season with the Norfolk Admirals, and apparently did enough to sway Pulford’s opinion of him. The very next season, Keith was a Blackhawk and the rest was history.
So is Pulford pulled the trigger on this move before or after the lockout-caused roster freeze, what would be the ripple effect on the Flyers moving forward? Guaranteed, the team wouldn’t look the same for a good chunk of the 2000’s, and maybe even into the 2010’s. Drafts would be impacted, free agency may be approached differently, who knows. One thing we do know, is that it’s always fun to guess!
2008 NHL Draft
The 2008 NHL draft saw the Flyers selecting defenseman Luca Sbisa at 19 overall. Rearranging history and accounting for Duncan Keith being on the team, this pick may have never happened. If it didn’t happen, who would the Flyers have taken in Sbisa’s place?
Hindsight is 20/20, but the only two names in the remainder of the first round that are worth anything would be Jordan Eberle and Tyler Ennis. Eberle would go 22 to Edmonton, while Ennis went 26 to Buffalo. Both forwards, meaning the Flyers would forego looking for another defenseman to add to the mix. This rules out Michael Del Zotto (20 overall,) and John Carlson (27 overall.)
2014 NHL Draft
In front of their hometown crowd, the Flyers selected Travis Sanheim with the 17th overall pick in the 2014 draft. Duncan Keith was coming off of an impressive season, totalling 61 points in 79 games. At 30 years of age, it may not have been enough to show Ron Hextall that he needs to start planning for the future along the blueline just yet.
Had the Flyers not gone defense at 17, there were plenty of names on the offensive side of the puck to make the Flyers attack more dangerous. Minnesota took Alex Tuch the pick after the Flyers at 18. At 22, the Pittsburgh Penguins took Kasperi Kapanen. The icing on the cake, Boston took David Pastrnak at 25 overall.
One Year Later…
The 2014/15 season was a little bit less impactful for Keith, but nonetheless a solid season for one of the best defensemen in the game. Leading up to the draft, the Flyers originally were targeting a defenseman. They chose Ivan Provorov at seven overall. At 31 years of age, Keith wasn’t getting any younger, and then-General Manager Ron Hextall may have chosen to stick to the original plan, taking Provorov at seven overall.
Had Hextall chosen to ride the wave with Keith, there were numerous options at forward that would have solidified a dangerous top-six for the Flyers. Three picks later, the Colorado Avalanche selected Mikko Rantanen at 10. With the 16 and 17 picks, the New York Islanders and Winnipeg Jets chose Matthew Barzal and Kyle Connor, respectively. The Flyers traded back into the first round at 24, and one pick before that, the Vancouver Canucks chose Brock Boeser.
We all know how this panned out. The Flyers lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. How would this have unfolded if Duncan Keith swapped the red and black for the orange and black?
Three words: Best. Pairing. Ever.
Imagine Chris Pronger and Duncan Keith on the same defensive pairing. Not to mention, you still have Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, and Matt Carle as well. Sure, you could blame goaltending for the loss in the Finals, but with a defense like that in front of Michael Leighton, it’s not difficult to imagine a drastic change in goals against for the Flyers in that playoff series.
Not to mention, Keith contributed one goal and six assists to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final winning Chicago Blackhawks. Add that to an already solid blue line and forward play, we’re talking the potential of a parade down Broad Street in mid-2010.
Summing it all up
Sure, we can sit here and debate every little thing that this potential deal would have an impact on. We could discuss how Keith’s current contract would have been a gross overpay for a player clearly on the decline, and the impact it would have on the Flyers roster right now. There, I said it.
The point is, this deal would have been a big win for the Flyers. The fact of the matter is, both Roenick and Amonte were getting older, and Duncan Keith was on the verge of blossoming into one of the premier defenders in the NHL. Had the lockout never happened, and this deal went through, the Flyers would have had their franchise defenseman.
It would have hurt the Flyers in the immediate seasons to follow, but they lost in the first round to Buffalo in 2006, and didn’t make the playoffs in 2007. Come 2008, the Flyers would have put up a hell of a fight against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals if Duncan Keith were on the team. It’s all fun and games to look at hypotheticals, but this move could have had some serious implications on the Flyers side of things had it gone down.
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