Of course, the dark comedy didn’t stop once Duchene was traded from the Avalanche to the Senators. Thanks in part to a quantum leap by Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado erupted after the trade, while the Senators imploded in 2017-18. Things only got worse from there, as drama and turmoil surrounded the organization, with issues going even deeper than trading away stars in Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman.
Considering all of the headaches (and, as Duchene would say it, kicks below the belt), it seemed like 2018-19 would only bring about more uncomfortable chuckles.
And, no doubt, there have been. We’re talking about the Ottawa Senators here.
There are also the continued misadventures of owner Eugene Melnyk, who doubles as hockey’s Don Quixote.
All of those swirling controversies shouldn’t distract from this fact: Duchene is absolutely on fire. As great as Patrik Laine has been lately, you could make an argument that Duchene is the hottest player in the NHL right now. At minimum, opponents aren’t getting many chances to trash talk him, because they’re too busy trying to catch their breath after failing to keep up with the speedy center.
Duchene might be most satisfied to realize that he’s been a little ahead of Nathan MacKinnon lately. Since Nov. 6, Duchene’s generated 21 points, tying him with Nikita Kucherov for the league lead (and edging MacKinnon by one point).
Nitpickers will point to his 19.7 shooting percentage, yet if any NHL player deserves some bounces, it’s Duchene.
Delightfully, plenty of Duchene’s points have come in exhilarating fashion. I’ve seen Duchene bat this rebound out of mid-air at least 10 times, and I don’t expect it to get old even if I see it in perpetuity:
Raise your hand if that goal leaves you belly-laughing. This stuff is right up there – maybe even better than – some of Sidney Crosby‘s “MLB audition” goals.
As you’d expect from a hockey player, Duchene mostly gave the “Aw shucks” treatment after that goal, although he did provide Sportsnet with some interesting insight. He explained that he might have been a little angry that his initial shot attempt was blocked, possibly driving him to get another mustard on the swipe that actually netted a goal.
Maybe that goal captures the spirit of what Duchene is doing right now.
He very well might be frustrated with his situation. Sure, the Senators have been far more entertaining than expected, with high-scoring games making it easier to accept certain aspects of their struggles. (Note: Senators fans probably still aren’t very happy with Melnyk.) It must be exasperating for Duchene to get traded into another losing scenario.
Yet, Duchene is responding by combining skill and will to do the best he can to put his team in a position to win.
A lot was made about Kyle Turris enjoying a strong start in Nashville, while Duchene’s stay with Ottawa opened with a thud.
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Turris is perfectly fine (when healthy), but that punchline is about as relevant as Y2K jokes at this point. Despite that tough start, Duchene generated 49 points in 68 games with Ottawa last season, translating to a .72 points-per-game average, virtually matching his run in Colorado (.73 ppg). Of course, he slammed that door shut with even greater velocity by roaring out of the gate this season.
Prepare for turbulence
There could still be some stormy days ahead for Duchene, mind you.
That 19.7 shooting percentage isn’t likely to last all season. The grind of an 82-game campaign might change reactions from “Hey, these Senators aren’t half-bad” to “These Senators need to be more than half-good.”
The 27-year-old also faces some uncertainty.
Duchene’s $6M cap hit will expire after the 2018-19 season, opening the door for free agency. While the Senators might not want to part ways with another key player after trading Karlsson and Hoffman (not to mention questions surrounding Mark Stone), this team’s reality as a rebuilding team might prompt yet another Duchene trade.
In recent history, drastic change of locales have often been tough on players, particularly ones who play big roles. There’s no guarantee that a third team would be a charm for Duchene, if a trade were to happen.
Whatever happens down the line, Duchene’s been fantastic this season, and must feel liberated to just get out on the ice. It hasn’t just been about numbers, either, as he’s frequently been a blast to watch.
Really, Duchene getting the last laugh is something we can all smile about.
The tribute was more of a public service announcement, if we’re being honest. The announcer rattled off some of his stats from his time in Colorado. No video tribute, only a camera planted on Duchene who gave a wave to the cheering crowd.
Ottawa coming to town doesn’t normally evoke extra excitement. Then again, the Senators have never come to Denver with a former franchise player who demanded to be traded.
Friday night’s game at Pepsi Center pits Ottawa center Matt Duchene against his former team, the Colorado Avalanche, more than a year after he was dealt to the Senators in a three-team trade. Duchene was open about not wanting to be with the Avalanche when training camp started in 2017, saying he reported to the team to honor his contract.
A month later, he was with the Senators who, ironically, acquired him just before Colorado and Ottawa played a two-game set in Sweden. So this is the first time since the trade he will play in Denver, where he was an Avalanche for eight-plus seasons after being drafted third overall in the 2009 draft.
“It’s a lot of emotions, obviously,” Duchene told reporters Thursday. “It’s going to be really weird to walk into that rink. The only time I’ve been in the guest locker room is when we were doing our blood tests in training camp. It’s definitely going to be an interesting experience.
“There will be some nerves and some anxiety but once I get on the ice and just play hockey it should be a little easier.”
The Avalanche made out well, getting four players and three draft picks from the Senators and Nashville combined. One player, 20-year-old defenseman Samuel Girard, has become one of Colorado’s top blueliners.
The Avalanche (6-2-2) turned the page pretty quickly on the Duchene trade, reaching the playoffs for the first time in four years last spring. They’ve started strong this season despite suffering a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday night.
It was the first time they had been shut out at home since March 2017, and it’s not hard to see why they’ve been able to score. The top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog has been producing points since last season. Wednesday was the first time they were held without a point this season.
Right after the loss the players were focusing on Ottawa.
“Good teams respond, so it obviously (stinks) tonight,” defenseman Ian Cole said after the loss to the Lightning. “You know, it’s a missed opportunity for us to beat a great hockey team but, like I said, we’re going to reassess, have a practice tomorrow and be ready to go come Friday night.”
Ottawa (4-3-1) is coming off a 4-1 loss to Boston but had won three straight before facing the Bruins. They are led in scoring by Thomas Chabot (three goals, seven assists) with Duchene third with eight points (one goal, seven assists).
Duchene isn’t the only player making a return to Denver. Goaltender Craig Anderson spent a year and a half with the Avalanche and backstopped them to the playoffs in 2010 when he played in a career-high 71 games. He has faced the Avalanche before, so the fans’ focus will be on Duchene.
Devan Dubnyk and Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild: Two goals by Parise and 22 saves by Dubnyk helped the Wild to a 3-0 shutout win against the Edmonton Oilers. The win was huge for the Wild, with both the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche losing. Minnesota is now five points clear of the Avalanche and six clear of the Blues in the race for third place in the Central Division.
William Nylander and Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs: Both Nylander and Matthews recorded three-point nights — each had two goals and an assist — as the Leafs trounced the Buffalo Sabres 5-2.
Matt Duchene and Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators: The Senators lost 6-5 in a goal-fest against the Winnipeg Jets. Like Nylander and Matthews for Toronto, both Senators listed here had two goals and an assist each. Duchene’s two markers brought him to the 200-goal milestone for his career.
I was lucky enough to have had a chance to play with Hank and Danny for 8 seasons. Two of the greatest players of all time. The best of teammates I’ve ever had and the nicest people you’ll ever meet! They truly were great ambassadors for the game.