“I wanted to play playoff hockey. I’ve got eight playoff games to my name right now and for me that’s not where I want to be at this point of my career. I only get one shot at this; I only get to play this game for however long my body lets me play.”
When Matt Duchene requested a trade out of Colorado, the outlook for the Avalanche was dim. Not only was the 2016-17 season the third year in a row they’d missed the playoffs, but their 22-56-4 record and 48 points was worse than any other team in the salary cap era in an 82-game season. They were historically awful with all sorts of questions around their goaltending and defence and, seemed, a long way off from competing for anything.
The Senators, on the other hand, went on a bit of a Cinderella run to the 2017 Eastern Conference final and were optimistic about challenging for more despite finishing that season with a minus goal differential. After acquiring Duchene in November of 2017, Sens GM Pierre Dorion said he thought the centre would take Ottawa to a new level.
The direction the two teams have taken since then, however, wasn’t what was predicted. The Avalanche are now coming off a playoff appearance, have one of the best lines in hockey and are very much on the rise. The Senators finished near the bottom of the league, traded Erik Karlsson and admitted they’re in a rebuild.
On Friday, Duchene makes his first return to Colorado since the Avalanche traded him to the Senators in a three-way deal that also included the Nashville Predators. This isn’t the first time he’s played his former team — in fact his first two games with Ottawa were against Colorado in Sweden. He didn’t get a point in either.
“(Duchene) was a big part of this team for a long time,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog told the Denver Post. “Obviously now, we’re sitting here 12 months later and both Dutchy and the organization has moved on. We’re a different team today.”
How the Colorado faithful will receive Duchene, the third-overall pick in 2009 who grew up a fan of Joe Sakic and the Avalanche, will be interesting. On one hand, he provided years of solid play, but on the other, the way he left the team will leave a sour taste just one year on.
Here’s a look back at the trade from the perspective of Colorado and Ottawa and where all the notable pieces are today:
COLORADO’S SIDE OF THE DEAL
In their disaster of a season there was little to like about Colorado’s blue line, but the perception has completely changed since. Girard, whom Nashville sent to Colorado in this trade, is a big reason why.
Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie were already there but Girard, a five-foot-10 puck-moving defenceman is a very cheap producer who’s playing on the top pair at 5-on-5 with Johnson this season. The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers calls it the perfect pair — a big, in-your-face physical defender and a small, mobile skater.
“Great kid. Really cares about getting better every day,” Johnson told Chambers. “He’s so skilled, so smart. You maybe worry about a guy that size playing D but he’s so smart and elusive. He knows when the forecheck is coming. He knows when to dip out of traffic when he’s in trouble. He’s got a really good head on his shoulders.”
Girard actually has the highest average time on ice of all Avs forwards at even strength and is the only defenceman on the second power-play unit. He’s just 20 years old with still another season after this on an entry-level contract. Consider, too, that Colorado has fourth-overall pick Cale Makar in the system and Canadian WJC gold medallist Conor Timmins (recovering from post-concussion syndrome) ready to start his pro career and suddenly the Avs have a blue line to confidently move into the future with.
Picked 28th overall in 2017, the 19-year-old Bowers returned to Boston University for his sophomore season after being named to Hockey East’s all-rookie team. With 17 goals in 40 games, he was the highest-scoring 18-year-old in the NCAA last season, and tied for fourth in goals among all players under the age of 21.
Despite being eligible for the NHL Draft a year before former Boston U teammate Brady Tkachuk, Bowers is less than two months older than the Sens’ fourth-overall pick and he finished with nine more goals and one more point than Tkachuk last season.
“Probably when I’m older I’ll tell people I was traded 1-for-1 for Duchene,” Bowers said with a grin. “It’s cool to be wanted. It feels nice to be wanted and I’m happy to be with Colorado now. I think it worked out for the best. I’m excited about being an Avalanche,” he told the Denver Post.
Bowers’ plan is to go back to school for another season and if the Avalanche feel he is ready, move to the pros in 2019-20 and, hopefully, straight to the NHL. With defence and goaltending in a good place, Colorado’s next task is to fill out its secondary scoring to complement its big line and Bowers — along with current Avs centre Tyson Jost — will likely figure prominently into that.
Look out for him at Canada’s world junior selection camp.
The Hamburglar had a good run with the Senators in 2014-15, but has never really come close to capturing that magic again. He played one regular-season game for Colorado, a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia, but was thrust into three playoff starts after injuries hit the Avs’ goalies. Against Nashville in Round 1 last spring Hammond came on in relief at first and turned aside all eight shots he faced, then stopped 44 shots in a 2-1 win before being blown out 5-0.
He was a safety net and did his job to keep the Avs alive in a moment of desperation, but is now manning the net for the AHL’s Iowa Wild.
Ottawa’s first-round pick
This is the part that stings the most for Ottawa. The Sens had the option of sending Colorado their first-rounder in 2018 or ’19 and opted to take Tkachuk last summer. There is no lottery protection on the pick at all, so while the Sens are at least playing well enough to stay out of the basement for now, the worst-case scenario is a miracle happens and their number sequence is drawn in April, giving the Avs the first-overall pick.
If that happens, centre Jack Hughes — described as having Connor McDavid-like qualities — would become an Av and leave Sens fans forever wondering “What If?” The far more likely outcome is that the Sens wind up with a pick somewhere else in the top 10 which should still result in a valuable NHLer in the future, but at least not a potential immediate superstar.
A fairly well-regarded prospect when the Predators traded him to Colorado, Kamenev’s had terrible luck right away. In his very first game as an Av he broke his arm on a big hit from Brooks Orpik — he only played twice more near the end of the season.
He was again put on injured reserve just prior to the start of this season, but has since come back and played in five games without a point. There’s still lots to figure out with this 22-year-old centre and he’s only played more than 10 minutes in a game once this season, but as he gains the trust of head coach Jared Bednar there will be more to this player than what we’ve seen so far.
For Friday’s game against the Senators, though, it appears he will be a scratch.
OTTAWA’S SIDE OF THE DEAL
The Sens weren’t too keen on re-signing pending UFA Kyle Turris to the contract he wanted, but the Predators eventually inked him to a six-year, $36-million deal. Instead, Ottawa traded away Bowers, a first-round pick, Hammond, a third-round pick and Turris to get Duchene, who was already making $6 million a season, but wasn’t UFA-eligible until 2019.
After a slow start to his time in Ottawa, Duchene settled in and scored 48 points in his last 59 games in 2017-18 and has started off on a point-per-game pace this season. But as he moves closer and closer to unrestricted free agency, the big question is whether or not the difference between Turris and Duchene is big enough to make the cost of acquisition worth it.
Both slot better as second-line centres than first-liners. Turris outscored Duchene in both 2014-15 and 2016-17, the last two seasons before the trade when both players were healthy, but arguably doesn’t have the same kind of dynamism as Duchene. And since Duchene is already making $6 million and about to hit the market for the first time in his career, he’s going to end up being paid more money.
He hasn’t committed anything yet to the Senators. Prior to the start of the season he said he wanted to see what would happen with pending UFA Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone, who himself is one year away from unrestricted free agent status. With Karlsson gone, the focus is now on Stone.
“Those are the things I want to sit back and watch,” Duchene told NHL.com in September. “The nice thing is is I’m kind of the last domino in that sense. Those are things I want to see.
“With [Mark Stone], that’s a guy I’d love to move forward with as a teammate. Him doing a one-year deal, it’s a little bit different and makes you think a little bit, but I want to see what he’s saying and we’ll talk through it. Having talked about it, we both really like it in Ottawa and we both want it to work, so that’s the biggest thing.”
If Ottawa determines it won’t be able to re-sign Duchene and has to trade him, it’ll need to collect a lottery pick and a prospect on the level of Bowers to make up the difference. That will be hard to do.