There’s interest in Duchene, but someone has to blink before trade saga ends

Even though Matt Duchene is in training camp with the Avalanche, questions remain about where he’ll end up playing this season.

With two weeks remaining before the start of the 2017-18 NHL campaign, Matt Duchene’s future with the Colorado Avalanche remains up in the air.

Over the past year, Duchene, 26, has been surrounded by trade speculation without any resolution. Some expected that the Avalanche, looking to rejuvenate the club as they sat in the league basement, would have moved the center at some point late last season, but as the trade deadline came and went, Duchene remained in Colorado. Focus then shifted to the 2017 NHL draft, where Duchene again seemed a top trade target, but, like the deadline, no deal materialized. That was followed by free agency and an entire summer with Duchene remaining in limbo — a member of the Avalanche, but with questions as to whether or not it’s where he’d actually be playing this season.

“I’m not going to predict the future on my longevity here,” Duchene told The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers earlier this week. “I’m day by day.”

However, despite the fact there seems to be no real movement on the trade front when it comes to Duchene, it appears as though there are teams who are continuing to give Avalanche GM Joe Sakic a ring in hopes they can pry the center out of Colorado. In fact, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, there are several teams with interest. Among those, Dreger reported, are the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets.

“But the reality is none of these teams think they’re getting him,” Dreger added on TSN’s Insider Trading.

One of the reasons for that, undoubtedly, would appear to be the high price Sakic has put on acquiring Duchene. When speculation was at its peak last season, it was believed the cost of completing a deal for Duchene was, at the very least, a defenseman who was NHL-ready and had high upside. That may still be the case.

Earlier this week, the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reported the Senators have been “aggressive” in their pursuit of Duchene, but their inability to hammer out a deal points to the difficulty in coming to an agreement on payment. Garrioch suggested Cody Ceci, who was kept over defenseman Marc Methot at the time of the expansion draft, as a player the Avalanche covet, but continued by saying Ceci isn’t a player with whom the Senators want to part. And that no deal has come to fruition with any of the other interested parties would suggest that Sakic’s asking price of those teams is equally unpalatable for the respective GMs.

But it is understandable why the price is so high. While he carries a significant contract — he has two seasons at $6-million apiece remaining on his deal — Duchene has a level of offensive ability that will be hard to find for any team looking to give their attack a jolt over the next several months. He’s coming off a down year, as are many who suited up for the hapless Avalanche last season, and scored only 18 goals and 41 points last season, but has been a steady scorer over the course of his career. Four times Duchene has eclipsed the 20-goal mark and the 2015-16 campaign saw him pot 30 goals for the first time in his career. Duchene is also the 22nd-highest scoring center since breaking into the league in 2009-10.

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Beyond that, Duchene was — and still is, at least for the time being — a member of the core group in Colorado. Yes, the group hasn’t won much of anything together, but between Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado did have an established trio to guide the offense. A downright miserable season has made one of the pieces expendable, sure, but moving out a piece of the former core group is going to come with a certain cost.

Even considering Duchene’s ability and value to the Avalanche, though, there are generally two schools of thought on Sakic’s unwillingness to simply trade the center and end the entire saga. 

Some believe keeping Duchene in town serves as nothing more than a distraction for an organization that needs fewer as it looks to recuperate from what was nearly a historically poor season. It’s true, too, that the storyline with Duchene has been bigger and received much more attention than any of the on-ice happenings in Colorado. Others, however, believe that Sakic is doing the right thing by waiting to get exactly what he wants in return. Duchene is under contract and in training camp, seemingly ready to play the year, and a solid early season performance from Duchene could entice a GM to pay a higher price in order to bring the center aboard. Getting the return they’re looking for instead of bending because the situation has become incredibly sticky likely helps the Avalanche’s chances of succeeding in the future. That seems to be what Sakic is banking on as the trade talks drag on throughout the pre-season.

The only way there’s a resolution at this point, though, is if one of two things happen. The first is a decision by Sakic to lower the price of acquiring Duchene or a readiness to negotiate a more reasonable return with one of the teams with interest. The other is for one of the interested parties to step up and blow Sakic’s hair back. Duchene, of course, can go out and play the best hockey of his life, but if the GMs on either side aren’t willing to budge, nothing will happen.

So, where does that leave the entire trade saga? As Duchene said, it’s day by day.

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