And rightly so — the Senators had been just one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final just six months earlier, and that core was still very much intact with an eye on doing it all again.
But things haven’t exactly gone according to expectations, and after several more trades — not to mention, enough Erik Karlsson trade rumours to send a fanbase into a panic — and a string of losses, Duchene is once again eying an early off-season on an increasingly dysfunctional, non-contending team.
Only, Duchene doesn’t see it that way. The 27-year-old centreman expressed plenty of optimism about the Senators’ situation during an interview with the Ottawa Citizen after Monday’s deadline had come and gone.
“All I can say is I am encouraged by what I see in here, and I think that this could be a very great spot for me to end up for a long time … if they want to have me,” Duchene told reporter Don Brennan.
Duchene has one more full season remaining on his current contract, which carries a $6-million cap hit, and can officially begin negotiating an extension with the team on July 1 — the same time general manager Pierre Dorion can table a new contract offer for Karlsson.
“The business side of things is a wait-and-see,” Duchene continued. “I don’t know what’s going to happen there, but everything else … I think there’s just such a bright future here, regardless… honestly, I’ve enjoyed it so far. I’ve really enjoyed everything and it will definitely be a great situation if everything works out.”
“There’s a lot of guys that go through their whole career and never win a Cup,” he continued. “Right now I’m just looking for a playoff round, to start. I’d love to go two, three rounds in the playoffs, at minimum. As soon as possible. I think that’s what I’m looking at. And I’m sure my goals align with management’s goals. Who doesn’t want to do that?”
While the team isn’t winning right now, Duchene is certainly doing his part. After a few early-season struggles, he hit his stride once the calendar flipped and now has 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points in 47 games.
“I also want to be very clear that I’m extremely happy to be here, and I’d love to win in this city,” he said. “I’m a loyal person. I feel allegiance to a team. Especially these guys for bringing me in, what they’ve done, having the faith in me and treating me as well as they have. It’s definitely something I would make work, if it works out.”
Karlsson, who went from being a highly unlikely trade target to a subject of down-to-the-wire deadline discussions, also spoke to reporters following the “very stressful” past few weeks, and insisted that he never asked to be dealt.
“I never wanted to leave. I never had any say in that, that’s a different part of the business that I can’t control,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “Hearing your name being thrown around as much as it was, it’s very stressful and not something that I enjoyed going through. I love it here, I’ve always loved it here.”
“There’s been a lot of changes here, there’s probably going to be a lot more,” Karlsson continued. “What those changes are, I’m not really sure. What direction this organization has decided to go in, I’m not really aware of and when that time comes to discuss that, is not now. And when it does, I’m sure that they’re going to lay it all out to me and give me what their plan is and whether I’m in their future or not, that’s not going to be my decision.”