Despite the tumultuous off-season for Matt Duchene and the Colorado Avalanche, GM Joe Sakic fully expects him to show up to training camp. At least, that’s what he told BSN Denver’s Adrian Dater. “He’s under contract and I expect him to be here” Sakic said, “Not everybody always comes to camp early. It’s not for me to (say), but I assume on the 14th, he’ll be here.” Sakic is referring to Duchene being one of only two Avs players under contract not to participate in captain’s practice last week. Holdouts may be rare in the NHL, but Duchene’s words and actions this summer have painted a pretty clear picture of a player who would like to leave Colorado.
If Duchene has reached his wit’s end with the trade rumors that have persisted since late 2016 and truly has no intention of suiting up for the Avalanche again, Sakic has just a few days left to trade him before this begins to enter holdout territory. The perceived problem all along is that Sakic has not dropped the asking price that has long been considered a young top-four defenseman, a first round pick, and one or two more young roster players or prospects. Not only do few (read: any) NHL teams have a young top-four blue liner to spare, but it’s hard to imagine anyone giving up such a package for Duchene, who has just two seasons remaining on his contract and is coming off a down 2016-17 season. Duchene had scored 55 or more points in five of his seven NHL seasons entering last year – and easily would have made it six had the the 2012-13 lockout-shorten seasoned been extended – yet, he ended up with only 41 points and an egregious -34 rating last season; a low point for both he and the Avalanche franchise.
Logic would seem to indicate that, holdout or not, Sakic has to continue listening to offers for Duchene and needs to lower an unreasonable asking price. TSN recently released their list of the top nine NHL trade candidates this season, with Duchene obviously at the top. They list the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, and Pittsburgh Penguins as the mostly likely destinations for Duchene. The Carolina Hurricanes and San Jose Sharks have also been in the rumor mix this summer.
Right away, a few of those options can have their odds discounted. Having just traded away Travis Hamonic and traded for Jordan Eberle, the New York Islanders and their estimated $3MM in cap space likely lack the capacity and the desire to pony up for Duchene at this point. The Isles are still deep on defense, but with Thomas Hickey and Dennis Seidenberg approaching free agency next year, trading yet another young defenseman like Calvin de Haan, Adam Pelech or Ryan Pulock could put the team in hole. Without one of those three, it is hard to see New York making a suitable offer. The defending two-time Cup champs are in a similar situation. While many Pens fans would love to see the embarrassment of riches of Duchene as the third line center behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh too lacks the cap space, currently about $3.25MM, and the pieces to get the job done. That is, unless Sakic is keen on Olli Maatta or the Penguins offer up Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, or an overwhelming offer of picks and prospects including Derrick Pouliot and enough salary to offset Duchene. It’s a series of unlikely scenarios. Additionally, the Montreal Canadiens lack anything remotely close to a young top four defenseman. Duchene would be a great fit for the Habs, but they simply don’t have the pieces.
The Hurricanes and Bruins certainly have the pieces to acquire Duchene, but it seems unlikely that either will be the team to finally do it. Boston was in talks with Colorado last year, but balked at the ask of a package including Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo and wouldn’t be willing to move Torey Krug either. If the price drops, the B’s have talented young defenders like Jakob Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Ryan Lindgren, and 2017 first rounder Uhro Vaakanainen waiting in the wings, but even if that was enough, the Bruins’ quiet off-season has indicated that they would like to move forward with their own young players this season. Carolina, on the other hand, is a Duchene-caliber player away from being a true contender and would love to add someone with his ability. However, GM Ron Francis has made it clear that he does not want to trade any of his defensemen. That hasn’t stopped TSN for listing “a Carolina defenseman” as one of their top trade candidates, but as of now there is no reason to think any of Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, or Noah Hanifin are going anywhere. Like Boston, Carolina still has solid pieces if the price drops, such as Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean, but another thought has been whispered this summer that may take Carolina out of the Duchene race altogether. Since acquiring Trevor van Riemsdyk from the Vegas Golden Knights back in June, a player who by all accounts they didn’t really need, many have speculated that Carolina is looking to make a run at 2018 premiere free agent James van Riemsdyk, to bring in the scoring power forward that they desperately desire.
The Blue Jackets and Sharks would be ideal landing spots for Duchene, but both teams would need to get creative with their offers. Both squads have a need for a scoring forward, the cap space to take him on and plenty of talented defensemen, but what they would be willing up on the blue line is not exactly what Colorado desires. There is no way that Columbus includes Zach Werenski or Seth Jones in a deal, but could be open to trading David Savard or Ryan Murray. However, each have a caveat. Savard, while a solid top-four talent, has had durability issues and difficulty with consistent production over the past couple of years. While he would be a great addition to any defense, that may not be what Sakic is looking to get back. Murray, while injury prone, is a highly-skilled young rearguard, but, amazingly, the 24-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Any deal involving Murray would first have to include a long-term extension with the league’s worst team. Columbus’ best chance of getting Duchene likely involves a package with top defensive prospect Gabriel Carlsson and a young roster player like Josh Anderson or Oliver Bjorkstrand. San Jose also has a few untouchables on defense, namely superstars Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Colorado also wouldn’t be interested in veterans Paul Martin and Justin Braun. That leaves Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo as the top options. While both have shown top-four potential, they have largely played shutdown roles in their young careers and bring little offensive upside. Like Savard, one would think that Sakic has a little more in mind for the Duchene return than stay-at-home defenders like Dillon and DeMelo. If the Sharks package versatile puck-moving D-prospect Jeremy Roy with either though, then talks could really get started. A package that starts like that and ends with a first-round pick and one of San Jose’s many young forwards could be enough to seal the deal.
Yet, the top candidate to bring in Duchene is likely the reigning Western Conference champs. No, the Predators are not moving any of Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis, or Mattias Ekholm, but the trick up their sleeve is top prospect Dante Fabbro. A junior teammate of Colorado top prospect Tyson Jost, Fabbro is considered one of the best prospects in hockey and should step into a top four role immediately when he leaves Boston University, much like Charlie McAvoy, who Sakic already targeted in Boston. Fabbro is not just a top-four defenseman, but a potential future #1 or at least a great option to pair with Cale Makar down the road. Sakic would be hard-pressed to find more upside up for grabs than Fabbro, but the Predators are set long-term on the blue line and desperately need to recoup the scoring lost in the Expansion Draft with the selection of James Neal. Fabbro, plus a young forward like Colton Sissons, Frederick Gaudreau, or Pontus Aberg, plus a first rounder and another pick or prospect, and Duchene could surely be on his way to Nashville.
Only time will tell where Duchene ends up, but the best case scenario for all parties is for that destination to not be Denver, Colorado for much longer. Sakic must and will eventually lower his asking price and someone will meet those demands. Could it be Nashville, Columbus, or San Jose? Definitely. Could it be Boston or Carolina? The Islanders or the Penguins? Possibly. Someone totally off the board? Of course. For such a talked-about topic, there is still so much uncertainty surrounding the situation. The next step will be to see if Duchene shows up to camp on Thursday. That decision could have a resounding effect on the trade process.