Colorado Avalanche: A Pragmatic Look at the Matt Duchene Trade


Now that we have a little perspective with time, let’s look at the reality of the Colorado Avalanche’s trade of Matt Duchene.

The dust has settled enough on the Matt Duchene trade so that Colorado Avalanche fans should be able  to get some perspective. We should be able to step away from immediate knee-jerk reactions ranging from “The future of the Avalanche is set” to “The Avs traded their best player for seven poops.” (That was me — I’m more temperate now.)

To recap, in case you don’t have the details of the trade memorized, here’s how the trade went down:

  • Colorado Avalanche sent Matt Duchene to Ottawa Senators
  • Ottawa Senators sent Shane Bowers, Andrew Hammond, 2018 1st-round draft pick, 2019 3rd-round draft pick to Colorado Avalanche
  • Ottawa Senators sent Kyle Turris to Nashville Predators
  • Nashville Predators sent Samuel GirardVladislav Kamenev, 2nd-round draft pick to Colorado Avalanche

There are a couple addendums to the above catalog. The Senator’s first-rounder is protected. If it’s top-ten, the Avalanche have to wait until 2019 to use that pick. The Avalanche and Senators had a deal worked out a week previously, but they had to wait for the Predators to finalize their part — Joe Sakic didn’t want Kyle Turris to play a week in Denver and then get traded.

And Matt Duchene had formally asked for a trade in late December. Let’s start there.

Understanding Why Matt Duchene Asked for a Trade

Center Matt Duchene forever endeared himself to Colorado Avalanche fans on draft day when he celebrated not getting chosen second-overall because that meant he could go to his favorite team, the third-picking Avs. We all know the story — he grew up revering Avs greats. It was a fairytale for him and for us to have him in burgundy and blue.

Well, I think we’ve all been in the real world long enough to know fairy tales don’t last no matter how hard we hold on. Matt Duchene went from being an eighteen-year-old kid living in Adam Foote‘s basement to a 26-year-old married man looking at his prime hockey years slip away.

During the press conference with Ottawa, Duchene talked a little bit about what was going through his head from last December until the trade on Sunday:

Essentially, here’s what it all came down to for Duchene:

"“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.”"

Even though I recognized it to be truth, it caught me by surprise to think Duchene only had eight playoff games to his name. There were the six his rookie year and the two he was able to play when he came back early from injury during the golden Why Not Us (original) playoff series. Yet Duchene is a player who has won Olympic gold, the World Cup of Hockey, and more IIHF Worlds tournaments than you can shake a stick at.

Now, to be fair, you don’t get a top-three draft pick unless you’re a struggling team — or the Philadelphia Flyers in 2017. The Avalanche were able to select Duchene because they had a very bad season. Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly, along with Paul Stastny, were supposed to bolster the aging veterans still on the team.

That was Rebuild 1.0. Rebuild 2.0 commenced when Colorado got an even higher draft pick just a couple years later and picked up soon-to-be-captain Gabriel Landeskog in the 2011 NHL Draft.

More from Mile High Sticking

Rebuild 3.0 commenced in 2013 when the Colorado Avalanche got the highest-possible draft pick after finishing dead last in the Western Conference and second-to-last in the whole NHL. They chose Nathan MacKinnon.

That was also the year the two Hall of Famers, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, came to bring the Avalanche back to the glory of their days.

The beginnings of 4.0 started the summer of 2016 with a 90-degree turn in the direction of the team. By the time Duchene saw “the writing on the wall,” as he put it, in late December, Rebuild 4.0 was going through the pain phase.

As Matt Duchene says, walking into that room to ask his boyhood idol to trade him from his boyhood favorite team was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.” He didn’t make the decision lightly — he says he “sat on it” for several weeks.

Bottom line — he’d been through several rebuilds already and just didn’t have another one in him. As I put it, he was burning away his prime years.

I honestly can’t think of a better rationale for asking for a trade. We all have our limits. And all I could think when he mentioned his eight playoff games was that Cody McLeod played almost twice that many playoff games last season alone (15). As much as I love me some Highlander, he’s no Matt Duchene.

I want to see Matt Duchene get his, even if it isn’t with the Avalanche.

Ok, now on to the return for Duchene.

Related Story: Dutchy's Final Goal for the Avs

Future Considerations for Matt Duchene

I evaluated in a previous post the return for Matt Duchene. In terms of sheer numbers, the return was impressive — it’s not very often that a team gets a full seven pieces back for a single player. Even the return for P.K. Subban wasn’t anywhere near that high.

But then, the Avalanche didn’t get a single bona fide NHLer in return, while the Montreal Canadiens got Shea Weber.

The crown jewel of the return was 19-year-old Samuel Girard, who has five NHL games to his name. Those five games he played with Nashville, though, mean the Avalanche only have four games to decide if he’s ready for a permanent slot in the lineup or if they want to preserve a year of his entry-level contract. (More on that in a future post.)

That means that, in five games’ time, when Colorado takes the ice against the once-rival Detroit Red Wings, Girard may be headed back to his major juniors team rather than skating with the Avalanche. And, at that moment, the IMMEDIATE return for one of the team’s very best players will have been nothing.

Before you go howling that the point of such a trade for a rebuilding team is to get pieces for the, you know, rebuild, I know that. It’s the reason the word “immediate” is in all caps.

What it boils down to is this: GM Joe Sakic took a gamble. He’s betting that at least a couple of the prospects and one or two of the draft picks are going to pan out. It’s like when you go to Vegas — or any casino. You put your dollar into a slot machine hoping to increase your wealth.

So, if Girard pans out, even if we have to wait until next year, the trade was semi-ok. If you can add to that Kamenev’s bringing his game to the next level — the NHL level — perhaps the trade is a wash. If Shane Bowers signs with and adds to the team, you could make a case for Colorado winning the trade.

If they get a contributing player out of that first-round draft pick, the Avalanche definitively won the trade. Anything beyond that in terms of draft pick ups is just gravy.

But if the majority of those things fail to happen, then the Colorado Avalanche traded one of their best players for little to nothing. You pull the arm on the slot machine, and House wins.

Next: Reflections on a Wild Night in Brooklyn

I actually have pretty high hopes for Girard (next year), Bowers, (one to two years) and that first rounder (two to three years).  And if the takeaway this season for trading Matt Duchene wasn’t just a lost game (how were the Avs going to beat the Islanders with that huge distraction going on), but a lost season, I’m semi-ok with that.

I don’t want the Colorado Avalanche to tank. But, boy-oh-boy, do I want Rasmus Dahlin in burgundy and blue.