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Assessing the Matt Duchene Trade

So the Ottawa Senators acquired Matt Duchene ahead of their overseas trip to Sweden where they will take on his former team the Colorado Avalanche as part of the NHL’s Global Series?

Pencil him in for 14 goals right now.

After seeing his name bandied about in rumours for the past two years, Duchene finally moved on joining the Ottawa Senators Sunday night in what has to be considered the biggest trade that Senators general manager Pierre Dorion has ever made.

Dorion has never been shy to make a deal.

Since inheriting the general manager’s role, he has been one of the most active managers in the league, but never has he made a deal of this magnitude before.

It could not have been easy for him to have these trade talks die late on Friday night, but it is a testament to his creativity and the amount of time that he invested to bring Duchene into the fold to have these negotiations culminate in a deal less than 48 hours later.

Here is how the trade breaks down:

  • To Colorado:Andrew Hammond, prospect Shane Bowers, Ottawa’s 2018 first round pick (lottery protected) and Ottawa’s 2019 third rounder
  • To Nashville: Kyle Turris
  • To Ottawa: Matt Duchene

Shane Bowers is the prospect that the Senators drafted with the 28th overall pick in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft.

At the time of his selection, a few pundits described Bowers as a safe pick and in his first season at Boston University, where he has four goals and six points in 10 games for the Terriers, he has struggled to change the perception of his upside.

Recently, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman wrote the following:

Bowers is a player who is tough to get a read on. I don’t think any scout I talk to hates him, but the question is can he be on your power play in the NHL or is he a safe two-way forward at the top level. ‘He’s got a lot of talent and a great work ethic, he plays physical and goes to the dirty areas,’ said Boston University’s coach David Quinn. Those latter elements give hope that, even if he doesn’t become a dominant scorer, he can still find a way to carve out a role as a pro.”

The money is essentially a wash.

Andrew Hammond is in the last year of his three-year contract that pays him $1.5-million. Before signing a six-year, $36-million contract extension with the Nashville Predators, Kyle Turris was earning $4.0-million in real dollars ($3.5-million cap hit) in the last year of his contract.

It’s a little odd to see Turris sign a relatively modest contract given the reports that he was looking for a seven or eight year contract worth between $40 to $50-million depending on the length of the deal, but the lack of state income taxes in Tennessee can help explain how much Turris benefits financially from this move.

According to the’s salary tax calculator, Turris is saving approximately $846,014 per year or $5,076,084 over the length of his new contract extension.

Aside from the prospects, Matt Duchene was the only player involved who actually had any term remaining on his current deal. He is signed through 2018-19 and has a cap hit of $6.0-million. Duchene will earn $6.0-million this season and $6.5-million in real salary next season.

Many, including The Athletic’s James Gordon, have lauded the deal and their rationalization is straightforward.

For the Senators to land Duchene, unquestionably the best player in this deal, without giving up any of their best prospects — Logan Brown, Colin White, Thomas Chabot, Alex Formenton, Filip Chlapik or even an emerging Drake Batherson – makes for a pretty compelling argument and that’s before one even considers the extra year of team control that the Senators get now with Duchene.

Perhaps most importantly, the addition of Duchene reflects the kind of win-now move that the Senators should be expected to make, especially since Erik Karlsson is only under team control through the 2018-19 season and the Senators have one of the oldest rosters in the league.

Mark Stone is also owed a new contract at the end of this season and with only three defencemen under contract through 2018-19, the pressure is not only the organization to win now, but also make enough noise that it can compel Karlsson to want to commit to this club for the long haul.

Following Duchene’s introductory press conference, Dorion participated in a short media scrum and spoke directly to the predicament facing the organization and retaining its generational franchise defencemen.

I think we have arguably one of the best players in the league in Erik Karlsson. On some nights, he’s the best player and on other nights, he’s in the top two, three, four, six or top-ten. I think while we have him here, we have to show him and the other guys that we’re ready to do whatever it takes for us to take that next step.”

Even with Duchene in the mix, taking that next step will be a challenge.

Few pundits and fans would disagree with the assertion that Duchene is an upgrade on Turris, but beyond focusing exclusively on the short-term benefits of the trade, there’s a lot more to digest here.

Can the addition of Duchene alone be enough to take this team to a different level or are other additions necessary to help the team achieve their goal?

If so, how much wiggle room is left within the internal budget to make more additions?

Although Clarke MacArthur’s LTIR status and the accompanying insurance coverage will take care of most of the $4.75-million in real salary that is owed to MacArthur, it does not take a genius to realize that the Senators moved a draft pick to ensure that the Avalanche would pick up the tab on the remainder of Andrew Hammond’s contract. (As an aside, how sad is it that Hammond expressed his excitement in a released statement on Twitter regarding his opportunity to be healthy and play for another organization only for him to be loaned by the Avalanche back to Belleville.)

It’s entirely possible that the Senators cleared Hammond’s salary off of the books to create more financial flexibility down the road when the Senators are closer to the NHL trade deadline, but with the way Dorion kicked off Duchene’s introductory press conference by thanking Eugene Melnyk, my concern is that taking on an additional $500,000 in this trade is a bigger deal than many are making it out to be.

In Elliotte Friedman’s latest ’30 Thoughts’ column, he wrote about how difficult it was for Dorion to deal with Melnyk in the closing stages of the Duchene deal.

Dorion seethed, angry Turris’s name went public. He also had to navigate the trickiest ownership situation of the three — by far — a wild card in the closing stages.”

It makes me believe that Melnyk had a hand in demanding that Hammond’s contract come off the books, so even if it was a token gesture, it still was a little odd to see Melnyk get thanked when the Senators essentially traded a draft pick for cash. I can’t even begin to imagine a deal of this scale falling apart over Andrew Hammond and the inclusion of his one-way salary, but here we are.

Despite the fact that the Senators kept their best prospects, the opportunity cost involved was pretty substantial to address a position on the roster that at least in the interim, didn’t really require an upgrade.

In a way, this deal is reminiscent of the Derick Brassard/Mika Zibanejad trade in which the Senators moved a future asset to bring in a comparably productive player who happened to be on a better contract.

Rather than commit to the kind of long-term extension that Zibanejad was ultimately looking for – he signed a five-year extension this past July for $26.75-million ($5.35-million AAV) – the Senators dealt him for less expensive but statistically similar player in Brassard.

During Kyle Turris’ introductory conference call, he was asked about signing a six-year contract extension with the Predators after Pierre Dorion mentioned that Turris’ representation never broached the topic of a six-year contract with the Senators.

To be honest, a six year deal was never put on the table in negotiations with Ottawa and from Ottawa either. It was something that it was very apparent that things weren’t going to work out in Ottawa.”

From a competitive standpoint, it would have been fantastic to see the Senators go all-in and bring Duchene into the fold while retaining Turris through the rest of the season, but as Friedman noted in that same ’30 Thoughts’ that I referenced earlier, “Duchene wasn’t coming in if dollars weren’t going out” under Eugene Melnyk.

And that’s the sad reality that we’re faced with as Senators fans.

When the Senators acquired Bobby Ryan and Dion Phaneuf and devoted significant dollars and term to these players, eventually there was going to come a point in time where these now unmovable commitments were going to cost the Senators a more talented player.

Granted, the Senators were going to lose Turris eventually anyway, but sometimes it’s alright to balance competitiveness with the possibility that it is okay to let a player walk away for nothing.

The Senators were right to balk at signing Turris to a long-term extension, but in acquiring Duchene – who is only 17 months and two days younger than Turris – the Senators will be faced with the reality of being in the same spot with Duchene that they were in with Turris next fall.

Will it make sense for the organization to commit to Duchene on a long-term deal when many of the same concerns for signing Turris exist?

In the first year of a forthcoming contract extension, Duchene will turn 29 years old – the same age that Turris will be when he starts his new six-year pact in Nashville. Knowing what we know about NHL aging curves and how a forward’s peak production is usually between 22 to 25 years of age and how players usually see their production decline in their 30’s, the risk is that any long-term commitment risks paying a player for his past production when the team should expect diminished returns on their investment moving forward.

This isn’t to say that Duchene can’t age gracefully, but in consideration of the opportunity cost involved and the fact that the Senators already had a likeable and productive player in Kyle Turris already in hand, with big money already locked up in bad contracts to Dion Phaneuf and Bobby Ryan, the team isn’t really well positioned to make another significant payroll mistake. Hell, even without it, it seems like the Senators are already stretched pretty thin.

Of course, Duchene can remove a lot of the doubt by coming in and performing at a higher level.

It is easy to look at his career and pin its ups and downs on the frustrations that come from playing on some comically bad Avalanche teams. From the poor linemates to playing with defencemen who struggle to transition the puck to the constant losing that saps would assuredly sap Duchene’s enthusiasm and competitive spirit, it’s easy to understand how the last few years would take their toll on him.

Entering a new situation in Ottawa, it’s pretty transparent just how much opportunity to play meaningful hockey and play with a generational like Erik Karlsson means to Duchene.

If he’s as reinvigorated as he sounds and it translates on the ice, it will be welcomed.

I know with us adding Matt Duchene, we’ve improved our hockey team,” explained Pierre Dorion from Duchene’s introductory press conference. “We were a pretty good hockey team, we’re on the right path and in adding an elite player of his calibre to our group, I think, just makes us a better hockey team.”

Considering the cost the organization paid to get him, obviously they believe Duchene to be an elite talent.

It’s interesting to me to see some pundits compare Duchene’s production rates with Turris’ and mention how Turris benefited from playing significant five-on-five minutes with Erik Karlsson, but Duchene suffered from playing with poor linemates in Colorado.

It’s a fair point, but since Guy Boucher took over as the head coach in Ottawa, I think it’s also important to mention how Turris essentially stopped playing with the team’s most productive wingers. Mike Hoffman, the Senators’ most dangerous goal scoring threat, has found himself playing most of his minutes on the team’s shutdown line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Tom Pyatt while Mark Stone has been essentially been entrenched on the team’s other scoring line alongside Derick Brassard.

Behind the Hoffman-Pageau-Pyatt line, the Senators’ second-most frequent line has been the trio of Ryan Dzingel, Turris and Bobby Ryan. After those linemates, Turris’ second-most common flanks were Dzingel and Zack Smith.

Not to take anything away from those players, the spread of the team’s most productive forwards across three lines essentially reminds me of the days when Daniel Alfredsson played. Only instead of Daniel Alfredsson, we’re referring to whatever line has Mark Stone on it as the team’s best line.

Moving forward, it is going to be interesting to see who the Senators use with Duchene. Based on yesterday’s lines at practice, Duchene will start his Senators career between Zack Smith and Hoffman.

The pressure is on Duchene to not only perform and put up big numbers that go beyond simply wearing number 95 for the Senators, there’s also pressure on him to out-produce his counterpart and make the Senators a much better team.

This is Ottawa’s window, Duchene is their guy and now he has to deliver.

If he can’t, a rebuild could be in the Senators’ near future.

About Nichols

Freelance writer for The Athletic Ottawa

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