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. In 2016-17 he put up 41 points for 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 in the salary cap era, so the pressure is on to win any Duchene trade. The whiffed on the return for Ryan O’Reilly in 2015 and can’t afford a similar result here. 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 this summer.
Last week, trade rumours around Duchene ramped up again when he was absent from the team’s pre-training camp, an informal skate that was in no way mandatory.
Nonetheless, since he was only one of two who wasn’t there — and Nathan MacKinnon had a league media obligation in New York to attend — there has been follow-up speculation about whether or not Duchene will attend formal camp which opens on Thursday. BSN Denver reporter Adrian Dater asked the question to Duchene’s agent Pat Brisson, who simply said “I don’t have much to say at this point.”
For Sakic’s part, the Avalanche GM expects Duchene at camp since he’s a player under contract.
“He’s under contract and I expect him to be here on the 14th,” Sakic said. “He doesn’t have to be here until the 14th. Not everybody always come to camp early. It’s not for me to (say), but I assume on the 14th, he’ll be here.”
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.
So here we have a player who has under-performed with a short-term contract, and a team that has to come out of any trade as a no-doubt winner. There is no clear and easy path to a resolution here.
Who are the teams Duchene could still end up on? We take a crack and break 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 make positive strides 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. Ideally, the team would have done more over the summer, and after Snow picked up first- and second-round picks in the Travis Hamonic trade he has a couple valuable assets to move to help the right now. In this sense, Duchene could be a nice fit as a complementary piece on the Islanders playing No. 2 centre behind Tavares.
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 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 last 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 the 2017-18 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 out 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 in 2016-17, 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 board.
The Kings would also do well to add more speed to the lineup and 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, this time behind Anze Kopitar.
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.
If you wonder whether or not the Kings would be motivated to make a bold move for an instant boost instead of slowing down and guarding the future, consider Drew Doughty’s recent comment about chasing Stanley Cups. He’s two years out from unrestricted free agency.
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 Zach 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. Duchene is a target they’re chasing as well.
“I think Columbus has been pretty aggressive,” Friedman said on The Fan 960 in Calgary. “I think they’re a team that would really like to do this. Columbus is all-in this year. But Colorado is saying, ‘If we don’t get our price, we’re not going to do it.’”
The difference here is Duchene wouldn’t be such a clear No. 2 in Columbus, where he’d be a more key player. Alexander Wennberg broke out with 59 points last season and was rewarded with a six-year extension, but it’s not clear who’s ceiling would be higher in a premium role.
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.
Early in the summer, all indications had the Blue Jackets pushing hard for Duchene, but more recently that interest may have cooled.
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. As poor as Colorado was last season, there is interesting talent still there such as Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Barrie. There is some interest 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 after which he’ll become an RFA and is still three seasons away from being UFA eligible.
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 this season. It really comes down to how aggressive the Blue Jackets will be versus how content they are with the pieces and development curves already in place.
With a fully-stocked cupboard of defencemen, one of the most-connected teams to Duchene is 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.
The Canes figure to have the defencemen to offer up to the Avs and on this roster he would be a No. 1 pivot, 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 expecting 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 in the trade going the other way.
What could the Hurricanes offer: Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are likely out of the question with their big extensions. What’s interesting is that Noah Hanifin will get his post-ELC contract after this season, so would Carolina be open to moving him, or maybe even long-time leader Justin Faulk? If Carolina extends Hanifin, they might be just fine moving forward with the young blue line corps they have, and confident it gives them the leeway to move Faulk.
But, especially if they land Duchene, the Canes are going to be a team looking at making some progress right now, so a better fit in a trade here could be 19-year-old Jake Bean, who Carolina drafted 13th overall in 2016. Bean posted more than a point per game in the WHL last season in 43 games and is the kind of player Colorado could use in the pipeline. 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 bring 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 committed big dollars to its prized defence corps, and also has Jeff Skinner hitting UFA status after 2018-19.
The Canadiens could still use a top line centre, although it seems as though Jonathan Drouin will be given a shot there. Alex Galchenyuk could still work his way back towards that role, but it seems less likely than ever he’ll get there.
Enter Duchene, who would immediately fill the top job and add considerable speed and upside. There is some risk here, though, in that if Duchene doesn’t recapture his 70-point ceiling ever, the Habs would have gone all-in for an underwhelming player.
After last season, former Avs assistant coach Tim Army said that Duchene just needed to “forget about hockey for a little while” following the nightmare season. But as a Montreal Canadien, that would be especially hard to do so any pressure Duchene would feel after a sub-par season would be magnified even more.
What could the Canadiens offer: It’s not clear whether Montreal holds the necessary package anymore. Mikhail Sergachev was their blue chip defender, but he was used to land Drouin. Noah Juulsen may be the next up, but he’s in a tier or two below Sergachev and not the can’t-miss kind of player Colorado really needs to get in return.
If the Habs did get Duchene, you wonder if Galchenyuk would go the other way. Since the team seems intent on using him at wing instead of his natural centre, Montreal may have more of a use and interest in Duchene. Galchenyuk is signed for just one year longer than Duchene before he becomes UFA eligible, so the window wouldn’t necessarily shorten for Montreal.
The Habs are clearly making a push for the Cup over the next couple years and if they feel Duchene gives them enough of a boost and is that much better of a fit than Galchenyuk, it could be worth considering. But we come back to Colorado’s real need for a defenceman. The Habs’ lack of depth in that position may preclude them from getting into this.