It’s hard to believe that this type of article even needs to be written, but here we are. The Avalanche have missed the playoffs again, a storyline that has been well documented throughout the hockey world. Interestingly, the story line that has found its way to the forefront this offseason is that the Colorado Avalanche need to trade Matt Duchene. There are a variety of reasons that people give for this, but the fact of the matter is that trading Matt Duchene is the worst move the Avalanche could make this year.
He’s Not “Elite”
For a long time, there was a narrative that Duchene was one of two things. He hadn’t cracked 30 goals in his career and should have by this point of his career; or that Duchene hasn’t proven that he can be a point-per-game player on a consistent basis. The fact that he hasn’t done this clearly means that he isn’t “elite” and therefore isn’t worth his spot on the roster. Well he hit 30 goals this season and had two seasons in a row (2012-2014) where he was a grand total of five points away from being exactly one point-per-game.
Furthermore, the term “elite” bothers me more than almost any other term in professional sports. It is completely subjective and means different things to different people. In the NHL, there really isn’t anything but elite athletes, and Duchene is no different. Now, if one wants to criticize Duchene for not being Alexander Ovechkin, Sydney Crosby, or Patrick Kane, then that can’t be denied. But there has never been an expectation from anybody that Duchene was going to be any of those guys. If one is trying to criticize Duchene for not being one of the best players on the Avalanche, then that is just factually inaccurate. Duchene has led the Avalanche in scoring four of the seven season he has played and has been in the top three on the team in scoring every season except one. It’s hard to ask for too much more from him offensively.
The Avalanche Need Defense
The other narrative showing up is that the Avalanche need a top-pairing defender and the way that they can get that player is by trading Duchene. There is, at least, some form of logic at work in this particular narrative, which I can appreciate. The issue here is that this is not the best way for the Avalanche to do this. Yes, Ryan Johansen was sent to Nashville for Seth Jones, but the situations at play here are not exactly the same. The Avalanche are a borderline playoff team, and have been for the last two seasons. Columbus was out of the mix early. Additionally, the Avalanche are coming off their second season in a row where they were in the bottom third of the league in scoring. It’s true that the Avalanche need help on the back end, but how would trading your top scorer make sense when the team has had similar issues scoring?
The other part of this is that teams don’t just trade their top defensemen because you want to send them your top scorer. Seth Jones was moveable because the Predators had Shea Weber and Roman Josi ahead of him. Top defenders don’t just become available and they certainly don’t hit the free agent market anymore. Teams must either put together a blockbuster trade to get them, or grow them from within. The Avalanche have high hopes for the likes of Chris Bigras and Nikita Zadorov and need to be patient with their development. Trading Duchene for defense would be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Clash With Patrick Roy
Then there is the noted clash between Patrick Roy and Matt Duchene after Duchene’s 30th goal of the season. This, naturally, set the media ablaze with rumors of trade now that Roy and Duchene were having friction, and even though Duchene and Roy seemingly cleared the air the following day, that certainly hasn’t stopped the rumors from swirling. This whole thing was wildly overplayed and one would have to think that any team that would just trade their best player because he did something the coach didn’t like is silly. Joe Sakic and Coach Roy know how important Duchene is to this team and wouldn’t just move him for the sake of moving him. That would be horrific business practice as the team would never get anywhere near appropriate value.
Not to mention, how on earth would Sakic be able to sell the idea of losing each of the team’s top three centers in consecutive seasons? There is absolutely no way to positively spin losing Paul Stastny to free agency one year, trading Ryan O’Reilly the next due to the contract standoff, and subsequently trading Matt Duchene because he celebrated his 30th goal. It just doesn’t make sense.
The Avalanche have to find answers this offseason, nobody would argue otherwise. The answers that they seek, however, will not be solved by trading Matt Duchene. Duchene is a leader on the team, has been the team’s offensive catalyst for years, and always brings his best effort to the rink. If the Avalanche are smart, they will not trade Matt Duchene.