I can’t help but feel terrible for Matt Duchene. Last week it all kind of hit me at once how crappy his experience in the NHL has been. Not on an individual level of course, but on a team level. Some of it was partially brought on himself, but I have a hard time blaming him.
2009 NHL Entry Draft
Let’s start at the very beginning. Matt Duchene was drafted in 2009 third overall by the Colorado Avalanche. Duchene was drafted in the same year as John Tavares, and in some circles, was ranked higher than Tavares. Duchene was taken from Brampton Battalion of the OHL to his childhood team, the Colorado Avalanche. You could even see Duchene do a little fist pump when Victor Hedman was drafted second overall because that meant he was likely going to play for his favourite team. Matt grew up watching his heroes Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy and had signed jerseys with their names on them. Now Duchene had one just like it, but with his own name to add to the collection. Moments after he was drafted he did an interview with TSN and said “I don’t even know, this doesn’t even feel real. I don’t even know what’s going on right now. Look at that picture. That was my old room there and I got that down in my basement and this jersey is going between those two”
Remember all of those hockey fanboy feelings you had when Tavares signed with the Leafs, sharing a photo of himself in his Leafs bed sheets? I am not asking you Islanders fans, I know how you felt. But to everyone else, that’s what the game is all about, living out your childhood dreams, no? Picture John Tavares as a little kid running around in a Leafs sweater scoring goals and leading his team to glory, and now it’s real. Well, Matt Duchene didn’t have to wait nearly a decade like Tavares to live that dream. From day one, he was with that team. This is the stuff from movies.
His Time With The Avalanche
Matt’s time with the Avs was less than ideal, but he made the best of it early on. In 2010, the Avalanche was playing against the Vancouver Canucks for the last playoff spot in the west. Tied 3-3 after OT, Duchene scored the game-winning goal during the shootout, claiming the last spot. Though they were knocked out of the playoffs in six games by the San Jose Sharks, Matt had a great rookie season. Duchene was 3rd in scoring on his team with 55 points, and second in goals with 24. Amongst rookies, Duchene tied with Tavares in scoring and edged Tavares out for more goals, beating him by one. Duchene also came in third for rookie of the year.
In his following year, Duchene hit the 100 career-point mark. He would become the youngest in franchise history to achieve that accolade (including when the team was still the Nordiques). Whose record did he beat? Joe Sakic, his hero. Duchene led the Avs in scoring that year with 67 points. He was the youngest player in Avs history to lead his team in scoring. Duchene was also at the NHL All-Star Game for the first time that year. So much for a sophomore slump, eh?
In 2013, Patrick Roy was hired as the coach of the Colorado Avalanche, and Joe Sakic was hired as Executive Vice-President of Hockey Operations. Between the two of them, they shared the role and duties of a General Manager. Not only was Matt playing for the same team as his favourite players, now he was playing for his favourite players. Not a bad first few years, this is the dream for every kid growing up a hockey fan. So where did it all go wrong?
In 2011-12, Duchene suffered a leg injury and only played 58 games, scoring a mere 28 points. In 2012-13, it was a shortened lockout year where he played 47 games and scored 43 points. In October 2015, Duchene had fallen into one of his almost routine scoring slumps. Around this time rumours started to brew that Colorado wanted to trade Duchene. After some one-on-one time with his coach, Duchene went on a tear and scored a career-high 30 goals. But that didn’t stop the rumour mill from churning.
After roughly a year, Matt Duchene eventually told the Denver Post “I’m open to [a trade]. When I say open to it, I know it’s part of the business, and it’s something that might happen. I’m not hiding from it. I’m not running away. I’m not banging my head. I understand it’s part of what we deal with as pro athletes.” Now GM, Joe Sakic had said he would only make trades if it made the Avs better, explaining that the only untouchable players were Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. As you can imagine, the media was loving that Duchene was not on that list.
Eventually, it came out that Matt Duchene requested a trade in 2016 and was looking for a new start. Matt had been in the rumour mill for a year, and the Avs were having one of the worst years of any NHL team in recent memory. Matt Duchene had to approach his idol, the man whose signed jersey hung in his bedroom, and his now-boss to ask for a trade. Can you imagine how hard it would be going up to your hero, and telling him that you want to move on from your childhood dream? “I wanted to play playoff hockey,” Duchene told Bruce Garrioch of Postmedia. “I’ve got eight playoff games to my name right now and that’s not where I want to be at this point of my career. I only get one shot at this. I get to play this game for however long my body lets me play it and I felt I wanted to let Joe know it was time to move on.” I respect that, you only get one crack at this. In the NHL, every game could be your last due to injury. While I honour loyalty to your team, Matt did this in the most honourable way, while balancing that with his personal needs.
The Trade Finally Came
It was a complicated three-way trade when Duchene finally got relocated. Colorado sent Duchene to the Ottawa Senators. The Sens sent Shane Bowers, Andrew Hammond and two picks to the Avs. Ottawa also sent Kyle Turris to the Nashville Predators. The Preds sent Samuel Girard, Vladislav Kamenev and a second to Colorado. Did you get all that? That’s fine, it’s not the point, I’ll bring up the important parts later.
The trade broke mid-game and Matt Duchene was informed in a stoppage of play. Blake Comeau was being helped off the ice due to injury when Matt Duchene snuck after him. Duchene left the arena in street clothes to try and sort out what was going to happen next; he needed a new flight to Sweden.
That’s right – Sweden. The Senators had been scheduled for a pair of games in Sweden to help grow the game. Here’s the kicker, they would be back-to-back games against the Avalanche. Yep, he left the Avs to immediately fly to Sweden and play them twice in a row. It was truly a strange turn of events. Instead of easing into your new team, you have to fly to Sweden and play against old teammates and great friends without a moment to wrap your head around the situation. At least the trip to Sweden was already planned, if altered now.
It looked as though Duchene finally got what he wanted: a trade to a playoff team, a fresh start, and an organization in his home province of Ontario. From his childhood team to his hometown team, things were looking up.
The Ottawa Senators: The Ultimate Let Down
As people like to point out, in 2016-17 the Senators made it within one goal of the Stanley Cup Finals. With the likes of Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Mike Hoffman, this team looked like it could be destined for great things. With an addition like Duchene, that could be the difference that pushes them into the Stanley Cup Finals. The Senators opened the 2017-18 season on a tear winning 13 of the 16 outings. This is everything Duchene was hoping for, a team that could play meaningful hockey. Duchene was off to a slow start on his new team but then ended up leading the team with 23 goals, his second-highest career total. The problem was, the team finished the year with a dismal record of 28-43-11. That was good from second worst in the league. It went from second best in the east to second worst overall. That quite the drop-off for a team that was supposed to be in the running.
It wasn’t only on ice difficulties. At the draft, the Sens no longer had a first round pick in 2018, it was part of Duchene’s trade. But, that trade was lottery protected which meant the Sens could keep it and give up their 2019 first round pick instead. In what is a very debatable choice, Pierre Dorion decided to hold on to the 2018 pick and draft Brady Tkachuk at fourth overall. The problem with this is that the Sens no longer in the running for Jack Hughes, a “generational” player available for the draft in 2019. This was a short sighted fix. Duchene was all of sudden in the midst of another rebuild. By taking this pick, it only prolonged the rebuild of this team. Maybe it was Hail Mary attempt at winning the players hearts with a flashy new player. Or maybe, Dorion knew he would be losing franchise players and needed a new one to market the team around now. Its a lose lose. We would come to find out, the team will only get worse.
With the accusations against Mike Hoffman’s Fiance, it drove a wedge between Hoffman and Karlsson. This tension eventually caused the Sens to send Hoffman to the Sharks. Duchene just lost a leading point getter on his team. With Pierre Dorion not making deals with anyone in the Eastern Conference, it lowered Hoffman’s trade value. This was evident because Hoffman was traded almost immediately to the Florida Panthers (In the east) and Doug Wilson made like a bandit, and not for the last time. Just before training camp started, Erik Karlsson was traded to the Sharks as well. Duchene now lost the franchise defenseman playing behind him. The team was dropping like flies. The Sens got some prospects, picks, and two half decent players in Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo back for Karlsson. The pot could likely get sweeter if the Sharks Sign Karlsson to an extension, even sweeter if they make it to the Cup Final. There was also a “Hoffman Clause” in that if Karlsson plays in the east for a team, the Sens will get another pick. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…
Where is Duchene Now?
Not on the Avs thats for sure. Once Matt Duchene was traded it was like a weight of bad media PR was lifted off the entire Avs team. The Avalanche went on to have quite the run to get themselves a wild-card spot. Nathan MacKinnon would go on to have a career-high 97 points in 74 games and would eventually come second in voting for the Hart Memorial Trophy. The Nashville Predators would go on to end the Avalanche’s playoff run in 6 games. Though they didn’t go far and overachieved as a team, it put them back in the conversation of teams about ready to make that last step to a top tier team. Unfortunately, Matt Duchene left a team that would make the playoffs for a team that would not.
On the flip side, the Sens gearing up for what might be an even worse season than last year and maybe be even worse than the bad year Duchene had with the Avalanche. Mark Stone and Matt Duchene are both pending UFAs this year. I can’t help but think Duchene will make it all the way to free agency and sign with another club. There is no sign of things turning around of the Sens, especially as they don’t have their first-round pick. Hats of to Joe Sakic for having the foresight to see this fire coming and cashing in on it.
Is Matt Duchene cursed? Is he destined for such a fate? So far it looks that way. Some say he’s a locker room cancer, I say he has exceptionally bad luck. Matt Duchene got to play with his childhood team and then be let down so bad he had to ask to leave. He got moved to a team that looked like they were on the cusp of greatness, to be horribly wrong. He went from growing balls to blue balls, and then to a “kick in the balls”. Good luck this year Matt, I hope you have another career year and sign with a more stable team, you have definitely earned it.