After colleague Elliotte Friedman wrote about the Ottawa Senators and their upcoming extension candidates just earlier today, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston added some more information during the Headlines segment in the first intermission of the Vancouver Canucks-Toronto Maple Leafs game. Johnston reported that extension talks between the Senators and top center Matt Duchene have cooled off of late, and that he may become more of a trade candidate in the coming weeks:
The clock ticks towards February 25th and the NHL trade deadline, and as it does so it’s quite interesting that the talks between the Ottawa Senators and Matt Duchene—their pending unrestricted free agent—appear to have cooled off. There doesn’t seem to have been anything of substance here in recent times, no talks are immediately scheduled in the weeks ahead. Why this is interesting is because Ottawa has struggled, having lost seven straight. Pierre Dorion, the General Manager obviously doesn’t want to place any sort of a deadline on when he needs an answer on Matt Duchene’s intentions [and] whether he will sign an extension. Clearly as this slides along we are looking at him as a potential target in that trade deadline period and someone that the Senators are going to have to make a decision on. I don’t get the sense from Duchene’s side that there’s any rush for them to make that kind of decision.
Duchene is not the only player on the Senators in this sort of situation, as both Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel are also unrestricted free agents at the end of the year and would be very appealing to teams at the deadline, but he may be the most important. Dorion went out on a limb last year by trading a huge amount of assets in order to bring Duchene to Ottawa, knowing that he was scheduled for free agency not even two seasons later. The most infamous asset in that package is the first-round pick that Ottawa owes Colorado, which must be given this year even if it is the first overall selection. Watching Duchene walk out the door for nothing in free agency just a few days after that draft would be an absolute disaster for the Senators.
So, it seems as though whether Dorion wants to put a deadline on extension talks or not there will come a day when the Senators need an answer. Allowing the trade deadline to pass without a deal signed and delivered would be extremely dangerous, even if substantial progress has been made. That means the team has just over seven weeks to work something out or they very well could be forced to take the best offer from around the league.
Those offers though should be quite enticing on their own. Duchene is in the midst of the best offensive season of his career with 41 points in 36 games, and has routinely been one of the best players on the ice despite the Senators overall record. The fact that 32 of those points are at even-strength and the 27-year old center has been his usual dominant self in the faceoff circle will only improve the interest from around the league, and there very well could be a bidding war for him as the best center on the market. Duchene’s $6MM cap hit certainly isn’t small, but the Senators could potentially retain salary to make him fit into basically every contender’s financial structure in order to maximize a return.
Still, there’s no reason to assume that things are headed towards a trade for at least another few weeks. Dorion could easily pick up the phone and start up talks again, or reach out with an long-term offer to Duchene’s camp. Until that happens though speculation will run wild around the Senators and their pending free agents, especially after this recent skid has sent them plummeting to the bottom of the NHL standings.