BOSTON – He’s played hard. He’s played well. He has begun to look a guy enjoying his job and his life again, with a Colorado Avalanche logo on his chest.

Do you believe in miracles? OK, settle down Al Michaels.

Things are still pretty awkward around Matt Duchene. After a seemingly happy conversation about the game he’d just played Monday, and the week he’d just had, with the Colorado Avalanche, I asked him, “Hey, do you believe in fairytale endings Matt?”

“What do you mean?” Duchene said, suddenly looking serious.

Well, about this whole thing, this once seemingly unsalvageable relationship between you and the Avs and…

“I’m not addressing that. I’m here to talk about the game, that’s it,” he said.

OK then. Moving right along…

Look, things are a long way from perfect still between Duchene and the Avs. Two years ago, in the same visitors’ locker room at TD Garden, Duchene was first confronted by media rumors that he might be on the trade block. He was shocked by them, angered by them, hurt by them. Now, he’s become hardened to them.

He reported to training camp on time with the Avalanche, but had all the joy of someone checking in with a parole officer. There was that team photo of him, looking like a guy getting a mug shot at a police station, that went viral. Hashtag #FreeDuchene suddenly became a thing on Twitter.

But the Matt Duchene I saw the last few days of the road trip looked like a guy who was, dare I say it, enjoying himself again. He still doesn’t like to make much eye contact with reporters like me, and you still get the sense he’s a guy not knowing what the next day might bring to his life. But I saw some laughter between him and a few teammates on the road. I saw a guy who seems to think this Avalanche team, for however long he might be on it, can win some games again. Winning, of course, salves a lot of pain.

And, poking around a bit on the subject at a couple of teammates’ locker stalls, the word I got goes something like this: They don’t know how long he’ll be around either, but for now, Duchene is earning renewed respect around the team for maintaining a professional attitude and playing hard.

I didn’t cover the team every day the last couple years, so I don’t know much about the internal dynamics of those locker rooms. But I was told by a couple of players who were there that the chemistry was just plain bad last year, understandable given it was a 48-point team. Beyond that, though, I’m told there were plenty of petty squabbles among players and a good deal of finger-pointing. There were cliques, they said, especially among the older and younger players.

There were few times, I was told, where any more three or four guys went to dinner on the road together. Most teams, especially in hockey, you’ll see eight to 12 guys, or more, go out together.

Now look, three games into a new season is way too early to judge a team’s chemistry. But I most definitely get the sense that this team gets along much better than the last couple. The oldest guy on the team (Carl Soderberg) is 31. There are a lot of really young, hungry guys who are starting their careers together. That’s how the great Avs teams of the past got started, with some brilliant tinkering around the edges later by Pierre Lacroix.

That’s what Joe Sakic is, finally, trying to do now. Young, fast and hungry – that’s all that Sakic cares about now.

Which brings the subject back to Duchene. Is it possible that these young kids, some with really strong talent, can make Duchene love playing the game again here? Is it possible that he might be just the right kind of leader on a team like this, a guy with eight years of experience, whose character and perseverance have been tested to the limit with all the career uncertainty he’s endured? Could all this have been a blessing in disguise for Duchene and the Avs, toward a reconciliation? Could the fairytale still come true?

Or, is he still just a pawn in Sakic’s ongoing chess game, who will be shipped out immediately when his market value brings what Sakic has wanted all along?

I think it’s a fascinating story that is still developing, and I have no idea right how it ends. And, I don’t know if Sakic knows either. I know Duchene doesn’t know.

But I do know one thing: This isn’t the Shakespearean tragedy it seemed just a few weeks ago. To quote the Old Bard himself: “Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises; and oft it hits where hope is coldest, and despair most fits.”

Adrian Dater

Adrian Dater is a staff writer with BSNDenver. He started his journalism career way, way back in 1988 as a proofreader with the Concord Monitor as a kid out of college (Keene State College), and has wended its way since with a 25-year stop at The Denver Post, 20 of which were spent as the beat writer of the Colorado Avalanche, from its inception in 1995. Adrian has also worked as a primary hockey writer with Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, The Hockey News, Versus.com and Bleacher Report. He is the author of seven sports books, including the best-selling "Blood Feud: Colorado Avalanche v. Detroit Red Wings, The Inside Story of Pro Sports' Nastiest and Best Rivalry of Its Era" and "100 Things Avalanche Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die", which was published in October, 2016.

  • MikeL

    “Brilliant tinkering”. Are you serious. that incompetent idiot destroyed this team. He’s the reason we are where we are. I realize he made flashy moves so you journalists like that stuff so you can write about. But they weren’t hockey moves. when he left we didn’t even have a farm team. I’ll give him the Patrick Roy trade but that’s it. I ground my teeth every time I watched Rob Rehger play for over ten years. what did we get? Theo Fleury for a handful of games before before he succumbed to substance abuse. Well I could go on but on the whole his brilliant tinkering took a championship ready team and destroyed it.

    • Mark Kinz

      Er…. we got two cups out of it…. are you saying getting Ray Bourque for a bag of pucks was a bad deal? What about moving Lindros for a king’s ransom? I don’t know how Lacroix would do in the cap era, but the man was a GOD in the 90s/ early 2000s.

      • MikeL

        He did not move Lindros for a king’s ransom Mark. that was the previous general manager.

        • Mark Kinz

          Regardless, the Bourque and Roy deals were steals. The Blake move was also solid. He was a “win now” GM, which worked extremely well at the time. We have two cups. Nuff said.

    • Special Ed

      To be fair, he also brought in Blake and Bourque, which led to the 2nd cup. I’ll agree, he made as many mistakes as he made savvy moves (Eric Lacroix being the most egregious mistake). I’ll also agree that he didn’t leave much in the minors when he left.

      Generally, he gave the team the talent it needed to compete and being elite. I’m still amazed he stayed with Crawford as long as he did. For me, his biggest issue was the coaches he hired. I think the teams he built under performed because they lacked quality coaches. The Red Wings didn’t have that problem

      • MikeL

        Or maybe he fired them too quickly.

        • Special Ed

          Whether he hired them before they were ready, or stayed with them after they were effective, it doesn’t matter.

      • MikeL

        Well the problem was that he traded away our future, traded often for players that weren’t helpful, and drafted very poorly so that the franchise disintegrated. OK he won two cups with a team that the previous GM built, but his lack of concern for the future led to a 48 point season, capping many years that we really weren’t competitive. I thought the goal was to be competitive year in and year out like Detroit.

        • flyfysher

          The goal was and still is, to win the SC.

    • Ryan James McManus

      I think your forgetting who brought the first professional sports Championship to this city and state. I think you are the incompetent idiot sir.

      • MikeL

        No you are the incompetent idiot. He did not bring the championship to Denver. H e did not build that team. He took over right before they moved here.

        • dudleyconrad

          you are familiar with the claude lemieux, sandis ozolinsh, and patrick roy trades?
          i’d wager we don’t win the cup without any of those three guys, plus mike keane.

    • Jimbotronn

      I think you’re both right and wrong: PL did destroy the team in the big picture, but his contribution to the Cup winning squads was definitely some “brilliant tinkering.” He didn’t build that team, or even maintain it, but he did perfect it and put it over the top.

      I don’t give LaCroix much credit in the big picture and never have. His two biggest deals, Roy and Bourque, essentially fell in his lap and all he had to do was pick up the phone. Ozolinsch, Blake, and Lemieux were good moves, but for each move like that there were two of the likes of Fleury/Selanne/Drury/Tanguay/Theodore to more than cancel them out. He traded away nearly every decent prospect they had and didn’t restock the cupboard with good drafts at all, which IMO led directly to the decade of incompetence we’re still suffering through. But credit where credit is due: he took the young and extremely talent-rich team he inherited in Quebec, added a couple nice pieces and one of the best goalies in the game, and made them a Cup winner. Some argue that his later tinkering cost them a chance at a couple more Cups, but Dater’s description of “brilliant tinkering around the edges” is spot on.

      • mikeladen

        I always like your take Jimbo. However I disagree that Ozolinch and Blake were good moves.I hated giving up Owen Nolan. There were a lot more Ozo’s out there than there were Owen Nolans, and we really lacked a power forward during the championship years. In re Blake, I just thought we gave way too much. I always thought we’d be better off with Miller, Deadmarsh and the two No 1s. Especially since the day I watched Blake leaning on his stick while Jon Arnett whaled on Maro Svatos ultimately breaking his shoulder.Certainly Ozo and Blake were great players, but I never liked the trades.

        • Jimbotronn

          Thanks. I don’t think those trades were steals or slam dunk wins for the Avs, or anything like that… Owen Nolan in particular was a great player for a long time. But they were both trades that worked out well for the Avs despite what they gave up, and sometimes you have to give up good players to get them in return. Those guys added to the team and contributed to their Cups, and in that light I think they were good trades.

          In the big picture you can certainly argue that the players the team traded away could have helped them more than the players they acquired, but the big picture also has to include two Cups that may not have been won if the mix on those particular teams wasn’t just right.

          One terrible trade that LaCroix made that nobody really talks about was trading Mats Sundin to the Leafs for Wendel Clark. Since that happened before the Nords came to Colorado, it doesn’t get discussed, and I know Clark was part of the trade that brought Lemieux to the Avs so it’s not like they didn’t benefit from it in some way. But to think the Avs could have had Sakic, Forsberg, Nolan, and Sundin up front just blows my mind.

  • Special Ed

    I can’t help but think a lot of the “Duchene problem” is actually generated by the press. Let’s face it… NOTHING worked well last year, and the team was the definition of a dumpster fire. As a result, attitudes and emotions were NOT positive. I’m sure Duchene shares in that, but he was not the only one.

    Once the press started covering the idea that Duchene was being traded, it was like sharks with blood in the water, and every conversation about the Avs started and ended with that. And I think Duchene started looking at the press for an indication of his value to the Avs. I think he’s learned since he got back this past month that the Avs don’t think as poorly of him as has been said in coverage of him. And as a result, he doesn’t trust the press anymore.

    I don’t blame him. There’s been a lot of rumors about that situation from this site and others that have never been substantiated in a any meaningful way, and that doesn’t help. I wouldn’t trust the press either if I was in his shoes. He’s been burned. He’ll be careful going forward.

    To be clear, I’m not condemning anyone at BSN or any other site. Everyone has done it. I can’t think of a reporter or pundit that hasn’t said something like “I’m hearing there’s a lot of talk about Duchene with this or that team”, or “Matt just can’t return to the Avs, it’s too toxic”. But nobody goes on the record about it. And THAT is toxic for Matt. I suspect he’s learned to take all of that with a grain of salt now.

    • bob_w

      I agree. Maybe the real answer here is in your last sentence. Has he learned to take it all with a grain of salt or is he still hurting from the perceived slight of being the subject of all the rumors? Maybe he just needs to play hockey and allow the game to renew his spirit. Perhaps his reticence to talk is more a case of not wanting anything taken out of context or to fan any flames that seem to so be ready to be started by some fans and some media.

    • Jimbotronn

      I agree about the possibility that this whole thing has been little more than media driven rumors run amok. I don’t think I’ve read a single direct quote from Sakic that he’s trying to trade Duchene, nor a quote from another GM saying that Sakic was trying to trade Duchene, or a quote from Duchene saying he wants to be traded. It seems to me that pretty much the entire thing about the “Duchene Trade” has been people—fans and media alike—reading between the lines, and it’s hard to know how big the grain of truth is inside the giant rolling snowball of speculation.

      I mean, it certainly could all be 100% true and the media have been reporting what nobody is willing to come out and say: Duchene truly hates playing here, Sakic has been actively trying to trade him for a year or more, and everybody in the situation is miserable and just waiting for it to end. And if that were the truth, I wouldn’t expect anybody involved to come out and say it that directly. But even so, there’s still a lot of room for other possibilities based on what we know. Duchene did look like he ran out of craps to give midway through last season, but as you mentioned the same could be said for most of the team. And when Sakic said that he’d trade anybody on the team if it would help them, that’s nothing more than typically vague GM speak which included essentially every player on the roster as tradebait, yet the only player people are talking about trading is Duchene.

      So we could be seeing a guy who wants out ASAFP and a GM trying to trade him but wasn’t able to get what he wanted… or we could be seeing a GM who said nothing more provocative than that he was always looking for ways to improve his team, and a guy who was understandably unhappy with losing and on top of that, has grown tired of all the relentless speculation about his future dominating his hockey life.

      Personally, I have always liked Duchene and hope he stays with the team. He’s never going to be the Sidney Crosby type of player who carries a team on his back, he needs help. But if he gets it, he’s a great player to watch and he can be a huge part of this team’s future.

      • jpwheels

        Spot on. I, too, have not read/heard anything from anyone else other than the media about Duchene being up for trade. This whole mess started when the Sakic was asked if anyone on the team was untouchable. His answer was that only MacK, Rants, and Jost were safe. So I guess the press picked Dutchy as the current item up for bid. From there, the race was on to see who could be right and first to report on the big trade. And there’s no doubt that Duchene’s uninspired play the last half of last year fueled the flames.

        When asked about it sometime during the off-season, Sakic said something
        to the effect that he didn’t start the rumors. And he said he wasn’t trying to trade anyone but was listening. He also asked the
        rhetorical question of why would he want to trade 9 because he’s a great
        player?

        You’re right – it could all be true. I would guess that there’s some truth to the rumors because there has simply been so much noise about a lot of teams interested in a trade. But good GM’s are always kicking the tires.

        And I fully agree with your last paragraph.

  • Eric Lessard

    I truly hope Matt and Joe can come together and make it work long term. The excitement with these young guys is the same as when Duchene, Stastny, ROR all started together and he deserves to be a part of it. The difference now is we have the opportunity to set a new precedent with how players perceive the Avs management. We don’t want players looking at us as a stepping stone. That starts with an end to this whole trade saga and something concrete happens to show players how much management values them. I think Matt could be that piece of the puzzle and could really help the team turn the corner. The actual team chemistry is obvious when these young guys play together – something we haven’t seen since the last wave of young promising players.

  • Av-a-dabba-doo

    Truth be told, though I really like the BSN Colorado Avalanche podcasts – and I mean that sincerely – one thing I have not enjoyed has been the tired, grim Duchene refrain. Not a speck of hope. It’s wrecked, it’s doomed, etc. Rumors of Matt being a bad teammate, taken w/o salt. Hey, maybe #9 will be traded. I’m sure he’s not been perfect. I guess I’m one fan, though, who’s not in a hurry to see it happen (i.e. getting rid of Duchene), and would prefer to take this new season one fresh game at a time.

  • Chris DeMott

    Imo, the comments below are spot on. I could be wrong but I don’t remember any questions or stories along the lines of “do you feel that because you (Duchenne) or Landy are the only guys on this team w/ friendly enough contracts to get any decent trade value for, that the team management has let you down”. Where were the daily questions to guys like Soderberg, Iginla or Beauchemin? Or, how about questions about Sakic’s wisdom in saying the Mack and Jost were untouchable? The daily barrage was unfair and pedantic. I don’t blame him one bit if he never answers those questions again. If he quit on his mates then that would be one thing and maybe he did… but, I don’t know if he was the only one that did that either. One of those untouchables was just as questionable.

  • Just picture it: the Avs win the Stanley Cup. Landeskog, with a full-on viking beard, accepts the trophy from Gary Bettman, does his skate with it, and hands it off to…. Matt Duchene.

    Just imagine the emotion involved there. It could be one of the greatest sports redemption stories ever.

    So if the media is going to make crap up and try to generate a narrative, why can’t it be something positive like that?

    I mean, I’m on record thinking Duchene should be traded (I felt this way before the media decided it *must/will* happen) purely because he’s 26 and has more value to a contending team than to a team at the bottom of the standings. Ditto for EJ. But if he stays I’m not going to be too broken up about it. Looking at out defense right now, do you see a desperate need for a young left shot defenseman? I don’t.

  • AvsFinn

    Great article, AD at his best. The media didn’t create this. Duchene validated that when he skipped the two team events on preseason and then turned up on training camp sayin he’s there “to honor his contract”.

    A part of me would like to see everything work out and Duchene stay. I’m a succer for the whole thing about a kid growing up to be a star on the team he idolised as a kid and all that. Also love to see those few cases these days when a player stays on one team through their career. And remember even Joe Sakic was close to leaving the Avs at one point.

    But if Duchene can’t play to his abilities in this team maybe it’s just time to part ways. He’s started well this season but this is still not the Duchene we know.

    As for the PL talk on here. Some might have forgot he was long time agent for Patrick Roy. He gets all credit for that trade it didn’t just fall on his lap. Roy made the difference in the first cup and in the second as well where Bourque created the hype and concentration for the team.

  • cerveau

    I can understand and respect the positions of both Duchene and Sakic. Plus Sakic went through his own experience of being trade bait.

    That said, Sakic still could have handled the situation with more finesse. He could have pulled Duchene aside and told him something like he values Duchene as a great player and is in no hurry to trade him but needs to be open and look out for the best of the team yaddi yaddi yadda… I think it would have made a huge difference for Duchene.

    I remember shortly after Roy left the Avs he personally called Duchene and wished him the best etc, and that left a big impression on Duchene.

    It’s clear that from a young age Duchene really loved the Avs and was proud to be on the team and was hurt about the way things turned out. I think the team would benefit by hiring somebody to teach both the players and management some communication skills, maybe even act as a mediator or HR person.