James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Would Duchene for Murray, Jenner trade make sense for Avs, Blue Jackets?

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With Colorado Avalanche training camp looming on Thursday, the urge to trade Matt Duchene might rise. For some Avs fans, it could be as much about getting some closure as anything else.

Now, it’s important to note that there’s no word on a trade being close.

Really, there are plenty of reports that indicate that Avalanche GM Joe Sakic continues to hold out for a great deal, whether you believe his aims are reasonable or not.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in “31 Thoughts” that the Avalanche may have at least discussed P.K. Subban with the Nashville Predators, and updates back up the notion that Sakic is shooting high:

Wow.

So, to reiterate, it could be quite a while before the Avalanche trade Duchene. It’s really difficult to tell, especially since moves can come together quickly after laying dormant for what seems like ages.

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So, again, this isn’t to say a trade is coming. With training camp nearing, it’s fun to break down the facets of a possible move, anyway.

On Tuesday, PHT pondered the Hurricanes giving up Noah Hanifin for Duchene. Such an idea didn’t seem particularly well-received by Carolina fans.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports that the Columbus Blue Jackets have not offered up the combination of Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray to try to nab Duchene, but in a Wednesday newsletter, Portzline reported that such a combination could possibly meet the Avalanche’s needs.

Even beyond this post’s earlier disclaimer, it’s important to note that Portzline reports Jenner is a little banged up, so that would likely hold up a move even if Sakic would bite:

Let’s explore the logic of a possible move, though.

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A game-breaker for Columbus?

The Hurricanes and Blue Jackets have at least two things in common that could make a Duchene trade more feasible and palatable: each franchise boasts a nice prospect stockpile and lack a true top center.

Now, you can argue that Duchene isn’t an “elite” No. 1 pivot, but he could really flesh out Columbus’ group (and take some pressure off, say, Alex Wennberg).

It’s easy to fixate on Duchene’s rough 2016-17 season, but at age 26, it’s fair to argue that last season was an anomaly. The Avalanche were a borderline historic disaster, and even if Duchene could have played better, it’s absurd to pin too much on the speedy scorer.

Look at his previous four sesaons and you’ll see evidence of a gamebreaker, especially in the low-scoring, modern NHL.

Duchene generated at least 20 goals in three straight seasons from 2013-14 to 2015-16, and he almost hit 20 (scoring 17) during the 48-game lockout season of 2012-13.

The Blue Jackets, to some extent, score by committee. Adding a little more dynamic skill could really help Columbus find that “extra gear.”

Murray, the mystery

Reports have already surfaced that Ryan Murray wouldn’t be enough of a showpiece to pry Duchene away from Colorado.

Portzline indicates that a package involving Murray and Jenner could move the needle more, so let’s ponder Murray for a moment.

Considering that the Avalanche are shooting high for a Duchene return, they’d have to figure that Murray, 23, needs a fresh start. Management might even see the potential for a high-draft-pick turnaround that parallels how Erik Johnson‘s enjoyed a nice run with the Avs.

Because, yikes, it’s been a bumpy ride. Injuries derailed his early development, and Murray seemed generally overwhelmed in 2016-17:

via Domenic Galamini

Yep, that would require a leap of faith … or the Avalanche would really need to be smitten by Boone Jenner.

On Jenner

Jenner is an interesting test case in perception.

Yes, he scored 30 goals in 2015-16, but nine of them came on the power play. Jenner was limited to 18 goals in 2016-17, with none coming on Columbus’ locomotive man-advantage. Realistic expectations probably place him at 20 goals with modest playmaking.

Jenner brings nice size and is only 24, so there are selling points.

Still, it’s possible that Blue Jackets management views his strengths as redundant. He averaged less than 30 seconds of power-play time last season after logging about two minutes per night in 2015-16, for instance,

Some conclusions

Jenner ($2.9M, RFA after 2017-18) and Murray ($2.825M, RFA after 2017-18) and Duchene ($6M, UFA after 2018-19) all have their strengths and weaknesses. They’re all at or approaching a fork in the road in their careers with little time on their current contracts.

A Jenner + Murray combo could make some sense for the Avalanche, especially with both being at prime ages. You’d think that the Blue Jackets might need to sweeten the deal with a prospect, at least considering how big Sakic is seemingly dreaming.

Personally, from a Blue Jackets perspective, this seems like a great deal.

It would set the stage for a potentially fascinating summer of 2019, as Duchene, Artemi Panarin, and Sergei Bobrovsky would all be eligible for unrestricted free agency. On the other hand, that would allow Columbus to assess where the franchise is at over a season or two, and pivot if they feel that this group just can’t get it done.

One understands the lure of hoarding prospects, especially with how fans can sometimes get attached to the daydream of production that may never come. Sometimes you have to swing for the fences, though, and the Blue Jackets might want to do that with Duchene.

You know, if they can actually convince Sakic to accept a reasonable deal.

Maple Leafs will wear sweet throwback jerseys for ‘Next Century Game’

via Maple Leafs
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On Dec. 19, 1917, the Toronto Arenas played in the first game in NHL history.

The Maple Leafs will commemorate that occasion by hosting the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 19, 2017, and they’ll wear some sweet throwback duds to really hammer home how historic the “Next Century Game” will be.

You can see one angle of those sweet sweaters (which will probably make a healthy profit in merchandising), while others tweeted out fuller shots:

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced that Dec. 19 will also stand as “Toronto Maple Leafs Day,” which called for this great bit, via Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.

Heh, nice.

For way more details about this event, check out the Maple Leafs’ full release.

Flames’ future in Calgary in jeopardy? King says new arena talks are over

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Mark Sept. 12, 2017 as a particularly rough day regarding arena news for NHL teams (and cities wanting to add or retain them).

First, a seemingly promising Seattle arena announcement either unraveled or was put on hold after Seattle Mayor Ed Murray resigned amid sexual abuse allegations.

The Calgary Flames’ situation isn’t quite as bizarre or scandalous; it’s possible that there might be some typical bluster involved when teams try to cajole cities into helping build new arenas. Still, Sportsnet’s Eric Francis broke some troubling news: Flames exec Ken King said that the team is no longer looking to build a new arena in Calgary.

Francis reports that King said that, while he doesn’t know what this development means for the Flames’ future in Calgary, they will operate there “as long as we can.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman provided some tough talk, as Francis reports:

Fun.

This isn’t the first time that Bettman’s threatened Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi about this process; back in January 2016, he warned against the city “falling further behind” in getting a new building secured. In April 2016, the Flames still seemed determined for at least some public funding to come their way.

The Flames have become more aggressive in their phrasing lately, back in June, Brian Burke reportedly wondered if the team might need to move if a new arena can’t be found. King wondered the same thing on April 1.

The franchise walks a tightrope here, with columns criticizing the plan sprouting up as early as 2015. When it comes to securing funding for a new arena, cities tend to differ wildly. Abundant stories about “white elephants” from Olympic years have only increased scrutiny over how wise it really is to devote taxpayer money to professional sports teams.

Again, it’s common for ownership groups to try to flex their muscles, yet the NFL’s Los Angeles movements also show that relocation isn’t always an idle threat. Will that happen with Calgary? Much like with any arena situation, we’ll need to wait and see (while likely navigating some twists and turns).

Speaking of expansion and relocation, this bit about NHL players favoring Quebec for expansion seems increasingly relevant one day later.

Connor McDavid might be … really funny?

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Another day, another funny advertisement featuring Connor McDavid.

At first, it seemed like the Edmonton Oilers megastar was merely holding his own in this great set of “shooting challenge” ads with San Jose Sharks star-wookie Brent Burns.

Allow me to admit some guilt in possibly not giving McDavid enough credit for his half of that CCM haul, as he sure seemed to chirp Burns quite well. You could argue that he got the better of one of the oddest, most enjoyable players in the league in Burns.

The bigger question might be if McDavid is worthy of an “SNL” hosting gig, as this spot/bit he did for “NHL 18” was truly inspired work.

Dropping “Corsi” and dressing up as a fancy stats kid was the highlight:

Now, after a couple years of McDavid giving monotone interviews that seemed to come straight from the Sidney Crosby School of Cliches, it was tempting to write him off as the next, bland star.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see McDavid continue that trend, at least with the traditional press. After all, what motivation does McDavid really have to go too deep, especially since certain media members might be more eager to criticize him than others? (Heavens forbid if McDavid likes hot dogs and the Oilers happen to lose some games.)

Even if we must only savor these moments in commercials, they’ve been great. And, hey, McDavid was also a great sport once this awkward photo went viral, so maybe we’ll get more from the speedy center than many expected.

Hey, he already inked that $12.5 million deal. That’s as close as you’ll see to “hockey tenure,” so maybe that will prompt McDavid to continue cutting loose?

Would Matt Duchene be worth Hurricanes trading Noah Hanifin?

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Tuesday represented the return of Elliotte Friedman’s treasured “31 Thoughts” for Sportsnet, and with that, the venerable reporter described three situations for Matt Duchene: the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, and Carolina Hurricanes.

Friedman indicates that the Blue Jackets’ offering* wasn’t sufficient, and raised eyebrows that a Duchene – P.K. Subban swap was at least broached, though maybe just by one side.

The Hurricanes stand as an especially interesting consideration because they’re hoping to take that next step to become a real player in the Metropolitan Division. Check out this intriguing assessment from Friedman:

This is my opinion, but the kind of player Colorado covets is Carolina’s Noah Hanifin. Hurricanes GM Ron Francis has made it clear he doesn’t like the idea of trading for two years of Duchene if Hanifin is the price, but there comes a time a GM must gamble.

The Hurricanes are doing the right things — building, trending in a good direction. You see it coming. Their window to chase a playoff berth is opening. They are deep on the blue line, but need scoring. In hockey’s toughest division, your flaws are even more exposed. Would it surprise you if Sakic is looking at his fellow Hall of Famer, thinking Francis is ready to play the final card for a big pot?

Hmm.

Let’s ponder some of the thought processes involved.

Trading from a position of strength

The Hurricanes are loaded with quality, young defensemen. Hanifin may boast one of the highest ceilings, but Justin Faulk is a scoring machine on the blueline while Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin are up-and-comers who just signed beefy contract extensions. The Hurricanes also have some intriguing defensive prospects, Jake Bean included.

MORE: Get to know the Hurricanes’ deep group of talented, young defensemen.

Meanwhile, the Avalanche are downright atrocious on the blueline, and it’s plausible that they won’t return to respectability anytime soon. They’d likely relish getting the chance to develop 20-year-old Hanifin, thus landing an intriguing asset for 26-year-old Duchene.

Struggles in 2016-17

It’s fair to argue that the scary thing for the Hurricanes is that Hanifin is less of a known quantity.

There’s the risk of this trade looking quite bad if Hanifin explodes to a star-level in Colorado, even if Duchene seems likely to at least flirt with the 25-goal, 60-point form we’re more accustomed to.

Interestingly enough, both players would hypothetically be moved at moments of perceived lower value. Canes Country’s Peter Dewar notes that Hanifin’s game really blossomed once he was given more reps following Ron Hainsey‘s departure, but there are a lot of ways in which the fifth pick of 2015 looked overwhelmed last season:

In a strange way, it would be oddly fair: both players are likely to play at a higher level than they did in 2016-17. The challenging part would be gauging just how much better Duchene and Hanifin might be.

Know when to hold them …

Hanifin (15) defending Duchene in international play, via Getty

Personally, a Hanifin – Duchene trade smells a lot like Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones, or even Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev.

There are issues on both sides. Hanifin’s entering the final year of his rookie contract, so a breakthrough year could be very costly. Duchene’s $6M cap hit expires after two seasons; after that, he’d be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Cost certainty wouldn’t be included in this deal, so the Hurricanes could worry that they’d end up paying a lot more for Duchene than the Avalanche will for Hanifin, at least any time soon. And, again, there’s the concern that Hanifin could see dramatic growth upward.

Still, much like the Predators when they dealt Jones, sometimes you need to give up a valuable asset to make your team better. That’s particularly true when you’re addressing a strength while dealing with a weakness. Even Francis (kind of, sort of) admits that the Hurricanes lack a true No. 1 center.

Duchene might not be perfect in that role, but a Duchene – Victor RaskJordan Staal trio could get things done by committee. (Duchene or someone else could go to the wing and allow Marcus Kruger to be part of that pivot group, too.)

Now, it’s crucial to remember that Friedman was merely providing his opinion in stating that Hanifin might be the guy that the Avalanche desire in a potential Duchene trade. If that’s indeed true and you were in Francis’ shoes, would you pull the trigger?

* – Note: reports from earlier this summer indicated that the Blue Jackets were dangling intriguing (yet frustrating) defenseman Ryan Murray as part of a potential package for Duchene.