Bruce Garrioch never normally includes any Senators-related nuggets of information in his weekly ‘Insider Trading’ column that runs in the Ottawa Sun, but in this week’s installment, he mentioned casually that the Senators have “kicked tires” on Colorado Avalanche centre Matt Duchene.
Okay, so it’s probably fair to assume that in the hockey industry, most general managers do their due diligence on quality players who inevitably become available because they play for bottom-feeding teams, so in keeping this in mind, we don’t know that talks between Ottawa and Colorado ever progressed beyond a, “Alright, Sakic, what’s it going to take?” conversation.
Garrioch did single out Montreal and Ottawa as teams that kick tires, so maybe talks were more advanced than I’m giving credit for.
Whatever the case, the Senators showed or continue to show interest in a very good player, but as Garrioch reports, the asking price is high.
“Sooner or later, Colorado GM Joe Sakic will lower his asking price for centre Matt Duchene (and others) but right now it’s high because there’s heavy interest. Though the Avs are looking for up to five elements in return for Duchene, they’ll probably settle on three — a young defenceman, a high-end prospect and a first-round pick — if Sakic does decide to make a deal. “They can ask for whatever they want because they’re in no hurry,” a league executive said Saturday. “They can wait and they can do it at the draft but they might be able to get more now.”
Put in terms of what Ottawa has to offer, it’s safe to assume that the kind of asking price Colorado might settle for would involve some combination of Cody Ceci, a prospect like Thomas Chabot/Colin White/Logan Brown and a draft pick.
Duchene’s been a very good player.
Not only has he been one of the 14th-most productive player in the NHL relative to his ice time at five-on-five over the past five seasons (min. 4,000 minutes per HockeyAnalysis.com), but thanks to his elite skating ability, he’s someone who at 26-years old who still makes you feel comfortable about having a number of good years left in the tank.
That said, there are many things not to like about a prospective deal.
Since his contract calls for him to be paid $6.0-million and $6.5-million respectively over the remaining two years ($6.0-million AAV) of his deal, Duchene’s a relatively expensive add for the Senators. Having operated on a dollar-in/dollar-out basis for the past number of years, for the Senators to add Duchene, it feels safe to assume that the team would have to clear out more money rather than strictly absorb his salary.
With that being said, maybe a weakened Eastern Conference and the possibility of an extended playoff (and the accompanying gate revenues) will entice ownership to loosen the purse strings.
Beyond the money issue, the short-term nature of his contract would put the Senators in the same bind that they were faced when they added Bobby Ryan during the 2013 offseason. In order to prevent Duchene from testing free agency, the Senators would paint themselves into a corner and be faced with a situation wherein they’d have to acquiesce to Duchene’s contract demands to keep him in the fold.
Coupled with the sizable opportunity cost that would be used to acquire him, it’s hard to imagine the Senators using these assets to improve their lot at centre when it’s not a position of need.
On the surface, it does not really embody the kind of move that small market teams like Ottawa should make, but it’s kind of move doesn’t need to be made in a vacuum.
Some fans may balk at the idea of moving Ceci without an in-hand solution, but considering his play this season, his absence should not be too difficult to fill. Chris Wideman is already better than Ceci and there could very well be better alternatives on the market now.
Similarly, Duchene represents an obvious upgrade over every one of Ottawa’s centres and his presence could give the Senators the flexibility to move out another one of their other centres (Turris, Brassard, Pageau) to recoup some future assets or address a position of weakness. (As an aside, Turris also has two years left on his deal and an extension will have to be negotiated. If he’s looking to double his salary or approach an AAV of $5.5 to $6-million, will the Senators be comfortable with that? Mind you, if Duchene’s looking for a significant raise on his current AAV, hard pass.)
The crux of such a decision is whether the upgrade outweighs the cost. Without any accompanying moves, I have a hard time seeing it, especially when the team’s cap situation will be exacerbated as the team’s cap efficient deals expire and the diminished returns on the Phaneuf and Ryan deals are really felt. But, if the Senators can maximizing the value of their outgoing assets, maybe there is a series of deals to be made that can make this team better now without irreparably harming its future.
General managers should never preclude themselves from adding a significant contributor just because there are other needs to fill at the time. With Andreas Englund and Thomas Chabot being close to NHL ready, Ottawa’s long-term need on defence may be different than its short-term one. If they can find an inexpensive solution (or two) to address the bottom-four, all the better.
There is also no guarantee that better upgrades will become available this summer or that Ottawa will match up well as a trade partner if an exceptionally good upgrade at a position of need becomes available down the road. The summer market’s surplus may be ripe for better deals, but how the Senators weigh that against its short-term interests remains to be seen.
Adding Duchene alone won’t improve the team’s stock too much now or in the future. Hopefully management and ownership recognize that.