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Is Matt Duchene fighting for his Avalanche future on this road trip?

Austin Manak Avatar
November 10, 2015


As the Colorado Avalanche embark on a season-long, seven-game road trip starting tonight, the trade rumor mill has been injected with a dose of hot sauce to spice things up. Former Avs’ beat writer, Adrian Dater, speculated on his twitter account that he believes Matt Duchene will be traded this season by the Avalanche.

First off, thank you Mr. Dater, for giving me reason to believe my personal favorite player to watch when he is on his game may soon be shipped out of Denver. With the Avalanche unable to hit the W column with much regularity this season, trade talk is inevitable.

Change is inevitable in the sports landscape, and it often is abrupt and heartless when an organization is struggling. Dater went on to elaborate, that his feeling was these next few weeks hold a lot of weight in the decision making process for Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy going forward. More losses will almost certainly result in change.

Denver has recent experience in this regard, with the Colorado Rockies shipping out superstar shortstop, and fan-favorite, Troy Tulowitzki this past season. Tulo was the face of the Rockies, but that wasn’t enough to keep Rockies’ management from pulling the trigger on a deal they thought could change the course of their franchise.

Matt Duchene may be a fan-favorite with the Avalanche, a player who will be loyal to the team to the end, and an electric talent who can change the fabric of a hockey game in a flash — but does that make him untouchable? Maybe not so fast in the eyes of the Avalanche brass. Should Duchene be a player the Avalanche actively look to trade?

The argument for trading Duchene stems from a position of panic in my opinion. General consensus is that Patrick Roy’s job is untouchable at the moment, and perhaps for as long as he intends to remain an NHL head coach. Whether you believe that’s the right stance or not, it appears to be the way things are. Since the Avalanche aren’t going to try and spark the team with a new bench-boss, yet they still want to shake things up, logic suggests they jolt the roster with a big trade.

Matt Duchene has started the 2015-16 NHL campaign in a slump, which is road he has traveled before. Currently, he sits 10th in scoring on the Avalanche, with four goals and six points through 14 games. To state things bluntly, this isn’t the type of production required from a top-three draft choice, and a top-three forward on a roster.

At 24-years old, Duchene should be in the prime of his career, and a player the Avalanche can rely on to fill up the scoresheet. Since Duchene hasn’t lived up to his end of the bargain, and the Avalanche are last in the Western Conference at 4-9-1, he certainly deserves some responsibility for the team’s shortcomings.

There is also a fear that Duchene, despite his offensive talent, he will never match up consistently with other top-six centers in the Western Conference. While a glowing defensive game will never be a staple of Duchene’s game, he is certainly an adequate two-way player.

I believe there is a huge misconception about his ability to effectively handle his responsibilities as a two-way center and match up against tough competition. So far this season, Duchene is second on the Avalanche in Corsi % (shots at net for/shots at net against), and his Corsi relative, a metric that gives a general idea of how much a player is driving shot rates relative to his teammates, is the best of any forward on the Avalanche.

This WOWY (with or without you) chart, courtesy of hockeyviz.com, highlights Duchene’s positive impact on his linemates thus far. As you can see, Duchene performs better without most players on this list, and those players really struggle without Duchene. Perhaps number 9 is controlling the play more than we give him credit.

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 11.45.45 AM The take home message is that Matt Duchene is a hockey player struggling to put up points, but there are underlying numbers that showcase him having a positive impact on the Avalanche despite this. Cam Ward and Ben Bishop robbing Duchene with ridiculous saves, Jarome Iginla muffing centering passes on the doorstep, and Alex Tanguay whizzing shots wide of open nets in the desert have all negatively impacted Duchene’s money stats.

These stats are important, obviously. You need to score goals to win games, and the Avs need Duchene to put up numbers. However, I would argue that Duchene has created plenty of opportunity for those stats to have been there. Coincidental occurrences, bad luck, and wavering mental confidence have limited Duchene this season.

The mental game has always been Duchene’s biggest adversary, and it’s something to keep an eye on, but it’s not a reason to trade your second most talented forward in the prime of his career.

Avs should keep Duchene

To me, losing Stastny, O’Reilly, and then Duchene in consecutive seasons would be an incredibly tough pill to swallow. Not only are all three excellent players on the ice, but they are very popular off the ice. Sure, Nathan MacKinnon is quickly ascending to the elite stratosphere of the hockey atmosphere, but the Avalanche still need Matt Duchene.

I believe Adrian Dater took a firm stance on Duchene to generate discussion, and don’t think him being traded is a result we should necessarily expect. However, I do think that there is merit to the rumor, and it’s an idea that Sakic and Roy have kicked around.

If the Avalanche find themselves in the draft lottery again next summer, they will have a chance to draft the prized American centerman, Auston Matthews (a massive hypothetical, of course). If this is the case, Duchene will still be incredibly valuable on the right wing, in my opinion. It’s a role Duchene has taken on when playing with team Canada, and will allow him to really focus on being an offensive playmaker, similar to Patrick Kane and Zach Parise.

Patrick Roy has loaded up his top line for tonight’s contest in Philadelphia, with Duchene flanking Nathan MacKinnon’s right side and Gabriel Landeskog holding down the left wing. To me, this looks like an audition for Duchene to prove he can still be an electric player, specifically at right wing, for the Avalanche. He really doesn’t have an excuse to not light up the scoresheet playing with MacKinnon and Landeskog.

Right wing could potentially be a place where Duchene can be very successful for the Avs, especially if it helps to free his mind up when on the ice.

As I said before, the notion of trading Duchene screams panic move. The Avalanche have bigger issues than Matt Duchene, in my personal opinion: player usage, systems, establishing clear roles for players, mentality, chemistry and confidence, etc. When you have a blender that has faulty mechanisms, you aren’t going to fix it by trading out Energizer batteries for Duracell batteries — which is exactly what the Avalanche would be doing if they traded Duchene.

I’m not a front office executive or general manager, but I just don’t feel like trading away your second most talented forward — a forward who lives and breathes Colorado Avalanche hockey — is a recipe for a sweeter future.  It wouldn’t feel right seeing Matt Duchene in colors other than Avalanche burgundy and blue. Duchene can ensure he remains with the Avalanche by coming up big on this seven-game road trip.

What about Iginla and Varlamov?

Another name we can expect to see in rumors is Jarome Iginla. Iginla is in year two of a three-year deal he signed with the Avalanche in 2014, with the hope of playing for a Stanley Cup contender. I can’t speak for Iginla, but I’m sure he is torn between loving Denver and still having that itch to make a run at his first Stanley Cup in his career.

It makes a lot of sense to trade Iginla at the deadline, or sooner, if the Avalanche aren’t contending for a playoff spot (seems likely to be the case). Iginla isn’t part of the future for the Avalanche, so acquiring an asset that could be is just a good business move. Plus, if Iginla wishes to leave for a contender, it’s an opportunity to give him that chance. It could potentially be a feel good trade from all angles.

Varlamov getting traded would be a shocker, although his name was also mentioned as “in play” by Dater. GM Joe Sakic said he fully expects Calvin Pickard to be on the Avalanche next year, and if you do the arithmetic, that means one goalie needs to be cleared out.

Looking at the NHL landscape, it is difficult for me to find too many potential landing spots for Varlamov. Contending teams all have very good goaltenders, for the most part, and rebuilding teams aren’t likely to give up the type of player/prospects/picks Colorado would want to swing a deal. Obviously, you never know, but I would be very surprised if the Avalanche could move Varlamov, even if they wanted to.

The logic is sound, if Pickard is ready to be an NHL starter. Dealing from a position of strength to address an area of weakness could be a shortcut to improving the Avalanche’s roster, but it isn’t without risk. Although Varlamov has struggled through the first month of the season, he has proven he can carry the Avalanche on his back, and even shown glimpses of being an elite NHL goaltender.

Avalanche nation is going to have to get used to hearing names thrown around often over the upcoming months. For a nutshell on my stance, I’d say Duchene should require a ransom to move, an Iginla trade to a contender makes a lot of sense this season, and a Varlamov trade would be an extremely volatile, high risk/high reward type move if the Avs can find a dance partner.

Buckle up folks. This cold start means things are about to heat up, one way or another.

*stats courtesy of war-on-ice.com*      

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