Matt Duchene has played his entire seven year career in an Avalanche sweater.  He’s tenth in franchise games played, sixth – almost fifth – in scoring, and just became the first Avs player in a decade to crack the 30 goal mark.  However, after listening to Patrick Roy’s comments after the Blues loss on Sunday, after taking the time to look at the issue from all sides, I’ve come to one conclusion:

I think the Avs are still considering trading Matt Duchene.

No, I don’t have an inside source.  It’s merely a suspicion, heightened by the rumors that flew around him earlier this year.  However, after listening to plenty of Roy interviews, that one stood out as an exception.  He very rarely calls out players, and even after talking more about accountability during his previous presser against Washington, to hear him single out Duchene then ominously leave him out of the leadership discussion raised some red flags.

There is no doubt Patrick Roy loves to win. He’s always loved it. It fuels him. He’s the type of guy that when he played, he could toss a team on his back and drag them to the Stanley Cup.  He did just that as a rookie in 1986 with the Canadiens.  When he came to Colorado, he played with Joe Sakic, with Peter Forsberg, with Ray Bourque and Rob Blake.  He was surrounded by others like him, others with the natural ability to be a difference maker in a game and who had a strong enough supporting cast to make it count.

Now, he’s not.  He has Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, and Semyon Varlamov.

That’s not to say that they aren’t good players – they are.  And some of them are still fairly young and growing their game.  But Duchene and Barrie are at or near 25.  Johnson and Varlamov are at or near 28.  Heck, even Landeskog is entering the traditional NHL forward prime of 23.  If you’re expecting them to magically just get better, to become Hall of Fame level players who can just will a club to glory, you’re going to be disappointed.  That’s not who they are.

Nor have they been put in a situation to find that success.  Duchene’s entire tenure here has been marked by sub-par teams and sub-par linemates.  For a few years, he had O’Reilly, but by and large, he’s been stuck with guys like the end-of-career ghosts of Iginla, Tanguay, Hejduk.  At even strength, he’s played with Landeskog only 20 more minutes than with Brandon Yip, and many of those Landeskog minutes came just this season. He’s tried to do it all by himself, to be that guy, and he’s shut down because of the stress and lack of help.

Until this year. This year, after a horrid October from the entire team, he finally was paired with decent linemates in Landeskog and MacKinnon.  As a result, he put up 11 goals in the month of November, essentially resurrecting the Avs from the Western Conference basement and back to a semblance of a playoff hope.

And now you’re going to call him out for lack of scoring big goals in the same breath as criticizing his celebration of the 30th tally this season?

To be fair, Roy isn’t completely wrong either.  For someone so driven to win, seeing that the playoffs are this close then watching them slip away with unacceptable blowout losses this late in the season has to be eating him up.  Frustrated people say things they don’t mean, do things they could come to regret.  Roy’s calmed down a ton since his playing days, but that fiery temper isn’t gone completely.

After the Capitals loss, he talked a lot about accountability from the core.  The best players need to be the best players night in, night out.  Turnovers killed the Avs that game, many from the top guys who should know better.  He asked if it was talent, options, or concentration holding back the team.

The truth is that it’s all three. There is an encyclopedia’s worth on what’s wrong with this roster’s construction, deployment, and execution, so there’s plenty of blame to go around.  If this club wants to take the next step, everyone – and I do mean EVERYONE – needs to take it upon themselves to get better.

With that in mind, I appreciate Roy’s step towards creating player accountability.  Years ago I read an article on the Edmonton Oiler’s losing culture.  It has since disappeared into the ether of the internet, but essentially, it talked about how Edmonton’s young core celebrated individual benchmarks and earned bonuses in terrible team losses.  They were so accustomed to losing that cheering for individual accomplishments was all they had left.  So when the team cheered for Duchene’s 30th, it drew some nasty parallels.

Yes, it’s a big goal for him as an individual.  Yes, thirty goals in the modern-day NHL is a big accomplishment, one to be proud of.  But when that comes across as overshadowing the reality of where the team as a whole is at, is that really the culture the Avs want to be creating?

I understand why Roy called him out.  But what I don’t understand is why he decided to pick that fight.  If you’re going to pick on the core, pick on Landeskog’s delay of game penalty that created STL’s first goal.  Or Barrie’s recent lack of production.  Or the mistakes made by Johnson around his net and in the neutral zone.  Pick on Varlamov’s poor start to the year that put us in this catch-up position in the first place.  All have had redeeming qualities this season as well, but when your first foray into “player accountability” is singling out this year’s MVP for only laying one golden egg instead of two, is that really the way to start?

Matt Duchene is not above criticism, nor was his celebration.  But if you’re going to talk about what was broken this year – or what’s broken moving forward – there’s a heck of a lot of names above his on the list.

However, I do agree with Roy that this is a team that doesn’t know how to win, doesn’t know how to bounce back when things go poorly.  It’s been a hallmark of the Avs since 2010.  Maybe it is a leadership issue from the core, a lack of pushing this team forward from Duchene, Barrie, MacKinnon, and Varlamov (the four core members not mentioned by Roy).  Can he teach them how to win, how to be leaders?  Maybe, maybe not. But I will say this:

If Sakic and Roy are not comfortable with the core as it stands – if they don’t believe this core is capable of lifting this team to that next level – they need to trade someone.

And they need to do it this summer.

They’ve preached patience, but is accepting two seasons without playoffs without a major shake up the way to establish a “winning culture”?  Given their expectations, the coach would usually be shown the door.  However, given Roy’s front office position and ties with Sakic, I highly doubt he’s going anywhere for at minimum another year or two.

That means another scapegoat might very well be offered. And who has higher trade value on this team right now than Matt Duchene?

Only one problem – if you pull that trigger, you better be right.  Even if he’s not a leader in the locker room, 25-year-old 30-goal scorers do not grown on trees. There are currently seven players that age or younger in that company, and I doubt St. Louis (Tarasenko), Dallas (Seguin), Nashville (Forsberg), Calgary (Gaudreau), Tampa Bay (Kucherov), or Columbus (Jenner) are in a huge hurry to get rid of theirs.

To make matters worse, the Avs don’t have any forward depth to spare.  If you look at who gets the most minutes at 5 on 5 (min 20 GP), in ’13-14, the top six forwards generated 100 ES goals, 5th in the league.  Then they lost Stastny.  Last year, they generated 80 ES goals, good for 13th. Then they lost O’Reilly.  Even though it’s been a while since I pulled the numbers, after game 73, this year’s group was on pace for 64 even strength goals, which was 26th in the league.  Of the 57 they had scored to that time, Duchene had 20.

Maybe he’s not a leader in the room, but he’s certainly been one on the scoreboard.  But maybe this team will be fine without him.  Maybe Mikko Rantanen will come up and have a great showing as a rookie next year, and maybe the Avs will land Alex Radulov and boost their scoring that way.  But that’s still a of a lot of maybes when you have an elite scorer sitting on the roster in front of you.

And this isn’t an O’Reilly or Stastny situation.  Duchene has already signed here long term.  Heck, he even took a cap-friendly discount to stick with this team.  Yes, the roster needs defensive help, and yes, Duchene is a good trade chip to get it, but robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn’t get you any closer to heaven.  And trading any of the Avs core players, particularly Duchene, has tremendous potential to either create or drastically widen areas of need.

For the Avalanche fanbase, this is year seven of a “five-year” rebuild. If Sakic and Roy are ready to hit the reset button again and restructure the core, that’s their right.  Maybe it’s what needs to be done.  Beyond MacKinnon, this core was assembled by the previous administration, and it’s certainly not without its faults.

Maybe a more authoritarian Roy will change things.  Up to this point, Duchene for one has never thrived in this environment, but possibly hearing it from someone he grew up idolizing will help.  It’s also possible the rest of the core needs a similar kick in the rear to discover how to take it to the next level.

And maybe changing an assistant coach is the right move, or bringing up and expanding the roles for Rantanen, Bigras, and Zadorov will turn things around.  Or maybe a free agent can come in and help improve the defensive or top six forward depth.

However, fan frustration is definitely very high, and Colorado doesn’t have a lack of things to do in the winter. Results are important, and while turning a team around takes time, dragging it out longer than necessary won’t help.

This is a pivotal summer for the Avs.  Both action and inaction could have a drastic impact on what the core looks like October 1st.  If the front office doesn’t have faith in the group they have now – if they feel someone like Duchene isn’t in their long term plans and can’t become the leader they need – then now is the time to make the trade.

The Avs have gone two seasons without the playoffs, and a decade without a series win. If they have to break the roster again before it can heal, at this point, what’s a few more years?

But they better be right.

Andi Duroux

As a Colorado native and relative newcomer to hockey, Andi grew up following college basketball before switching sports in 2010. Since that time, she’s developed a passion for learning about the icy game and sharing that knowledge with others. Her focus on history, in-depth analysis, and statistical research provides a unique take on both the Colorado Avalanche and the NHL as a whole.

  • boratbuff

    Spot on. Roy is a hell of coach, he needs to stay. Time to admit the core of this team just isn’t very good. 4 players (Duchene, MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Johnson) were drafted #3 overall or higher. And their best players in recent history were 2nd round draft picks: Statsny and O’Reilly. Trade the core (except for MacKinnon) for good young prospects and draft picks and start over. Blow it up.

    • Andi Duroux

      Actually, personally, I think that starting over would be a waste of time and talent. Leadership off the ice is important, but so is leading by example. I don’t see any way for them to get a high enough return for Duchene to make it worth blowing a hole in the forward core big enough to fly a jet through, and restarting the rebuild now is a huge step backwards, a joke, and will probably cost them their jobs at some point.

      But that’s my personal opinion. Roy’s the guy in the room – he has more information than I do, and maybe moving Duchene is the right choice. I’m just saying that if they’re still going to do it, they better get it over with and move on.

      • Forsberger

        I don’t think Roy wants to move Duchene, I think he was both blowing off an little steam and wants to try to change culture (not that I agree with his decision to air it publicly). At least that’s what I’m hoping. Trading your best young player is not typically a good way to move your team forward.

    • NorthernAvalanche

      Roy is definitely not “a hell of a coach”. Good coaches maximize the potential of their players.

      • boratbuff

        2014 Jack Adams award winner. Good enough for me. Perhaps the blame lies with the players, not the coach.

        • NorthernAvalanche

          Their possession numbers have gone down since Sacco era with largely core players. That’s not a coincidence.

        • peardon 97

          Name me a jack Adams winner and I’ll name the goalie responsible for it

      • boratbuff

        Also, what potential? Duchene, Landeskog, and Johnson have been in the league a long time. What have they done in prior seasons that makes you think they are capable of more? They are as good now as they’re ever going to get. They are complimentary players, not good enough to constitute a core. Trade them now while you can still get something for them.

        • NorthernAvalanche

          Duchene has had a 70 point season when paired with good line mates (ie. not named a 39 year old Iginla) and began scoring like crazy when given good line mates this year (Mack/Landy). Coincidence? I guarantee you if they trade him he will have 65-70 point seasons for someone else.

          Your right Landeskog isn’t going to put up great offensive numbers, he’s just not that talented offensively, but he’ll consistently put up 50 points and is our best two-way forward with the best possession stats on the team.

          Johnson needs to be better, straight up, but again he’s paired with Beauchemin who was way over used this year so I can’t completely fault him especially with how the defensive zone system is designed.

          Last night Roy purposely played Nick Holden for 23+ minutes, making him the TOI leader at even strength! Do you see a problem with that?

  • Eric C

    Jesus, if the Avs trade Duchene, I’m not sure what I’ll do. That will be three favorite players, two of them pretty loyal Avs players, to be shipped out in as many years. Dutchy should have an “A” at least next season.

  • nemesis44uk

    Very good article.

    Here’s the thing – if the Avs trade Duchene, I will be gutted, because it would be the last gasp “throw stuff at the wall and hope it sticks” move. A move made out of desperation by the front office – put simply – a gamble to keep their jobs. You don’t trade a 30-goal scorer who’s in the top ten of faceoff wins in the league for a stupid celebration.

    Duchene is streaky, as are a lot of players, but when he’s hot, he’s damn hot and no one on the team has the love of the organisation that he does. I don’t think that Roy has the tools in his arsenal to compete in the playoffs, it’s as simple as that. I think that retaining Army and hiring Farrish are bad moves. To make the most of the Avs’ d-corpse, you’d need to have proven, skilled coaches.

    The fundamental issues of clearing the puck from the zone and lack of laser-sharp passing date back to 2010 and before. If the forwards are spending all their time bailing out the defence, you aren’t going to score many goals.

    A couple of years ago, we were luxuriating in the riches of RoR and Stastny as centres, with all of their positive puck possession and 2-way defence. Now, we are struggling for that part of the game and it hurts the team. If you have the puck, after all, you can’t be scored upon.