A major trade-deadline domino has toppled. Perhaps two of them have, actually, because the two teams executing Friday’s Matt Duchene trade were two of the teams rumored to be major sellers.
The Ottawa Senators dealing UFA center Duchene came as no surprise after he’d been held out of the lineup for Thursday’s game. No long-term extension was struck between him and the Sens, so it was time for the NHL’s 31st-ranked franchise to cash him in. He’s now a Columbus Blue Jacket. In exchange for Duchene and organizational depth defenseman Julius Bergman, the Senators receive prospects Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson, a 2019 first-round pick and a conditional 2020 first-round pick if Duchene re-signs with the Blue Jackets.
Let’s start with breaking down Columbus’ side of this trade, which is all kinds of fascinating. On the surface, the Blue Jackets land one of the deadline’s three biggest fish in Duchene, a slam-dunk top-two center with tremendous speed. He’ll pair with Pierre-Luc Dubois to give Columbus a strong one-two punch up the middle.
That’s the easy part to understand about this trade. What makes things really interesting are the multiple reports that (a) Duchene isn’t expected to talk extension as part of this trade and (b) the Blue Jackets are unlikely to deal UFA Panarin, arguably the No. 1 available rental, barring a knock-the-socks-off pitch.
Take a second to process all this. Whew.
First off – the Jackets have announced themselves as all-in with this trade. It appears GM Jarmo Kekalainen and coach Tortorella understand the pressure they’re under. This franchise posted its two highest point totals ever in 2016-17 and 2017-18 only to get bounced in the first round by the eventual Stanley Cup champion in both years. The Blue Jackets have never won a playoff series and are the only NHL team without a series win. They currently sit one point back of the Carolina Hurricanes for eighth in the Eastern Conference but have two games in hand. It’s put up or shut up time, and they believe a roster built around a core of Panarin, Duchene, Dubois, Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and Sergei Bobrovsky can make noise if it makes the playoffs. It’s hard to blame Columbus’ brain trust for feeling that way. They have a nice core group significantly strengthened by Duchene.
But what makes the acquisition such a coup isn’t just the upgrade. Going all-in on a Duchene rental and deciding to keep Panarin essentially takes not one, but two of the top three league-wide trade targets off the market. It will also jack the price of the best remaining asset, Mark Stone, to the moon, forcing a rival team to overpay. The cost to land Jeff Skinner or Micheal Ferland or Wayne Simmonds, and so on, just skyrocketed too. The Blue Jackets have turned a buyer’s market into a seller’s market with one major trade. And even if they decide to deal Panarin after all, they've spiked his price with what they gave to get Duchene.
On the Sens’ side, they get a pretty exciting offensive asset in right winger Abramov, 20, who was a big-time scorer in the QMJHL and hasn’t looked lost as a first-time pro with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. Right winger Davidsson, 21, has impressed with Djurgarden of the Swedish League as a playmaker. We’re still in the process of tabulating The Hockey News’ prospect rankings for our upcoming Future Watch 2019, but Davidsson and Abramov ranked as Columbus’ No. 2 and 4 prospects a year ago, for what that’s worth.
The question likely on everyone’s mind regarding the Senators now: what exactly did the Duchene trade become for them, linking last year’s acquisition of him with Friday’s transaction? Here you go…
Kyle Turris (to Nashville)
2019 first-round pick (deferred from 2018, now Colorado’s)
2019 third-round pick
2019 first-round pick
2020 conditional first-round pick
Measured that way, Ottawa obviously gets killed on the trade, especially given there’s an 18.5 percent chance Colorado’s first-rounder becomes the first-overall pick, a.k.a. Jack Hughes. But kudos to GM Pierre Dorion for putting aside pride and recouping something for an expiring asset. At least Ottawa gets to pick in the first round now. The Senators also have a pretty strong group of youngsters forming: Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, Max Lajoie, Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Abramov, Davidsson. Assuming Dorion deals Stone and Ryan Dzingel in the next couple days, that youth brigade will improve significantly more. It’s not preferable to having Stone, but it’s lemons out of lemonade.