For most NHLers, the off-season lands with an unwanted, gut-punching thud. For Matt Duchene, though, it must have felt like the Rocky Mountains were removed from his shoulders once the schedule relented and it was finally time to stop playing losing hockey with the Colorado Avalanche.
“I burnt out in January,” said Duchene, who started the year by winning gold with Canada at the World Cup. “I think a lot of guys did. Nobody really knows how tough that situation was. We were out of it by mid-December. To play the rest of the year out, after playing big hockey at the start of the year with the World Cup, it was really hard.”
Colorado’s mighty struggles—the team finished with a league-worst 48 points—triggered all kinds of talk that Duchene could find himself in a new city as the Avalanche looked to rebuild. When nothing happened before February’s trade deadline, nobody really batted an eye because deals of that scale don’t often occur during the season. But when Duchene remained in Colorado through the swap-happy period in the NHL calendar that started around the expansion draft and carried through the start of free agency on July 1, it ranked as one of the bigger off-season surprises.
After all, Duchene himself had indicated along the way that it was likely time for a new beginning and it seemed a slam dunk that something would get done that changed the 26-year-old’s surroundings. The Nashville Predators, New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens were just a few of the clubs linked to Duchene that seemed like appropriate suitors.
Now, with two years remaining on his contract, some are wondering if Duchene will still be a member of the Avalanche when training camps open in late September.
“It’s not for me to decide,” said Duchene, who’s spending most of the week in Toronto refining his game at the Power Edge Pro Hockey skills camp. “It’s up to the management in Colorado. We’ll see what happens. I’m not sure who I’m going to be playing for next year, but it doesn’t matter, you come out with the same intensity here and in the gym.”
As hard as he pushes himself in training, you get the sense the only fatigue impacting Duchene stems from his taxing situation. While this year has been especially draining, things have been trending the wrong way for a while. Since winning a surprise Central Division title in 2013-14, Colorado has failed to make the post-season in three consecutive campaigns, despite the presence of some nice young pieces.
“We’ve had some years where things were looking up and that would almost give you some false hope, I guess,” Duchene said.
Duchene’s career-low 41 points last season may have duped some people into believing he’s not the player he once was. While he acknowledged he could have done a better job of fighting through the misery, the naysayers have clearly created a chip on the speedster’s shoulder.
“You’ve got to just use it as motivation because it’s funny how short people’s memories are and they doubt you pretty quick,” Duchene said.
While his situation remains less than ideal, Duchene has a clear idea of what he needs to focus on, even if the big picture remains hazy.
“That visualization part is [tough] because you don’t really know where you’re going to be, so you just have to have some blind faith and work as hard as you can and be the vest version of yourself you can be,” he said. “All that cliché stuff, but it’s cliché for a reason.”