A year ago today, the Ottawa Senators made a three-team deal with the Colorado Avalanche and the Nashville Predators. Since then, names like Erik Karlsson, Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, Evander Kane, and Tomas Tatar (twice) have all been traded. Yet, it’s that November 5th deal that is still the most memorable recent trade for many, due to both the immediate impact and the lasting results.
In that trade, Ottawa – at a contract impasse with center Kyle Turris – dealt he, first-round prospect forward Shane Bowers, goaltender Andrew Hammond, a first-round pick, and a third-round pick to Colorado. The Avs then flipped Turris to Nashville for defenseman Samuel Girard, forward Vladislav Kamenev, and a second-round pick. It was quite a haul for Colorado and they have yet to even use either of Ottawa’s picks, including a likely lottery pick in the first round next year. The Predators meanwhile signed Turris to a six-year extension and he has 53 points in 79 games since joining the team. The return for all of this for the Senators? Matt Duchene, who a year later is in limbo with an expiring contract and a team that is far from the contender he was promised.
As TSN’s Ian Mendes notes, Senators GM Pierre Dorion was coming off a 2016-17 season that saw his team make a run to the Eastern Conference final. When he acquired Duchene, he thought it could be the final piece of the puzzle to get them back and through that third round of the playoffs. Instead, Ottawa sunk to the second-worst record in the NHL. It’s too late to reverse that trade or the events of last season. The team could have simply traded Turris for picks and prospects at the deadline, as Mendes points out, and certainly could have found a deal for a top-six forward this off-season that was far less expensive. Their first-round pick in 2019 could be first overall, franchise center Jack Hughes, and there’s nothing they could do. Boston University standout Bowers could blossom into a top-line forward, but there’s no recourse for that. The only element of the trade left in the control of Dorion and the Senators is the future of Duchene and with it potentially the future of the team.
Ottawa is faced with two choices this season: pay Duchene or trade him. The 2009 third overall pick carries a $6MM cap hit on his current contract. If he were to hit the open market, he would certainly be due a raise. Duchene’s alleged reason for wanting out of Colorado last season was ironically that he didn’t want to play through a rebuild. If that is still his mindset, it would take a substantial sum from the Senators to keep him around. Owner Eugene Melnyk has been unwilling to pay his better player their fair value, leading to the Karlsson trade and likely more moves to come. Will he make an exception for Duchene? If not, the Senators need to move Duchene and sooner rather than later. The trade deadline will be the final opportunity to trade the star center, who will have a long list of suitors, but his value drops each day leading up to that point. Dorion will likely never get back a package commensurate with what he gave up for Duchene, but his best chance to get close is to trade him as soon as possible to the highest bidder.
Either option serves to benefit the Senators. Duchene may not be a superstar, but he is a talented, well-rounded player who is capable of leading Ottawa out of the basement if provided with at least a little support. On the other side, the team cannot escape the reality of their own rebuild and could greatly use the trade capital that they would gain from a Duchene trade. The worst case scenario – and a veritable death knell for the franchise – would be to make neither decision, opting not to trade Duchene and waiting and hoping for an extension agreement only to watch him walk away in free agency. One year later, this notorious trade is still so prevalent around the NHL. The Senators should celebrate the anniversary by making another major move with Duchene – a new contract or another trade – as soon as humanly possible.