I just had to do a quick double-take when I looked up Matt Duchene’s career scoring totals. It still seems to me like he entered the league just yesterday, but the Avs’ forward is actually now going through year seven (!) in the NHL. He came into the league the same season that Kessel first suited up for the Leafs, which is just mind-boggling. [Maybe I just can’t handle getting old.]
Duchene’s name has popped up a number of times over the last week in the world of trade rumours, and sort of like with Kessel in Toronto, since the Avalanche have been a trainwreck for essentially his entire time in Denver, that sort of makes sense. Perhaps they feel they need to move in another direction.
We, as Leafs fans, know how that works as much as anyone: the stars eventually get picked on the most when things go wrong.
But if Duchene is going to be moved (and it certainly looks like he’s available), would the Leafs make sense as a trading partner? And what would they have that could go the other way?
In Elliotte Friedman’s Thirty Thoughts, he shed some light on how the Leafs and Avs have talked a bit in the past about a potential deal for Jake Gardiner. But obviously this time it would be different, since Toronto’s initial target looked to be Ryan O’Reilly before he was dealt to Buffalo, not Duchene.
Gardiner has been linked to the Avalanche for what seems like an eternity, so it’s no surprise to see his name pop up as a potential trade piece from the Leafs. But Duchene isn’t O’Reilly, and of course it wouldn’t make sense to sub him in here as such. For one, Duchene is already locked in to a contract with four years left to go (including this one) at a cap hit of 6.0-million, while O’Reilly was shipped off with just a year remaining until free agency at the time because Sakic didn’t want to pay him. That changes trade negotiations quite a bit.
Then again, there are similarities here. Duchene and ROR were drafted in the same summer, a round apart, and both represent strong options at center, somewhere the Leafs still aren’t exactly set at.
Where they differ again is that O’Reilly has always been seen as a near-elite defensive player with respectable offensive skills, while Duchene is more of a purely offensive talent. Either way, with Gardiner’s name being out there for so long as a target for the Avs, we have to wonder if these two teams are making contact again as Sakic looks to make a move. And if so, you’d have to assume he’ll be part of anything they get talking about.
The biggest question for me isn’t so much around what the Leafs might have to ship out, but how well Duchene fits in with Toronto going forward. I know, at first glance this is sort of laughable considering how the Leafs have been a dog’s breakfast down the middle for so long, but now that they’ve made a priority of developing Nylander and Marner at center and Kadri is likely to stay around long term, it’s at least debatable.
For me personally, you just can’t add enough highly-skilled forwards to your team, especially guys who can play in the middle. As for the Leafs’ prospects mentioned above, both Nylander and Marner have shown an ability to play center or wing, so that would be of little to no concern down the road if something like this could ever be worked out.
Duchene is still quite young at 24, but he’s almost reached veteran status since he broke into the league right away as an 18-year-old. If you look back through his career though, to date he’s been a 0.76 point-per-game player through 436 games. For comparison’s sake, Phil Kessel has clipped along at 0.78 for his career.
Possession-wise, Duchene has had positive score-adjusted relative Corsi in all but one of his seven seasons to date, so there isn’t really anything to suggest he’s been dragging the Avalanche into the gutter in this regard. They just stink. Duchene would be fine elsewhere, especially when that elsewhere could include Mike Babcock.
If the Leafs go down this road, they’d be working from a position of power since the Avalanche really aren’t supposed to be this bad. Sakic is nearly at the point of having to make a move for the sake of it because it appears he isn’t smart enough to fire Patrick Roy. And keep in mind this is a club that sent out O’Reilly and Stastny (the latter for nothing) in the last couple offseasons, and signed Carl Soderberg to a 4.75-million dollar cap hit for five years. If you’re a smart general manager, Sakic is someone you want on the other end of the phone.
As much as I’m a fan of Gardiner, packaging him up with whatever (and to be fair, it’d probably take a lot of “whatever” here) for a 24-year-old center oozing with this much skill is a no-brainer. You take that deal and run every time, especially when Duchene’s cap hit is a very reasonable 6-million on a relatively short term through his prime.
If he is available, the Leafs would be insane not to kick tires here and try to take advantage of a team likely desperate to make something happen.