It was not a happy Hockey Day In Canada for the Ottawa Senators. On the very day that the Senators and their prized acquisition, Matt Duchene blew yet another two goal league to arch-rival, Toronto, Duchene’s old team, the Colorado Avalanche won their ninth straight game, putting themselves in a playoff position, while the Senators drop further away out of sight.
Ottawa must still be reeling from the shock. Nobody would have predicted such a one-sided trade. What’s even more horrible is that Ottawa was supposed to be the big winner. To recap: Ottawa got Duchene from Colorado in return for a bunch of players and at the same time let Kyle Turris go to Nashville. To rub it in, Nashville is now leading their division and Turris has made a significant contribution, while the Senators have got virtually nothing from Duchene.
Getting Duchene made sense for Ottawa. Last year in the playoffs they solidly defeated a tough Boston Bruins team and then pulled off one of the two major upsets of the Stanley Cup tournament by ousting the New York Rangers. The Senators weren’t through either. They proved to be Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins toughest opponent, going toe to toe with them for the maximum seven games and only losing in double overtime. To General Manager Pierre Dorion, the difference in that series was that the Penguins had two superstar players at forward, Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, arguably the best player in the world and the best European player in the world. Dorion figured that if he could acquire a superstar forward of his own, it would be the final piece of the puzzle that would put Ottawa past Pittsburgh and give them a Stanley Cup to match their recent Grey Cup. Dorion was not alone in such thinking. Many fans, coaches, media, other general managers, etc. believed it too.
So with the best will in the world, Dorion looked around for a superstar forward. The biggest prize available seemed to be Matt Duchene who was rumored to be available for the right price. In a way, Colorado was trying to imitate the Pittsburgh formula for building a Stanley Cup champion, by molding a team around two superstar forwards, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. But the Pittsburgh formula was not working in Denver and the Avalanche finished near the bottom of the standings last year. It was rumored that Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic had made Duchene – significantly not MacKinnon – available for a trade.
Sakic obviously made a sound assessment of his club. As things would turn out he picked the right source for the “cancer” on the team and then kept the result close to the chest. His accurate assessment qualifies him to being named this year’s top General Manager of the NHL, in conjunction with Las Vegas General Manager George McPhee. One only has to compare the result of Sakic’s diagnosis with that of Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin who targeted P.K. Subban as the scapegoat for Montreal missing the playoffs two years ago and shipped him to – a potential deja vu for Dorion – Nashville. And today, both Ottawa and Montreal are out of the playoffs by a wide margin while the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche soar.
So without divulging the reason for his assessment, Sakic held out until he got what he believed was the right equivalent for Duchene and then let him go to Ottawa. Nobody flinched at the move. As an added incentive, getting Duchene would seem to be a way for Ottawa Senator owner, Eugene Melnyk to tell local Ottawa politicians, “We’re serious about winning the Stanley Cup. Now provide funds for building a new arena.”
For Duchene, perhaps it meant he was now going to be released from playing under the shadow of MacKinnon and be given his own team to lead. But instead of responding to the challenge, Duchene has failed to produce and Ottawa, once so close it seemed to the Stanley Cup now finds itself in the dregs of the league. Nobody would have predicted this. It was supposed to be a win-win-win trade for every team. Instead Ottawa stands fleeced.
Who do you blame? How can you blame coach Guy Boucher who got his team to respond so well in the playoffs last year and until Duchene appeared, had the Senators in playoff contention this year? Obviously Dorion is going to get a lot of blame, but other NHL general managers, coaches, media, fans too numerous to count, believed in Duchene too. Duchene was coveted by a lot of teams. This trade seems to prove Sakic’s worth as a general manager, rather than any deficiency by Pierre Dorion. And owner Melnyk approved the trade for the arena reasons listed above. There have been no further moves since the trade by Ottawa. Probably the results have left the owner, general manager, coach and the rest of the team in shock, stunned.
As to why Duchene has proven to be not what he was projected to be, there you have me. Obviously I am not close to the Senators. I am not acquainted with Duchene personally so I cannot accurately access why he failed to respond in his new environment. Obviously Sakic and the Avalanche management had come to believe that he was not what he was projected to be and wanted him gone and carefully and wisely kept it to themselves. They were lying in wait, ready to take advantage when any inquiring general manager like Pierre Dorion came calling.
So most of the blame clearly falls on Duchene. A lot of people are going to be refining their judgment and assessments about him. There is no way Ottawa is going to get what they paid for if they try to trade him. If he became a free agent, there is no way he is going to command the salary he once seemed to merit. Unless he turns things around, his value on the NHL market will take a severe drop.
Unless Duchene becomes what he was projected to be, this trade will become one of the worst or best in NHL history, depending on who you are cheering for. Not even the Gretzky trade of 1988 was so one-sided. Edmonton won one more Stanley Cup without Gretzky, while he failed to take the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup. So far, a more accurate trade to compare this one to was the one in which the Chicago Blackhawks traded Phil Esposito to the Boston Bruins. Esposito subsequently became the NHL scoring champion and Boston won two Stanley Cups while Chicago had to wait over 40 years until the days of Jonathan Toews to win the Cup again.
Right now it is a nightmare to play for or be part of the ownership, management, and coaching staff of the Ottawa Senators. A logical trade, one that most people might have predicted that Ottawa would win has blown up to catastrophic proportions. The team that seemed one step away from the Stanley Cup now has plunged into the depths of the NHL. And still worse, from Duchene’s point of view, they can accurately name the date of when it started to occur.