Matt Duchene. Image by: Getty Images
Matt Duchene's tough finish to the past season has the Avalanche selling low. But if Duchene can start strong this coming campaign, Colorado could start getting the offers they've been after.
Uncertainty is commonplace in the off-season, but for Matt Duchene, he’s been living a life of uncertainty for the better part of the past six months.
Reason being is Duchene, 26, has been at the center of trade speculation for much of the past season. The talk of the Avalanche trading Duchene picked up in the months leading into the trade deadline and reached a fever pitch as the deadline neared, but those rumors didn’t cease after the trade freeze came and went with Duchene remaining in Colorado. Instead, the trade talk ramped up again when the season ended and, of all possible deals that could have taken place, Duchene appeared to be the out-and-out favorite to be moved in the days before, during or after the draft.
And there was no lack of reports when it came to offers made to the Avalanche. Possibly the most notable was a reported offer made by the New York Islanders that included defenseman Travis Hamonic, who has since been moved to the Calgary Flames, which came about at the same time as some intriguing talk about Duchene landing with the Nashville Predators. But almost as soon as those offers were squashed, the murmurs that had followed Duchene died out. Now, more than a month since the draft and the start of free agency, it seems as though all is quiet on the Duchene front, leaving the Avalanche pivot in an odd state of limbo.
Speaking with NHL.com’s Dan Rosen, Duchene described his current state as “blind,” which is to say he’s been training for the upcoming season without being able to visualize where exactly he’s going to be playing. He knows he has a job, of course. The two years and $12 million on his contract guarantee as much. It’s just that Duchene has no idea if, come opening night, he’ll be suiting up with the Avalanche, the only team he’s ever known in his eight-year NHL career, or be making his debut for a new team.
"My identity will be with a team come training camp,” Duchene told Rosen. “I don't know what team that is yet, but my identity right now needs to be strong in myself and belief in myself."
That might be just the approach Duchene needs at this point, too, because putting the focus on his own game might be the only thing that puts an end to this situation for good.
In order for that to happen, though, Duchene will need to find his game. A significant reason why he’s the forward most likely to move is that he appears to be the member of the Avalanche’s core forward trio — which also includes Nathan MacKinnon and captain Gabriel Landeskog — most in need of a change of scenery. That much became apparent as the past season came to a close. The entire campaign was trying for Duchene offensively, as he watched his scoring rates dip below his career averages of .31 goals and .77 points per game, but his struggles were most notable in the back half of the season. Over his final 38 games, Duchene scored just three goals and 13 points, and had goal droughts of 13, 10 and nine games near the tail-end of the season.
Whether that was a result of the Avalanche’s all-around failures, the near-constant rumors or a combination of the two, Duchene’s best way out of Colorado is proving he can still produce. Sakic has made it clear that he wants to beef up his team’s defense and potentially land a promising or established top-pairing rearguard. And while Duchene definitely has the ability to produce 20-plus goals and 50-plus points on a consistent basis, which team is going to swap a top-two defenseman for a scorer who, simply put, didn’t score this past season? There’s a reason why none of the offers Sakic fielded were enough to get a deal done, and it’s because Colorado isn’t exactly selling high when it comes to Duchene.
But Duchene can drive up his stock, and the possibly the likelihood of the Avalanche finding a trading partner, if he starts putting up the numbers many expect of him. And what could help Duchene do that is that it seems the trade talk is starting to quiet, at least a bit, as the off-season winds on. The rumors will certainly remain on Duchene’s mind, if even only when brought up in the media, but we may be at least a month removed from the last solid reports of trade activity surrounding Duchene. That’s quite the change from the height of the trade talk, when it seemed every single day had a new report, a new potential trade partner, and it gave reason to believe the Duchene Trade Watch was on high alert.
Surely, the talk will heat up as training camp nears and the season starts, and it will again find its way into the daily news should Duchene start to produce for the Avalanche on a nightly basis. That said, if Duchene does manage to score consistently, he’s going to push himself closer towards a conclusion. Teams will be willing to pay a higher price for a player who is clearly still producing.
Until that time, though, the uncertainty is going to continue for Duchene, and finding an identity might only come after he starts to find the scoresheet with consistency this coming season.
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