Joe Sakic & The Matt Duchene Situation

Well… Matt Duchene is still here.

It’s been a tough couple of months for Avalanche forward Matt Duchene. The final 35 games of the NHL campaign Duchene tallied a measly 2 goals and 12 points, finishing with a total of 41 points – the second worst output of his career (Lockout shortened season included).

The disastrous season snowballed into the World Championships where Duchene only managed 1 goal in 10 games with powerhouse Team Canada, the eventual winners of Silver Medals.

The Matt Duchene who played in the World Championships with Team Canada looked exactly like the Matt Duchene who finished the final 35 games in Colorado – lethargic, disconnected, frustrated, checked out.

Many of the Matt Duchene apologists have said Duchene had a bad year because he was on a terrible team. And he played with terrible line mates. And he had the uncertainly of whether or not he was going to be traded by his boyhood team weighing over him. I wouldn’t completely disagree with any of that. All of those factors accumulated into a disastrous season in Colorado for Duchene.

Those same Duchene apologists also said that once he gets away from Denver for a bit, once he clears his head, that Duchene would return to form. Once he gets to Europe and play for Team Canada in the World Championships where he’ll get to play with better players, he’ll find his game.

But he didn’t. It just didn’t happen.

But know what did happen? Nathan MacKinnon was fire for Team Canada and reminded the hockey world why he was drafted 1st overall in 2013. Tyson Barrie, before being taken out of the Worlds because of an injury, produced a ton of points for Canada in his few games played. Now former Avs goaltender Calvin Pickard nearly backstopped Canada to a Gold Medal. Gabriel Landeskog looked like the Landeskog of old as Team Sweden took home Gold.

All of these players, who also had mediocre seasons in Colorado, bounced back in a big way and had great tournaments. But Matt Duchene didn’t.

Sure, you can argue that those guys don’t have the same situations hanging over them like Duchene does. But does that even matter? Matt Duchene should have showed the hockey world that the past year was behind him. That it was a fluke. That it was simply a case of bad luck and snake bite. The World Championships definitely wasn’t the anti-venom Duchene and the Avs were hoping it would be.

It probably made it worse. And let’s be honest here, the World Championships certainly hasn’t helped the stock of Matt Duchene in regards to a potential trade. His stock has plummeted.

Matt Duchene has been in trade rumors since November 2015. Many thought he was going to be traded last summer until Joe Sakic decided to give the team’s core another shot. Then that team went out and finished with the worst record in nearly 20 years. And throughout the tumultuous year, Duchene‘s name was permanently stuck in trade rumors and speculation.

It has gotten to a place where Duchene knows his time in Denver is over, the Avs know his time in Denver is over, yet he’s still here. It’s like a couple who has signed their divorce papers but remain living in the same house. It’s awkward.

It’s time to move on. Each side needs a fresh start.

And that brings us to Colorado Avalanche legend and current Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic. He has found himself in a very difficult and messy situation.

A lot of people are roasting Sakic and saying his asks in regards to a Matt Duchene trade to be “not within reality”. His ask is reportedly a top notch defenseman (20-24 years of age), a top prospect and a 1st round pick. Whether or not you think that is an extraordinary and unrealistic asking price, let’s take a closer look at Joe Sakic‘s perspective on this.

People are saying things like “Sakic wants the moon for Duchene,” “What he’s asking for is ludicrous,” etc. Joe Sakic is asking A LOT for Duchene. There’s no question about it. However, these are the same people who said the Avalanche got fleeced in the Ryan O’Reilly trade. Fans and media alike say all the time that Sakic got nothing out of that trade. Do you not think Joe Sakic is aware of that? Sakic‘s reputation as a GM isn’t held in the same regard as Joe Sakic‘s reputation as a hockey player. Joe Sakic has to make sure he gets the best possible return for Matt Duchene. His job and perhaps even his legacy is on the line for this. Sakic can’t afford to lose this trade. Teams are trying to buy low on Duchene and trying to take advantage of Sakic. Instead of being bullied into a trade he’s not comfortable with, Sakic is standing his ground. His asking price hasn’t changed.

As for New York Islanders fans who think Calvin De Haan (and Travis Hamonic before he was traded to Calgary) along with other pieces were good enough to net Matt Duchene, maybe if the Avalanche were in a different spot it would be. The Colorado Avalanche are in a situation where they are a few years away from being competitive. De Haan and Hamonic are 26/27 by the time next season starts. The Avs‘ ‘window to win’ just doesn’t fall in line with those guys. When the Avalanche are finally ready to compete both of those guys are going to start to decline. That is exactly why this trade hasn’t been made.

If the Avalanche were ready to compete or were in another situation where they didn’t just come off a 48 point season, the Avalanche probably make the trade with the Islanders (they still might, not ruling it out). Islanders fans aren’t wrong when they say it’s more than a fair offer. However, if you consider the Avalanche‘s situation and the position they currently sit in, it doesn’t make sense for Colorado. The Avs need players that are in the same age bracket as MacKinnon/Jost/Rantanen/Landeskog so when they all hit their stride, the Avs will be dangerous and ready to compete. Acquiring a 26-27 year old defenseman like a De Haan or Hamonic doesn’t fit the Avalanche‘s timetable for when they want to compete for a Stanley Cup. Islanders fans (and fans of other teams in general) aren’t seeing this side unfortunately.

That’s the Avs and Sakic‘s perspective.

But to be fair, Joe Sakic hasn’t exactly handled the situation perfectly either.

Joe Sakic has dragged this out for far too long now. With Duchene having two years left on his contract, you would think that Sakic doesn’t have to trade Duchene at all. But by letting this drag out, for letting it be known that he’s looking to trade him, Sakic has put himself and the Avs in a situation where he has to trade Duchene. He’s created a toxic environment. An environment where Duchene can no longer thrive in and most likely has no desire to play in anymore.

Although Sakic has never come out and say he wants to trade Matt Duchene, he has never come out and denied it either. He’s never come and say he wants Duchene to remain an Av. He has left Duchene dangling in the wind. And it’s quite possible that Duchene has had enough. Sakic went from keeping Duchene/listening to trade offers for him to having to trade him because of all the media circus around it.

Not a great situation.

Another thing that Sakic has done that is questionable is that he’s backed himself into a corner by not wanting prospects or older players but strictly defensemen who have NHL experience between the ages of 20-24.

There’s a rumor, via A.J. Haefele of BSNDenver, that the Nashville Predators had offered d-men prospects Dante Fabbro and Sam Girard for Matt Duchene. Fabbro and Girard were the Predators‘ top two picks in the 2016 Draft. Reportedly, this wasn’t good enough for Sakic as they are not NHL ready.

Then there’s this whole New York Islanders fiasco and what they have or haven’t offered. Some believe (like Arthur Staple of Newsday Sports) that the Avs wanted soon to be 27 year old Travis Hamonic as the centerpiece of a Matt Duchene trade. If you ask Adrian Dater of BSNDenver and B.D. Gallof of Isles Beat that’s not true. I would gather that Dater and Gallof are right on this. Hamonic is almost 27 years old and Sakic wants a defenseman between the ages of 20-24, plus other pieces as part of a package.

Sakic doesn’t want prospects as part of the centerpiece for Duchene neither does he want a defenseman over the age of 25. By doing this, Sakic has backed himself into a corner, and in the process he has limited his options. There are very few teams, if any, who are willing to part with a high level d-man who is no older than 24 years old. Teams are just not willing to part with that.

Sakic has found himself in an uncomfortable position where he almost has to trade Matt Duchene but doesn’t have a trading partner that can offer what he wants. He’s kind of stuck in limbo here.

The Carolina Hurricanes are still perfect trading partners. They are the rare team that needs a Matt Duchene in their lineup AND has a plethora of young defensemen that fits what Joe Sakic is looking for. The Avs would love to get their hands on Jaccob Slavin or Brett Pesce but they’re not going anywhere. The Hurricanes would want to give up Justin Faulk but that’s not a great fit for the Avs. Faulk being 25 isn’t the issue. The issue is that Faulk is more of an offensive d-man and he’s a right shot. The Avs already have two top 4 right shot d-men in Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie. The Avs need a left shot defenseman.

But the Hurricanes do have Noah Hanifin… a 20 year old left shot defenseman who was drafted 5th overall in 2015 and has two NHL campaigns under his belt. Can the Hurricanes and the Avs just get a deal done that involves Duchene going to Carolina and Hanifin to Colorado already? The Hurricanes have so many good young defensemen that it’s not the end of the world if they lose Hanifin. They also get their much needed top line center in Duchene. For the Avs, they get their #1 d-man that fits their age bracket and their window.

It’s such a shame these two teams can’t get something done.

Another team that fits the Avs’ ask for a 20-24 year old defenseman is the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have Olli Maata. He turns 23 years old in August. He’s a left shot. He has two Stanley Cup rings. He’s 6’2 and weighs 205 Lbs. But he’s injury prone, missing 104 games in the previous 3 seasons combined, and he’s coming off a season where he only scored 1 goal and 7 points in 55 games.

The question is do the Avs like Maata? If so, and I’m not championing this as I would look elsewhere, then a trade between the Avs and Penguins would seem very likely. If I’m the Avs, I walk away. The injuries and the declining production is concerning and extremely worrisome.

The Ottawa Senators are also still a possibility but I think that’s even less likely now that they lost Marc Methot in the Expansion Draft. But you never know.

It’s going to be an interesting next couple of weeks for the Colorado Avalanche and Matt Duchene. Does Joe Sakic find what’s he looking for? Does Matt Duchene remain with the Avalanche? So many questions, yet so little answers.

Joe Sakic is feeling the heat. His job is on the line. Does he flinch?

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