Senators’ Duclair: Trade Bait or Extension Candidate?

When Anthony Duclair became an Ottawa Senator during the middle of the season, he needed to play well to save whatever he had left of his NHL career. He had been well-traveled, starting with the New York Rangers, moving to the Arizona Coyotes, to the Chicago Blackhawks, and then to the Columbus Blue Jackets (four teams in six seasons) before becoming a Senator at the 2019 trade deadline.

Related: Senators’ Jean-Gabriel Pageau: Will He Stay in Ottawa?

But, that’s exactly what happened. As a Senator last season, Duclair had 14 points in 21 games. He didn’t stop then. This season, he’s been even better – scoring 32 points in 42 games. That kind of production, and the fact that perhaps he wanted to stay close to home – Pointe-Claire, Quebec, is only just over 150 kilometers east of Ottawa – encouraged him to re-sign in June 2019 with the Senators.

Ottawa Senators Anthony Duclair
Ottawa Senators left wing Anthony Duclair (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)

Probably more correctly, Duclair realized that, because the Senators were in the midst of a rebuild, he might be able to produce decent scoring numbers because he’d be one of the few experienced scoring options. Whatever his thoughts, in June 2019, the restricted free agent Duclair signed a one-year, $1.65 million contract extension. As it turns out, that contract has been a bargain.

Duclair’s Success Continued into 2019-20

Duclair started slowly in his first six games of the 2019-20 season, scoring only one point. Still, new head coach D.J. Smith didn’t cut Duclair’s ice time and kept throwing him out on the ice for regular shifts. Finally, in a game on Oct. 23 against the Detroit Red Wings the turnaround started. Duclair scored two goals in that game. He then scored in eight of his next nine games.

The two-goal game also started what has been a bit of a feast-and-famine pattern. After the 24-year-old had started the season with just one goal (and no assists) in his first eight games, the two-goal game wasn’t an aberration – he stayed hot.

Related: Duclair Scores Twice, Nilsson Makes 38 Saves as Senators Beat Bruins 5-2

Although Duclair had a brief three-game scoring drought, in two consecutive games against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 16 and against the Red Wings again on Nov. 19, he scored three goals and added an assist. Interestingly, at that point in the season, 12 of his 13 points had come at even strength.

Duclair’s season has seen his scoring come in bunches. When you think of it, the phrase coming in bunches is interesting because, when things come “in bunches,” there are times of celebration – and, on the other hand, misery. Such is the case of Duclair’s season. He’s been on an uphill and downhill roll. However, it’s been mostly uphill.

On Nov. 22, Duclair cracked his personal power-play goal drought and added a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win over the Rangers. It was his 10th goal of the season and, given the roll he was on, it started to seem as if a 30-goal season might be possible. If so, that would be huge for Duclair who had kicked around the league for so long.

Anthony Duclair Ottawa Senators
Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Then, after the Rangers game, Duclair’s scoring hit another skid – this time four games. But, immediately after he scored five goals and two assists in a four-game streak. It was a familiar story.

So, when he didn’t score in a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 11, it seemed as if he would be facing another famine. Not so. The very next game against his old team – the Blue Jackets – he had a hat trick and then went on to score six goals and four assists in his next 10 games. And, that’s where he sits today in his scoring.

Duclair Has Found a Home

The young forward has found a home in Ottawa and has played like he’s possessed. Duclair had always shown promise, but never found a fit with his skills. Ottawa seems to be that fit and, because he’s only 24, it looks as if he might stay there for a while. But, will he?

Ottawa Senators Anthony Duclair Montreal Canadiens Cale Fleury
Ottawa Senators left wing Anthony Duclair gets his stick up high under the chin of Montreal Canadiens defenceman Cale Fleury (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)

That’s a good question. What will the Senators’ management do with Duclair? Will he be moved at the trade deadline? Duclair’s set a career-high with 21 goals and 32 points in 41 games, and he’s been named to the All-Star team for the first time in his career. In short, it’s been a breakout season.

Will the Senators Trade Duclair?

As the NHL typically works, the Senators are a team that will be sellers at this year’s NHL trade deadline. Until the team lost five games in a row, it was hanging around a situation where it had won as many as it had lost. That was a surprise for this upstart team, but it seems unlikely such team success will last.

Related: Senators Prospect Report – First Quarter

Buried deep in the Eastern Conference standings with only 37 points, it would seem like a good time to move contracts that needed to be re-signed or shop players with value as a way to stockpile prospects and future draft picks.

And Duclair has value. He might be just the type of player who would fetch high value on the trade market. Except for one thing. His success has mostly happened in Ottawa. The Senators might be rebuilding, but reports are that the team likes him and wants to keep him around as part of their future. He’s young and he’s productive. Duclair was let go from so many other teams, but with the Senators, he’s found another gear.

Anthony Duclair Ottawa Senators
Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

TSN’s Darren Dreger’s recent report suggests that the Senators might just ignore the trend to sell Duclair, even if they might get a number of prospects in return.

Dreger noted, “I supposed there could be the threat of trade – again the Ottawa Senators are still very much in a rebuild format, so they could dangle Anthony Duclair out there. But again, given the offensive production of Anthony Duclair this year it makes sense that the Ottawa Senators will do everything they can up to January 1st, maybe soon after January 1st, to get a contract done.”

My Vote? Duclair Should Stay

Will Duclair receive an offer from the Senators before his contract runs out? And, will he accept it? I hope he sees Ottawa as a place he belongs – a home and a place where he fits.

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And, given that he was almost out of the NHL, job security (perhaps a three-year extension) must look good. However, should this season be a one-off, the Senators are taking a risk. However, if this season’s iteration of Duclair is the real deal, there are worse places to call home than Canada’s national capital. My vote is to offer Duclair another contract with the team.