Matt Duchene has bled burgundy and blue since he was a little boy. The story of his longtime fandom culminating in the Colorado Avalanche drafting him third overall in 2009 is a great story that has touched all Avalanche fans since Duchene entered the league. In recent years, however, that feel good story has been jettisoned as the Avalanche have continued to struggle. Now that Colorado will finish in the NHL basement, yet again, the question that has been following the star Avalanche center looms larger than ever: is Matt Duchene’s time in Denver at an end?
Now this is not the first time that anybody has asked whether or not Duchene will depart from the Avs, far from it. That being said, this is the first time this question has ever had this feel with it; that feeling of inevitability. Previously the arguments never made any sense and, to a certain extent, many of the people still talking about this still don’t make much sense. The talk that Duchene can’t play defense, doesn’t know how to finish, doesn’t care, is a cancer in the locker room (yeah, somebody said that) just don’t make any sense.
Each of the past few seasons, some type of reason has come up to attempt to justify this trade and, until this point, it has always been unfounded.
Duchene’s game has evolved throughout his years in Colorado. He went from a guy who was pretty much offense first, second, and last to a very responsible two-way player. Duchene’s face-off game alone has shown amazing growth; going from a 44% face-off man in his rookie season, to the best face-off player in the leage at 62% during this season.
Other facts to consider, since Duchene came into the league, in 2009, nobody on the Avalanche is even close to his production totals. Duchene is the leading scorer on the Avalanche (since coming into the league) by about 150 points. Now, it’s true that there has been a large turnover in players since that time, so let’s narrow it down a bit. Since 2011-12, when the Avalanche drafted Gabriel Landeskog, Duchene is the team’s leading scorer; and since 2013, since Nathan MacKinnon was drafted, Duchene is the team’s leading scorer. So for as much flack as Duchene takes for his streakiness, Duchene’s ability to score is definitely not a reason for the team’s overall lack of success.
Duchene has also never really dealt with injury. Only one season has Duchene missed more than 12 games, and that season he still came back and played on his injury far earlier than he should have. He also has years left on a very team-friendly deal that keeps him at a $6 million salary cap hit. All of these have made it an easy decision for the Avalanche to keep Duchene on their roster no matter how many times people jump up and smash that “TRADE DUCHENE” button. So why is it different this time?
I really think that the main thing to consider is the timing. Matt Duchene is now 26 years old, and has two years left on his contract, taking him to age 28. The big question that the Avalanche need to answer for themselves is this: how far away are the Avalanche from being a competitive team? At the moment, I have a hard time believing that the Avalanche are going to be a very competitive team for the next three to five years.
That begin said, it is possible that this is a overly conservative prediction. The Avalanche are going to have several young players that will likely be pushing to make contributions as early as next season. Players like JT Compher, Tyson Jost, and A.J. Greer will all likely be a part of the big team sooner rather than later. Throw in guys like Andrei Mironov, JC Beaudin, and Nicholas Meloche also possibly being thrown into the mix and suddenly it looks like there may be some much needed depth on the team.
So now we’re in the front office of the Colorado Avalanche assessing what is needed going forward. The Avalanche still have some holes and they need to figure out how to fill out the roster. Free agency hasn’t really worked, especially when trying to find defensemen. Maybe the best option is to pick one of the guys in the core to trade in order to bring back a legitimate NHL defender that can play 18-22 minutes every night. If I’m going to trade a guy that can get that kind of return, I need to be sure that that player can be replaced somehow and likely doesn’t fit into the window of success.
Can Duchene be replaced in the system? Maybe. There is a ton of promise surrounding Tyson Jost, and consider that the Avalanche will likely get a top offensive player in the draft this year, but there is no guarantee of it. Duchene also will be close to 30 by the time the Avalanche are likely to be truly competitive again. Both boxes are sort of checked off in this case.
There is no doubt that Duchene has been the team’s best player for a long time now, but his age relative the the position of the Avalanche system and their likelihood of being a contending team again poses an issue. If the Avalanche were to trade Duchene, they cannot wait too long to do it, which means this offseason is kind of the ideal time. He’s still within the prime years of his career, his contract is still team friendly, and he would likely command a large return in a deal.
I hate the very idea of it, but looking at it from a purely business point of view, if the Avalanche do plan to move Matt Duchene, this summer would be the time to do it.