Matt Duchene situation hovers over Avalanche as NHL camps open

Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. (David Zalubowski/AP)

Even with two years left on his contract with the Colorado Avalanche, Matt Duchene’s situation is anything but simple.

With his name in trade talks at the deadline and then again at the draft, Duchene went about his business playing for by far the NHL’s worst team. But after another off-season of general manager Joe Sakic not making a move, Duchene is unhappy in limbo and now training camp has arrived.

Unlike the NFL, where holdouts are commonplace, it’s unprecedented in the NHL’s salary-cap era for a player under contract not to report to camp, and Sakic has said he expects Duchene to be there. But it’s probably the strongest leverage the $6 million centre has to effect change as interest swirls from teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets and two-time Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I’m not the GM, so whoever Joe and the staff decide to put on the team, I know it’s going to be for the best and it’s going to make us better," Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said last week. "With Duchy, I’m not sure what the situation is exactly. I know there’s trade rumours and things like that, but he’s not traded as of today and he’s my teammate, so getting ready for him to be on the team this season."

Duchene being in Colorado’s opening night lineup Oct. 5 at the New York Rangers is far from any kind of certainty. The Avalanche are in rebuilding mode after their 48 points were 21 fewer than the next-lowest team, and at age 26 Duchene is their best trade chip in the hopes of landing a young defenceman.

Here are some more things to watch as training camps open around the NHL:


If the New York Islanders don’t sign captain John Tavares by July 1, he can be an unrestricted free agent. That’s a terrifying thought for the Islanders. His situation will be a never-ending story line made complicated by the Islanders’ unsettled arrangement at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The smart money is on Tavares trying to shove contract distractions aside in camp but wait to sign a big-money, eight-year contract later.


New Jersey Devils No. 1 pick Nico Hischier and Philadelphia Flyers No. 2 pick Nolan Patrick will each get a good opportunity to make the NHL. Hischier’s chances improved with Travis Zajac out four to six months following pectoral surgery, and the Swiss centre is part of New Jersey’s excitement that this may be a better year. Taylor Hall, the top pick in 2010 who could be Hischier’s left winger this season, said it’s up to teammates to make him as comfortable off the ice as possible so he can perform.

"I think if he’s comfortable there he’s going to play well on the ice," Hall said. "And we need him to play well."


Six restricted free agents remain unsigned: Boston’s David Pastrnak, Columbus’ Josh Anderson, Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov, Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou, Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno and St. Louis’ Petteri Lindbohm. Athanasiou’s agent said Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League is an option, though Pastrnak is vital to his team’s success, so all eyes are on the Bruins. Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla are unsigned greybeards still waiting for a call.


Among the 60-plus players attending camp on a professional tryout agreement, Brandon Pirri in Florida, Jimmy Hayes in New Jersey, Alex Chiasson in Washington, Cody Franson in Chicago and Daniel Winnik in Minnesota have some of the best chances to earn a contract.


Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson said last week he has no timetable to skate, let alone play, and he’ll miss at least the start of camp after off-season foot surgery. As soon as Karlsson gets on the ice in Ottawa it’s a significant accomplishment for a team that was the closest to knocking off the Penguins in the playoffs last spring.


A salary-cap crunch brought changes for the Washington Capitals after another playoff disappointment, and star winger Alex Ovechkin isn’t getting any younger. General manager Brian MacLellan challenged Ovechkin to train differently to prioritize speed over power as the captain is about to turn 32, and now it’s time to see if it worked.

"It’s a great message that he’s sending to Mac, to the coaches, most importantly I think it’s a great message he’s sending to the rest of us as teammates, saying that we have to change, we have to get better and it starts with him," said teammate T.J. Oshie, who signed a $46 million, eight-year deal to stay. "Hats off to him, and I think the rest of us will have no trouble following."

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