It looks like Ottawa Senators’ Matt Duchene will be on the move again for the second season in a row. Nine days ahead of the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Senators have made their number one centreman available for trade, if the price is right.
Related: Senators 2019 Trade Deadline Preview
Despite having contract negotiations since November, general manager Pierre Dorion and the club don’t look anywhere near signing their star player to a long-term deal. Rather than their pending free agent walking into free agency and the team getting nothing, trading him has now become the best option. Best-case scenario for a return looks to be a first-round pick, a mid-to-high-end prospect and either another prospect or a mediocre roster player. An important piece is the first-round pick, since the Senators don’t have theirs because of last season’s Duchene trade.
With the rumours swirling on where he might end up, here are the top four landing spots for Duchene based on what’s best for the Senators, Duchene and the team that acquires him.
4. New York Islanders
Last summer, the New York Islanders lost their best player, John Tavares, to free agency. Now, they can help the Senators not lose one of theirs the same way. David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period reported that the Islanders are definitely interested in Duchene and have even made an offer.
Duchene would do well in Brooklyn, giving this season’s most surprising team a solid one-two punch down the middle between he and Matt Barzal. The team also has a great deal of prospects that should interest Dorion and the Senators. That list includes Oliver Wahlstrom, Noah Dobson, Kieffer Bellows and Josh Ho-Sang. Most importantly, the Islanders have their first-round pick, which the Senators need at this point in their rebuild.
The Islanders might not want to part with forward Wahlstrom and defender Dobson, but the two should be asked for by Dorion. They were taken 11th and 12th in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, respectively, and while are both a year or two away, they would be core pieces of the Senators rebuild. Wahlstrom, in particular, should be of interest for the Senators, as he has been a part of the U.S. Junior and USNTDP teams, just like Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris and Logan Brown. He’d fit right in.
While he may be a good fit, Duchene likely won’t want to head to the Islanders, which is why they are fourth on this list. While the team is doing well this season, Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson and Robyn Lehner are all pending free agents, and there’s no telling what the team will look like next season. A sign-and-trade is possible, but it seems unlikely for Duchene to agree to that when the future is so uncertain.
3. Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets are going to push hard for another Senator: Mark Stone. Recent news out of Ottawa suggests that the Senators are making a strong push to re-sign him though, so he may be unavailable. If that’s the case, the Jets may set their focus on Duchene. The Manitoba team has been looking to bolster their top-six, and the former Colorado Avalanche center could do just that for them.
There is definitely dialogue between the two teams, and if they are turning their attention to Duchene, there are many pieces that could interest Dorion in a return.
Of course, there’s the first-round pick. The Senators don’t have one (ironically because of the Duchene trade) and will be looking for one in return for both Duchene and Stone, maybe even for Ryan Dzingel if they move him, as well. On top of the pick, the Jets have a number of interesting prospects.
Jack Roslovic should be at or near the top of the ask list for the Senators. The 2015 25th-overall pick has really started to show what he can do, scoring 17 points in 58 games so far for the Jets. At just 22, there’s lots of potential for Roslovic. Sami Niku is another, seen as a potential cornerstone defenceman. He’s gone from a seventh-round pick to a top prospect and even won top defender in the AHL for the 2017-18 season.
The speculation between the two teams has been extremely high, with Dorion and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff seen speaking ahead of the Senators’ game versus the Jets. The Senators general manager was in Winnipeg, along with his assistants Jim Clark and Peter MacTavish, to scout both the Jets and the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets
Just like the Islanders, when Duchene requested a trade from the Avalanche, the Columbus Blue Jackets were in the mix. Now, 15 months later, it looks like the club could be back in the mix. The Blue Jackets have their own pending free agent issues to worry about first though, and that may be the deciding factor in if they target Duchene.
Artemi Panarin is one of the biggest names in the rumour mill this season, and his contract expires at the end of this season. If the Blue Jackets move him, they may look to acquire Duchene to fill his void in the top-six. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun explained the interest on Insider Trading: the Blue Jackets would go after Duchene if the cost is less than what they get for Panarin. There could even be a three-team trade if that’s the case, just like what brought Duchene to Ottawa.
Although, recent reports have said that Panarin could stay in Columbus, basically making him their own rental as they make the push down the stretch. But teams are still calling, and there’s still a week left until the trade deadline.
The Blue Jackets would likely end up using pieces they acquire from Panarin, but they do have their own assets they could use. Vitaly Abramov, who had 104 points in the QMJHL last season, would be an ideal target. As would 2018 18th overall pick Liam Foudy. While projected as a late-bloomer, he still has a lot of potential moving forward. Finally, Sonny Milano could be an interesting piece in return as well. In 70 NHL games, he has just 24 points, including one goal in eight games this season, but has 21 points in 24 games with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. The Blue Jackets also have their first-round pick which the Senators would want, as well.
Duchene would provide a big improvement down the middle for the Blue Jackets, whose centres currently include Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nick Foligno, Alexandre Wennberg and Riley Nash.
1. Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators were a part of bringing Duchene to the Senators, so it’s only fitting that they have a hand in taking him away, as well.
For the past few seasons, the Predators have been a threat and a Stanley Cup contender, but haven’t been able to make the leap from contender to winner. Perhaps an addition of Duchene can help them get over that hump. Behind Ryan Johansen, the skill level drops pretty significantly to Nick Bonino, Kyle Turris and Colton Sissons. Solid centres, but they don’t really compare to Johansen or Duchene. His addition would immediately improve the lineup.
As for what they may get back, there’s a first-round pick possibility. That will be high on the Senators list of wants no matter the trade partner. After that, the most intriguing player is Eeli Tolvanen. According to The Fourth Period, the Predators have already made the 2017 30th-overall pick available for trade to be a part of a package to target a high-end player, for example, Duchene.
General manager David Poile has said he’s “willing to pay a high price if the right player was available” and now Duchene is available. They have the right pieces to make the trade, they are a Stanley Cup Contender and Duchene would fit well in their top-six. Duchene to the Predators makes the most sense, and he can even work on his singing career there.
Trading Duchene is the Only Option Now
Now that the Senators have admitted that they are likely going to trade him, it becomes clear that he wasn’t going to sign an extension with the team. Whether that was because of the contract offer, the direction of the club or another reason, we may never know. But if Dorion and the organization knows that he won’t be re-sign, then trading him away is the only option left so he doesn’t walk away for nothing after everything the team gave up to acquire him last season.
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.