The next NHL game Matt Duchene plays will be as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and it could very well come against his old team.
After sitting out Thursday’s game in New Jersey to protect their asset, the Ottawa Senators sent Duchene and Julius Bergman to the Blue Jackets in exchange for a package that includes a 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick, a 2020 conditional first-round pick, and prospects Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson.
Here are the details on those draft picks:
Should the draft lottery render the 2019 first-round selection a top-three pick, the Senators will receive Columbus’ 2020 first-round selection instead.
If Duchene signs a 2019-20 contract with the Blue Jackets, Ottawa will receive Columbus’ 2020 first-round pick. (If the 2019 pick moves to 2020 as a result of the lottery and Duchene signs with Columbus, the 2020 conditional pick would then move to 2021).
The Blue Jackets and Senators play one another Friday night in Ottawa and Duchene is expected to be in the lineup. (Duchene’s first game after being traded to the Senators last season was against his old club, the Colorado Avalanche.)
The 28-year-old Duchene has spent the last season and a half in Ottawa, scoring 50 goals and recording 107 points in 118 games. He came to the Senators as part of a big early season trade in 2017-18 that was going to push the team forward after their deep Stanley Cup playoff run in 2017.That didn’t go so well, and the Senators tumbled and tumbled and then traded awayErik Karlsson in September after failing to extend him.
General manager Pierre Dorion hoped to re-sign Duchene, along with fellow pending unrestricted free agents Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel, but it appears now all three will be gone by Monday’s 3 p.m. ET NHL trade deadline.
The addition is a bold move for Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. Facing a summer where he’ll likely watch Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky walk via free agency, this trade signals he’s all-in on a deep playoff run, which he should be. The franchise has yet to win a playoff series in its history and with all signs pointing to two of their biggest names leaving on July 1, he might as well go for it.
Duchene has given no indication he’d sign an extension in Columbus as of now, but if Kekalainen is pushing all of his chips in for a Stanley Cup run, he can worry about contract talks after the season.
Duchene was brought to the club just last season in a blockbuster three-team deal that saw the Senators ship out Kyle Turris to Nashville and send their first-round pick in the coming 2019 NHL Draft to Colorado, among other pieces.
Now the Senators, the worst team in the NHL, are poised to not only not have Duchene, but also not have what could very likely be the first-overall pick in June. The Avalanche, meanwhile, could theoretically have two picks in the top 10 (and even top five if they continue to free fall).
It’s been some year in Ottawa, and it’s not over yet.
The 22-goal, 44-point man sits fourth in team scoring this year, with Stone (62 points) and Duchene (58 points) holding down the 1-2 spots. In a worst-case scenario, the team could be without three of its fourth top scorers and its three top-scoring forwards by 3 p.m. ET on Monday.
Bruce Garrioch from the Ottawa Citizen said the team’s most recent offer is thought to be “serious and comprehensive,” leading to Stone’s camp asking for time to ponder it. Garrioch said it’s likely Stone would be the team’s next captain and it’s centerpiece to build around.
Stone is reportedly wanted by several teams, including the Winnipeg Jets in Stone’s hometown.
If Stone, 26, signs a long-term deal in Ottawa, then he’s going to have to buy into Melnyk’s plan and the plans of general manager Pierre Doiron. The Senators have some decent prospects in their system. If they can find a stud goalie down in short order, perhaps them being in the playoff conversation isn’t all that far off.
But the temptation to have his pick of the litter come July 1st has to be haunting Stone at the moment. The thought of signing long-term in Winnipeg and winning a Stanley Cup for the city he grew up has to be playing heavily on his mind. But really, insert any contender here will to fork out the money, and there’s certainly a few of them.
Stone not being held out of the lineup, like Duchene, may be a good sign at the moment, but there are still 48 hours between now and Ottawa’s game. Things could change in an instant.
We’re down to days and hours until the trade deadline, so the first shoe dropping can’t be all that far off.
At a corporate event on Tuesday, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk pledged that he and the organization would commit the resources necessary to make the team competitive once again, with the goal of bringing the Stanley Cup “to its rightful place in Ottawa.” This news was relayed in a press release sent during Wednesday night’s 5-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The statement mentions that more time is needed to rebuild the roster, but that as early as 2021, the team will begin a sustained period spending close to the salary cap ceiling. Here are the final two paragraphs from the release:
“Mr. Melnyk also confirmed during the presentation that on the hockey side of the business, the expectation is that the Senators rebuilding plan will take another season or two from now, but when his general manager confirms that the Senators have all the pieces of the foundation in place, he made the following pledge to the guests in attendance:
“The Senators will be all-in again for a five-year run of unparalleled success – where the team will plan to spend close to the NHL’s salary cap every year from 2021 to 2025. He reiterated that the Senators’ current rebuild is a blueprint on how to bring the Stanley Cup home to its rightful place in Ottawa.”
There’s a lot to unpack here, but the obvious place to start is whether the Senators could even be in a position to contend as early as this timeline suggests. Of course, so much depends on the future of pending unrestricted free agents Mark Stone and Matt Duchene, the team’s top two scorers. During Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN, Bob McKenzie reported that the primary concern for both players does not involve dollars and cents, but rather how soon the team would become competitive. That remains a major question considering the Sens are at the bottom of the NHL standings. To make matters worse, the potential lottery pick they would get as a “reward” for cellar-dwelling actually belongs to Colorado as a result of last year’s Duchene trade. That puts even more pressure on general manager Pierre Dorion to get deals done for his two best forwards.
Optimists can point to the return Ottawa got from San Jose in the Erik Karlsson deal, which included a heavy dose of draft picks. But a Sharks postseason appearance this year (a virtual lock at this point) means that Ottawa won’t receiving a first-rounder from them until 2020. So, barring another significant move, it will be at least another year before the Senators pick on day 1 of the draft.
Another reason to believe Ottawa can pivot quickly is that the modern NHL is rife with parity and turnover amongst playoff teams. Each of the past two seasons, seven teams made the playoffs after missing the prior year. And the Senators themselves are familiar with this, having missed the playoffs in 2015-16 before making it all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final the following year. Then again, relying on recent trends does not make for a sound strategy.
Moving beyond the proposed timeline of the rebuild, how will Senators fans interpret the latest statement from their team’s owner? Over the past year-plus, Melnyk has delivered mixed messages about the franchise, most notably in December 2017, when he stirred up a controversy by raising the possibility of relocation. Though Melnyk did walk those comments back shortly thereafter, it is still understandable that fans might view this “blueprint” with a degree of skepticism.
Regardless of how this plays out, it is encouraging that Melnyk offered a specific plan for how the team will approach the future, and it gives fans something to hold him accountable to. But before Melnyk and Dorion can begin spending to the cap ceiling, they must focus on the negotiations with Duchene and Stone so the roster doesn’t suffer another Karlsson-sized subtraction. Perhaps these comments will serve as part of the sales pitch to keep them in the fold long-term.
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.