Dater’s Avalanche Mailbag: Matt Duchene is still here, but why?


Hi everyone, I'm happy to take your questions on the Avalanche again in what will be a regular mailbag. I did a million of them in a former life, and always enjoyed keeping in close touch with the fans.

It'll be sporadic the rest of the summer, but will be at least once a week in the regular season. I feel good again, feel the passion coming back again and will do my best to keep you all informed of what's going on with this crazy hockey club. My goal has always been to take you as inside the team as I can, and that will never change.

So let's start off these batch of questions with one about, yes, you guessed it, Matt Duchene:

Q: I see a lot of people bashing Joe Sakic for not trading Matt Duchene and asking to lower the price. The Calgary Flames acquired Travis Hamonic for a 1st and a mediocre prospect. I am SO glad sakic rejected this offer. I personally think Hamonic is overrated so I won't get too into that but I think he should look into acquiring a LHD a 1st and a  forward who can replace Duchene for now and prospect. Which in fact I look at a team who can afford and has been linked to rumors before, The Carolina Hurricanes have the perfect pieces for a Duchene deal. Here's my mock trade:

To Carolina: Matt Duchene and Chris Bigras
To Colorado: Noah Hanifin, Teuvo Teravainen, Zykov Valentin

Let me know what you think. Thanks AD - Kaleb

Dater: Well Kaleb, I would do that deal if my name was Joe Sakic. I would definitely do that deal. Problem is, I don't think there is any way Ron Francis would do that deal. I think you're asking for too much here.

I like the fact that you're including Bigras here, as I do believe he makes the most sense as a "throw-in" as part of a Duchene deal, an arguably expendable piece that would make it perhaps more palatable for a team to give up a good young defenseman, one like Hanifin. But, even though Hanifin didn't have a dynamite rookie season, he's only 20 years old and was the fifth pick overall in the 2015 draft. The Hurricanes just aren't going to give up a kid like this so fast. And that's been the problem so far with the Duchene trade scenario: He just isn't a marketable enough commodity at the moment to get a blue-chip defensive stud prospect like this, a real blue chipper.

A.J. Haefele and I have talked about Duchene a lot on our BSNAvalanche podcasts, and it always comes back to the same thing: Duchene is coming off a lousy season, and it has hurt his trade value. The Avs want a proven defenseman and more in return, but teams just aren't sure they're getting a proven No. 1-type center/forward in return right now.  They know he's got a lot of talent, but they look at his play last season, especially in the second half, and have questions. Does he work hard enough? Does he sulk when he doesn't like the coach and/or the system? Why does it seem like he needs to be the one to play with good players to succeed, instead of him elevating the play of others? Trust me, those questions have floated around among the hockey decision-makers lately, and it hasn't helped Sakic's bargaining position any.

But, as you said, Sakic isn't going to sell low on a talent like Duchene. He either gets what he thinks he's worth, or he's going to keep him and hope for a big rebound season. The fact is, Duchene has been an all-star in this league and won a gold medal for Team Canada in the Olympics and in World Championships. He's a name player, and Sakic isn't going to just give him away because fans and media are impatient for some kind of deal. Sakic is either going to look like a genius on this, for holding the line and being a stone-cold killer at the poker table, or he's going to look like a fool for waiting too long and maybe losing even more value. We shall see.

Q: Hey Adrian,

I've been thinking about the Avs defensive breakout troubles and was wondering if some more goalie involvement might help in a few situations. I've always been impressed by goalies who can handle the puck well and I thought Pickard showed some promise. Now that he's gone, we're left with Varlamov, who doesn't strike me as the best puck handler. What's the scoop on Bernier? Any hope for some help from our sixth skater?
Dater: Thanks for the question Ryan. For one thing, you are correct in that a good puck-handling goaltender helps the defensive breakout. Thing is, it is hard to quantify just how much it helps. There is little in the way of advanced statistics on how a team's overall possession numbers are helped, or hurt, by how well a goalie handles the puck and/or facilitates getting it to teammates for plays out of the zone.
There is this article from 2016, though, in which someone attempted to chart a team's possession numbers based on a small sample size of goalies known for being good puck handlers, such as Carey Price, Ben Bishop and Mike Smith. It seemed like, yes, a team with a better puck-handling goalie tends to have better overall possession numbers. But, again, the sample size was small.
There is no question that Varlamov is not a strong puck-handler. He can get behind the net quickly to stop hard-arounds, but he's not an adept passer and not particularly strong on his stick. Calvin Pickard did seem to want to handle the puck more than Varly, but the results were, at times, not good. He was caught out of position several times after faulty puck-handling/passing, leading to goals.
I haven't seen Bernier enough to comment on his puck-handling ability, but after scouring the web, I haven't come across much in the way of people griping about it in his seven years in the NHL. Here is a good article from the Orange County Register on him, from this past season. I think the Avs did well to snag him as the backup to Varly.

Q: Joe Sakic was my childhood hero, the whole reason I started playing hockey. But he has had three/four 'deadlines' where he's done nothing and continued on doing nothing, where those decisions are widely considered a huge failure...

My question is, how much longer could this dude actually have as our GM if his name isn't Joe Sakic?  How many times would he have been fired by now? I'm genuinely amazed he is still in charge. Again, love and respect him as an all-time great player, but he's ruining this team, imo.

Love your work and glad to see you're back, and healthy from everything I've seen. 
Ronnie Yurick
Dater: Thanks for the kind words Ronnie.
Look, I get it: Sakic has been on the job four years now, and the Avs have gotten statistically worse in each season, to a historically-bad 48 points last year. That kind of resume would have gotten some other guys fired by now probably. There is probably no question about it that his status as a franchise icon gives him some "runway" others might have run out of already.
No question, Joe made some not-so-great signings in recent years, from the extension given to Brad Stuart, to that third year given to Jarome Iginla, to signing end-of-the-line Daniel Briere, to signing mid-30s defenseman Francois Beauchemin to a three-year deal, then buying out the third year. I think Joe has learned his lesson: No more old guys.

[caption id="attachment_59728" align="alignnone" width="740"] CREDIT: Brennan Linsley/AP[/caption]

His last batch of moves have been to move out the old and in with the young. I mean, Colin Wilson and Jonathan Bernier aren't young pups, but they aren't in their mid-30s, just trying to get one last contract. The bulk of this team is still pretty young, and trending younger. Nail Yakupov has played five NHL seasons, but he's still only 23.

The elephant in the room remains the Duchene situation, and, yes, if a trade happens, it could largely determine Sakic's future. If it doesn't happen, Sakic better hope for a big season from Duchene, because if he isn't traded and has another bad one, that could definitely spell Joe's doom.
My overall opinion: Give Joe another year to see what his latest moves produce and let's reassess around the midpoint of the coming season.

Q: Thanks for bringing this back, sir! 

I'll try and look on the bright side here at first and say that Sakic made some very smart and financially responsible moves in bringing in Bernier for one year and trading for Colin Wilson. My question for you is this: 
It would appear that at least the bottom 2 (if not bottom 3) blue line spots are going to be pretty much an open competition going into camp. Who do you see having the best shot at locking those spots down, and is having that much competition in camp a good indicator of just how bad this team can be defensively next year? 
Tucker- Pine, CO
Dater: Right now, I see the Avs' top six, as I sit here on July 7th, looking something like this:
Now, I know that Nikita Zadorov has not signed a contract for the coming season yet, and there has been some talk that if he doesn't get what he wants, he might go back to the KHL. But I'm told by a source close to Zadorov, who is spending his summer training hard in Miami, that there is no chance of him going back to the KHL. While the sides may be somewhat far apart on the numbers right now, I expect, based on my talks with my sources, that Big Z will come to an agreement with Colorado at some point before the season.
If those are my top six, who are the others who could challenge for 4, 5 and 6 spots? Well, certainly Chris Bigras can be one of those guys. Certainly, Duncan Siemens can be one of those guys. Bigras and Siemens are the two players who are the closest in development to being able to finally, maybe, crack the Avs' roster for good. I think it's always good to have a good, strong competitive training camp where guys are pushing each other.
Is it an indicator of just how bad this D might be this year? Well, uh, can I wait to see how Mironov and Zadorov and Lindholm and the two youngsters look before making a judgment call?
Obviously, this team still needs help, a lot of help, on defense. That's what the Duchene stuff is all about. So, while it won't be the league's best either way, there are still some unanswered questions as to what the final roster will look like. So, we need some time still before making observations.
Q: I don't think the Avs will be decent enough to trade Duchene for anything other than future draft picks. No current veteran NHL players need to be on this team. Even getting NHL-ready players is counter-productive unless they can flip them at the deadline for picks. What is the strategy going forward if there even is one?
Joel Stefaniak
Dater: Well, Joel, the strategy of late has been to get an established, young, top-4 D-man, along with another prospect and/or draft pick.
If that can't happen, then the strategy is to go into the season with Duchene. That's where all kinds of "what-if" scenarios unfold. What if Duchene lights it up coming out of the gate and has a great first half-to-two-thirds of a season? Won't that increase his trade value again, and then the Avs the kinds of strong defensive pieces they've wanted? What if Duchene stinks it up? Obviously, that doesn't help his trade value, and maybe the Avs are just stuck with him and, yeah, the Avs' defensive depth will pay the price for that and maybe then the strategy is just to hope and pray Cale Makar and Conor Timmins quickly grow into NHL-ready D-men while they're still teenagers.
I said this on our podcast the other day: I think it's still 70-30 odds that Duchene will be dealt before the season.
A.J. made a good point off the air too: Columbus still has two big players to sign right now, in Alexander Wennberg and Josh Anderson.
The Jackets only have a little more than $12 million in cap space. So, they need to figure out what kind of numbers Wennberg and Anderson will come in at before taking on, say, Duchene's $6 million cap hit. Columbus really needs a top-six center, because after Wennberg, there just isn't enough reliable offense up the middle.
Columbus has some nice young D-men, such as Zach Werenski, Seth Jones and David Savard. The guy they'd probably most like to pawn off on the Avs is D-man Ryan Murray, the second overall pick in the 2012 draft (right behind the newest Av, Nail Yakupov), who has played well at times in Columbus but has been seen as something of a disappointment so far. Yet, he's only 23 and D-men usually take longer to develop. Gabriel Carlsson, a 20-year-old Swede who was a first-round pick in 2015 by Columbus, is a potentially attractive acquisition at D for the Avs.
If the Avs have what Columbus needs and Columbus has what the Avs need, why hasn't there been a deal already?
Because GMs today are stubborn, that's why, especially when it comes to young defense.
Nobody wants to end up in the "losers" side of one of those "Winners, Losers" instant clickbait columns our illustrious media world is so adept at producing today.
Q: I saw Adam Foote at development camp last week. Any chance Jared Bednar adds him to his staff as an assistant coach?
Joey from Parker
Dater: Good question, but I don't think Footer is ready to step onto the bench just yet for all 82 games. I know he's still invested in the development of his son, Callan, taken in the first round by Tampa Bay at the draft (how about that, huh, Steve Yzerman drafting the son of Adam Foote? The Avs-Red Wings rivalry just isn't what it used to be, eh?).

[caption id="attachment_16302" align="alignnone" width="740"] Former Avs Adam Foote (center), Brett Clark (right), and Brian Willsie (left) (Photo credit: Cheryl Bradley)[/caption]

Nolan Pratt is slated to return and he worked a lot with the defense, so I think it would be some overlap there with Foote on the bench too. I think Foote still likes being able to drop in once in a while on the D, give some pointers and go about his other business. I know he's always enjoyed coaching youth teams in the area too. The Avs should announce soon the replacements for Francois Allaire, Tim Army and Dave Farrish, so maybe there's a chance Foote could have a bigger role, we'll see.

Thanks for your questions. If you'd like to drop Adrian a question into his mailbag for consideration, email him at dater@bsndenver.com.


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