Nothing went right for the Colorado Avalanche in 2016-17.
A season that began with an abrupt coaching change ended with a franchise-worst 48 points, with bad lottery luck acting as the salt in the wound of an all-around forgettable campaign.
The team’s dismal output only seemed to compound the struggles of one of its cornerstone forwards in Matt Duchene.
The speedy centreman registered 18 goals and 23 assists for 41 points in 77 games last season, which was his lowest point production since an injury-hampered 2011-12 campaign limited him to just 28 points in 58 games.
So, how to fix it?
Former assistant coach Tim Army believes Duchene would be wise to distance himself from the game this summer.
“I think he needs a break right now,” Army told The Denver Post’s Terry Frei.
Army was dismissed on Tuesday along with fellow assistant Dave Farrish and goaltending coach Francois Allaire. The assistant spent six seasons behind Colorado’s bench and has been present for most of Duchene’s NHL career.
“I think he needs a summer to get away and forget about hockey for a little while,” said Army.
The early off-season presented a silver lining for Duchene as he helped Team Canada to a second-place finish at the IIHF World Championship alongside teammates Nathan MacKinnon and Calvin Pickard, but his point-production continued to struggle. The 26-year-old registered just a single goal through 10 tournament games.
The key number in there? His age.
“I just think he can [break out] because he’s still only 26 years old and he’s very talented,” said Army. “He has produced 30 goals in the league, he for sure should be a 25-goal guy every year. He has that ability and that’s a lot of goals in today’s game.”
Duchene has reached the 20-plus goal mark five times, including his 24-goal rookie season in 2009-10 and a 27-goal season as a sophomore. His lone 30-goal season came in 2015-16, making his fall this past year all the more jarring.
Duchene’s season also saw him suffer a concussion in mid-November after a “vicious” hit from Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba, and featured a steady stream of trade rumours — with the player even admitting in January that he was “open” to being traded.
Following the season, his eighth with the Avalanche, Duchene told Frei in early April that he is “half-expecting” this to have been his final year in Colorado.
“It’s tough, it’s emotional for sure, knowing it potentially could be the case,” he said, via The Denver Post. “I definitely have a fire lit under me, big-time after this year. I was as frustrated as I’ve ever been in my life. With everything.”
While Army didn’t mention the flurry of trade rumours, he did provide some insight into Duchene’s on-ice mindset this season and the danger of over-thinking things.
“I think sometimes he thinks himself into trouble. He overthinks things and he needs sometimes to let go and just go play,” Army continued. “When he gets a little tight, it doesn’t go his way, he starts to overthink and grips the stick too tightly. It limits his ability to attack and make plays and attack openings.
“When it gets away from him, he lets it drain him mentally. He’s just got to kind of push it away and go out and relax and skate and play and work hard defensively, work hard away from the puck.”