Reports across Canada and out of Denver suggest Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene could skip training camp in an effort to force a trade. Duchene has been publicly on the trade block since last season, but Avalanche GM Joe Sakic has not lowered the price. Duchene has apparently had enough. The fallout could well impact the possibility of a Pittsburgh Penguins 3-Peat.
A trade will happen. It has to. And the team which is in prime position to capitalize: The Columbus Blue Jackets.
Sakic played a dangerous game and will likely lose. Embarrassing a star player by publicly putting him on the trade block is sometimes a necessary evil. Keeping him there for nearly a year only serves to lower the price, alienate the player, and make the Avalanche organization look obtuse.
The price for Duchene will necessarily come down. Sakic had been asking for a young NHL defenseman, a forward, and a high-end prospect. Some rumors also included a top draft choice in the ask. A Duchene hold-out would disrupt the team and bring more negative consequences.
The Blue Jackets also have the greatest motivation: They need to beat the hated Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Blue Jackets have over $8 million in salary cap space, young defensemen and talented young forwards, both on the NHL roster and ready to crack the NHL.
A player like Duchene would vault the Blue Jackets past the Penguins and make them Stanley Cup favorites. Alex Wennberg had a breakout season, but he is not an outstanding top center. Wennberg would be an outstanding second center. A Duchene move would also push Brandon Dubinsky to third line center, a role for which he is ideally suited.
The Blue Jackets have dragged their feet to sign restricted free agent, Josh Anderson. The 23-year old rookie had a mini-breakout season, 29 points in 79 games. Anderson wants a contract in the $2 million dollar range, which would reduce to the Blue Jackets available cash to $6 million or less. Hmmm…
Other teams also have the need for Duchene. The Nashville Predators, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, and Carolina Hurricanes all have means and motivation.
However, Duchene would not make the Bruins, Canadiens or Hurricanes Stanley Cup favorites.
A $6 million center who had just 41 points last season will not command the king’s ransom, which Sakic demands. Duchene is three seasons removed from the 70 point outburst. Two seasons ago, Duchene popped 59 points. In a better situation, Duchene likely returns to scoring prominence, but teams won’t spend as if that is a certainty.
Everyone knew Duchene wasn’t worth a superstar haul, except Sakic. Now the player is set to force his hand.
The Penguins hopes for a third straight Stanley Cup and entrance into the conversation as all-time greats suddenly rest as much in the hands of others as it does their own. Welcome to the challenges and pitfalls of making history.
Of course, the Penguins could own the situation and deal for Duchene. They kicked the tires, last season. Sakic was reportedly interested in Olli Maatta. But that possibility seems more remote than a Trump-Clinton family BBQ.
So, everyone must wait. Either the Blue Jackets will realize the true value of Duchene and go for it or Sakic will realize he has a Ferrari price tag on a Cadillac. Meanwhile, the Penguins continue to shop for a third line center and evaluate 36-year-old Russian, Danis Zaripov.
The season starts in less than four weeks. The drama has already started. Game on…