The Matt Duchene saga is starting to feel like a never-ending story, and not of the Falkor variety.
It’s been months now, closing in on a year, since Duchene’s name first popped up in trade talk, and the Colorado Avalanche have seen a trade deadline and entire off-season pass yet the 26-year-old center remains in the lineup without any real indication that a trade is imminent. That Duchene remains on the roster has led many to speculate as to what exactly would need to happen in order for the Avalanche to finally pull the trigger on a deal, and others to opine on what exactly Colorado should be doing in the interim.
And when it comes to the latter, no less an authority than Avalanche legend Peter Forsberg weighed in over the weekend. According to the Denver Post's Mike Chambers, Forsberg was asked about Duchene during a Swedish broadcast of the Avalanche’s outing against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday and said if it were up to him, Duchene would be sitting in the stands.
“If I were playing with a player that I know doesn't even want to be on the team, it's not like he is going to throw himself on the ice and block shots with his head,” said Forsberg according to the Denver Post. “It is mostly difficult to have a player like that on the team, although he is skillful and is doing his best. I would rather play with someone that wants to be there. I would put him on the bench and trade him.”
On one hand, you can understand where Forsberg is coming from. It’s the team-first mentality. He’s of the mind that players who want to be there, are dying to get their spot in the lineup and fighting for every second of ice time, should be the ones playing. And that’s all good and well. But Duchene, upon his arrival in training camp, said that he was in Colorado to play for his teammates and doing so out of respect for those in the dressing room. Beyond that, there’s nothing to suggest Duchene has taken even a single shift off this season. Matter of fact, to hear Avs coach Jared Bednar tell it, Duchene has been excellent.
“I think Matt’s a top player for us right now, arguably our best forward (against New Jersey), so I like the way we’re handling the situation. I like the way he’s handling it,” Bednar said, according to Chambers. “He’s here to play and his line has been real good.”
The real flaw in Forsberg’s argument, though, is that it doesn’t serve the Avalanche to send Duchene to the sidelines.
Colorado is in for a penny, in for a pound with Duchene. The Avalanche and GM Joe Sakic have held firm in their desire to get exactly what they want back — or as close to it as possible — in any trade for Duchene. And if their resolve is so strong that this has dragged on to this point, it makes no sense to suddenly bend and break only to get a partial return.
It’s been discussed before, but Duchene’s trade value was and is realistically as low as it has been in years. He’s coming off of the worst full season of his career. A career 30-goal threat, he managed 18 goals and 41 points in 77 games last year and was part of an abysmal Avalanche squad. No team was about to pay a premium price, or the reported top-tier defenseman price tag, to land Duchene when that was his most recent performance. So, the best move for the Avalanche and Sakic, especially if there’s no intention of budging, is let Duchene play to increase his value.
One could argue he’s done that thus far, too. Duchene has put up a goal and three points in three games for the Avalanche. His line alongside rookie Alexander Kerfoot and reclamation project Nail Yakupov has been, as Bednar noted, one of the better units for Colorado — the trio has seven combined points — and has managed to drive possession quite well on a team that struggled to do so last season. It’s also worth noting that Duchene is producing in fewer minutes. His average ice time thus far is 14:33, the lowest of his career. He’s fourth among forwards in even-strength ice time, fifth in power play ice time and sixth in average ice time, trailing J.T. Compher and Sven Andrighetto in the latter.
If Duchene continues to perform and shows he can be a near point-per-game player again, it makes him a much more attractive acquisition. It also makes his cap hit, a healthy $6 million for two more seasons, much more palatable for the team acquiring him. There are only eight teams with the $6-million-plus cap space necessary to bring Duchene aboard without also shifting salary out, while 17 teams have $3 million or less in available space.
Truthfully, the only sound argument against benching Duchene for any extended period of time is to help him avoid serious injury. The last thing the Avalanche need is for Duchene to go down with a season-long ailment that makes him an unattractive trade acquisition and puts them back in this situation next summer.
But oftentimes no risk means no reward. Duchene needs to be on the ice if for no other reason than increasing his value and making himself worth Sakic’s asking price, something he most certainly wouldn't be doing by snacking on popcorn with an aerial view of the Avalanche.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.