What are you expecting to get from Matt Duchene if you trade for him?
A Calder Trophy finalist in his rookie season, Duchene’s production has been all over the map in his eight-season career. Peaking as nearly a point-per-game player in 2012-13 and 2013-14 (43 points in 47 games and 70 in 71 respectively), his totals have tumbled since. For two years Duchene dipped into the 55-point range, totals that equate to his rookie production — notably he reached 30 goals in one of those seasons. This past season’s 41 points was the worst mark of his career over a full schedule. So although the Avalanche probably should be looking to move him for some young assets or at least help on defence while Duchene is still two years away from unrestricted free agency, his value may be at the lowest point of his career.
The Avalanche had the worst season of any NHL team since the 2004-05 lockout, so the pressure is on to win any Duchene trade. The reported asking price is high, which hasn’t squared with how interested teams view Duchene fitting into their lineup.
“People look at him as a complementary No. 2 as opposed to a No. 1 cornerstone,” Elliotte Friedman said on Prime Time Sports Thursday evening.
Although Duchene hasn’t been traded yet, it’s still possible a contender will come knocking and meet Colorado’s asking price to add that secondary piece. And in a better situation, who says Duchene can’t approach his career-high totals once more?
Throwing his trade value further into question is Duchene’s contract, which doesn’t come with an unreasonable cap hit at $6 million, but the issue is term. The 26-year-old would head to any acquiring team just two years away from unrestricted free agency so he’s not a very controllable asset.
Who are the teams Duchene could still end up on? We take a crack and breaking down five of them:
The Islanders may not exactly fall into the category of “contender” but they are a team that needs to have more of an interest in improving in the short-term. John Tavares is entering the final season of his contract before he’ll become UFA eligible, and he’ll want to see the team making strides towards becoming a legit contender before re-upping for the long haul. The Isles have made three playoff appearances and have won one series in his eight years with the team.
GM Garth Snow has already brought in Jordan Eberle, presumably to play on Tavares’ wing, and picking up first- and second-round picks in the Travis Hamonic trade gives him a few more futures to potentially improve the team now. In this sense, Duchene could be a nice fit as that complementary piece on the Islanders as the No. 2 centre behind Tavares.
“I can understand why the Islanders want to bring him behind Tavares,” Friedman said. “That to me is a perfect fit for Matt Duchene.”
What could the Islanders offer: Remember, they already offered Hamonic and a first-rounder and were turned down.
Mathew Barzal is the easiest name to connect in a potential trade since he’s the Islanders’ best prospect. That, however, could be too rich for Snow’s blood considering the prolific junior scorer could crack the NHL roster this season. A more palatable trade option from Snow’s side might be Brock Nelson, who filled the No. 2 centre role this past season, scoring 20 goals and 45 points. Neither of these players fills Colorado’s biggest need for a defenceman, though.
The last time the Islanders drafted a blueliner in the first round was Ryan Pulock 15th overall in 2013. Pulock will be 23 when next season starts and although he hasn’t stuck in the NHL yet, he was eighth in AHL scoring at his position with 46 points in just 55 games. Still, Pulock isn’t a home run pick up, so the first-rounders or more may have to come into play.
With a new GM in Rob Blake and a new coach (promoted from an assistant) in John Stevens, the Kings are trying to figure why their dominant possession team has been in the bottom half of the league in goals two of the past three seasons.
While Duchene only had 18 goals this past season, his 11.3 shooting percentage would have been behind only Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson, the Kings’ two highest goal scorers. On a team that has the puck more often than the Avs, Duchene could theoretically shoot the puck more and in turn, put more goals on the stat sheet.
The Kings would also do well to add more speed to the lineup and at least turn a little away from their heavy hockey style. Put Duchene with Tyler Toffoli, another player coming off a down season, and both players could work off each other to raise their totals.
And of course, Los Angeles is another destination where Duchene slides in as a No. 2.
“I don’t know if they’re interested, but for example a team like L.A. that already has a Kopitar, that to me is a fit,” Friedman said.
What could the Kings offer: As far as defencemen go, Los Angeles doesn’t have a home run pickup for the Avs either. Derek Forbort was the last defenceman they took in Round 1 and that was all the way back in 2010. Forbort, 25, is just now coming off his first full season.
As far as ‘D’ prospects go, Kale Clague, a 2016 second-rounder, may be the best and certainly the most long-term play. Paul LaDue, 24, also got 22 games of NHL action in his first year out of NCAA hockey, but that’s a low-end return for Duchene and would require some other significant parts.
The 11th overall pick from this year’s draft, Gabe Vilardi, might have to be on the table for the Avs, and considering skating is the biggest knock on him and the Kings need to focus a bit more on speed right now, it’s not inconceivable. The biggest issue in any Kings deal is who the defenceman (men?) going to Colorado is.
The Blue Jackets surprised everyone with their 108-point season and they are now in a frame of mind where adding to win now is a priority. Soon enough, Cam Atkinson and Zack Werenski will be looking for big raises.
They were in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes before he decided to stay in Russia, and swapped 200-foot player Brandon Saad for the offensive upside of Artemi Panarin, so Duchene is a reasonable target to expect them to want to chase as well.
The difference here is Duchene wouldn’t be such a clear No. 2 in Columbus, where he’d be a more key player.
“That kid (Alexander) Wennberg, I think at least you have a chance for both of them to be No. 1 guys,” Friedman noted.
Between Atkinson, Panarin, Josh Anderson, Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner and a fast-charging 22-year-old Oliver Bjorkstrand, there is a good amount of scoring punch on Columbus’ wings — if they can add another top-six centre it would lock in a pretty quick lineup with lots of potential to keep the flow from 2016-17.
What could the Blue Jackets offer: Here’s a case of a team that could give the Avalanche back an NHL defenceman in Ryan Murray. Remember, as poor as Colorado was last season, the roster isn’t a wasteland with talents like Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Barrie. They probably have at least some motivation to try and and get better now.
Murray, 23, was the second overall pick from 2012 and might be a nice complement to the smaller, more offensively inclined Barrie on the back end. Murray is on the last year of his contract, but is a controllable asset for a while yet with four NHL seasons under his belt.
Based on the asking price buzz, the Avs wouldn’t likely do a one-for-one here, so Columbus would have to be open for more. Maybe Colorado would be after one of those aforementioned wingers, with Bjorkstrand the youngest of them all and someone who could be a top-six winger as soon as next season.
With a fully-stocked cupboard of defencemen, the most-connected team to Duchene is probably the Carolina Hurricanes, who themselves have a need for scoring up front they’ve tried to address with depth pickups Marcus Kruger and Justin Williams this summer. They still don’t have that game-breaker though.
While the Canes figure to have the defencemen to offer up to the Avs, he would be a No. 1 pivot in Carolina, which may not be the ideal place for him right now. Victor Rask had another pretty good 45-point season, but is not a lead guy — if the Hurricanes pick up Duchene, they’d be hoping for him to get up to at least 60 again. Acquiring Duchene would either move Jordan Staal to the third line, Rask to the wing, or perhaps Rask is involved the other way.
So on the one hand, the Canes could use Duchene to be their No. 1, but on the other, if there’s any chance he won’t produce as one, what should they give up for him? Duchene may not be as natural a fit for Carolina as their potential return is for the Avalanche, but he’s still a talent worth exploring for Carolina.
What could the Hurricanes offer: Jaccob Slavin is certainly out of the question and you would suspect Noah Hanifin, the fifth overall pick from 2015, and Justin Faulk, a huge and exciting part of the blue line, are as well.
That leaves someone like 22-year-old Brett Pesce, coming off his sophomore season averaging 21:12 of ice time a game and scoring 20 points. Other than that, 19-year-old Jake Bean, who Carolina drafted 13th overall in 2016, would be of interest to the Avalanche. Bean posted more than a point-per-game in the WHL this past season in 43 games. The Canes also have 2014 seventh overall pick Haydn Fleury coming off his first pro season in the AHL.
There’s a lot to choose from here for the Avs, but the bigger question is how Duchene fits into Carolina’s roster and what he’ll bing for the price being asked. The fact he’s two years away from being a UFA could also freak out a team that’s already paying Staal $6 million per for the long term, has a number of notable RFAs coming up after next season, and also has Jeff Skinner hitting UFA status after 2018-19.
Never count out the champs.
“I think Pittsburgh is on the fringe of this and I think the Penguins have to do some other things in order to even have a chance and I’m not really sure if they can get there,” Friedman said. “But I think that Pittsburgh would be the kind of team, just like Kessel thrived there, I think a guy like Duchene would, too.”
Acquiring Duchene would give the Penguins plenty of options to either roll with him in a No. 3 spot and give a surge of speed and offensive upside to that line, or move him to the wing. There is little doubt that if you put him with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, an uptick in production is all but certain.
The question here is cap space (the Penguins still have to re-sign Conor Sheary and Brian Dumoulin) and just who the Penguins could give back Colorado on defence, an area of need for the Penguins, too.
What could the Penguins offer: The sticking point is on the blue line so we’ll start there. Olli Maatta has been fairly inconsistent in his career and has struggled with injuries, but at 22 years old, he may be a piece Colorado is interested in. As well, 23-year-old Derrick Pouliot, the eighth overall pick in 2012 may be of interest, but the fact he hasn’t yet stuck on a roster or earned any post-season playing time on a team that was desperate to fill blue line spots is troubling.
Up front, the likes of Jake Guentzel and Sheary may be desired by Colorado, but they’re still relatively cheap, controllable assets for a Penguins team that will constantly need to watch the cap. The Penguins have no obvious talents in the pipeline to give the Avs in a home run return, so as Friedman noted, they may have to do something else before they have what it takes to pry Duchene from Colorado.