Not to pile on the Ottawa Senators any more than the hockey community already has in the last few weeks, but there are two more players on the current roster who likely won’t make it to the trade deadline. Ottawa’s management has insinuated that they’d like to build the next team around the 27-year-old Matt Duchene and 26-year-old Mark Stone, but with both players on the final year of their contracts, does anyone really think they will re-sign?
If I had to make a guess at which of the two will likely fetch a higher return for Pierre Dorion, I’d go with Stone. He scored 62 points last year in 58 games, is trending positively, and is 16 months younger than Duchene is. There is probably still some stigma attached to Duchene after how his final year went in Colorado, too. Although veiled in delivery, all appearances are that the Avalanche were happy to move on, either from the distraction or from Duchene himself. Couple that with what happened in Ottawa after his arrival, and you have to ask if there really is something there under the surface. Not to pin all the losing on Duchene, but if you were making a court case against him, you’d have some compelling evidence.
The Predators are in win-now mode. Pekka Rinne is in the final year of his contract and at the age where it’s probably smart to take it one year at a time going forward anyway. The primary contributors to Nashville’s squad are all between 24 and 29.
If we look across the Western Conference, the contenders have all gotten stronger over the offseason. The Vegas Golden Knights added Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny. The San Jose Sharks added Erik Karlsson. The Los Angeles Kings added Ilya Kovalchuk. The Winnipeg Jets largely stood pat, but there is enough talent on that roster that they didn’t need any additions to be a Cup contender. The Flames and Blues made significant changes to their rosters to get back into contention. Dallas made a coaching change, which could once again bring out the vaunted Stars offense led by Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg.
The window is open and there are difference-makers available for the Predators to put themselves in the best possible position to get back to the Cup final.
Not that anything happening in Ottawa makes much sense, but based on a condition placed into the Karlsson trade, Senators management seems to have a clear preference to trade what remaining players they have to the west. Given that there are likely only a few suitors who feel they could both trade for and keep Duchene past this summer, the trade market is awfully thin. Any contender in the west should be offering up anything of substance for either Duchene or Stone’s services. Dorion and Melnyk won’t let them walk for nothing.
So why should the Predators be that contender?
For starters, they don’t have any salary cap concerns for this year. The Predators are currently about $9.6 million under the cap and at 46 contracts. Duchene is due $6 million this year—the last year of his deal—before he hits unrestricted free agency next summer. Adding Duchene would leave the Predators with $3.6 million and change left under the cap at the start of the season, a total that accrues dollars as the season wears on. According to Cap Friendly, the Predators have over $44 million in deadline cap space.
After this season the cap situation gets more dicey, with Rinne needing a new contract, Kevin Fiala hitting his RFA years and a Roman Josi extension looming. That’s a problem for next summer though. If Duchene comes to Nashville and fits in well with the room and produces, who knows what he’d want in an extension. The starting point would probably be his current number of $6 million, and I’m sure he longs for a stable job environment.
I criticized the Nick Bonino signing and what it cost the franchise to add a legitimate 2C in Kyle Turris a while back, but I’m fine with Bonino as a third-line center. Now imagine a scenario where Nick Bonino is your fourth-line center! Johansen–Duchene–Turris down the middle would be the strongest in the Western Conference, at least in terms of depth. Sure, they don’t have the firepower of a guy like McDavid or Crosby or even Mark Scheifele, but no team in the league has better depth, other than perhaps Toronto and Pittsburgh.
Although Duchene’s fancy-stat numbers didn’t look all that tremendous in Ottawa last season, his production picked up in the second half after he gained whatever comfort he could playing for the outfit running the team. He scored 21 points in Ottawa’s final 21 games.
Throughout his career, Duchene has been known for his fantastic speed—a skill that the Preds generally lacked last spring, when they faced the Jets in the second round. Like it or not, Winnipeg isn’t going away, and just about everyone is expecting a Nashville-Winnipeg series in the second round again this year. This could be your new Penguins-Capitals. Duchene would provide the exact thing that the team clearly didn’t have against the team that is the biggest threat stopping the club from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
A Duchene acquisition would give Coach Laviolette an upper hand in the matchup game. The Fiala-Turris-Smith line dominated on the shot clock last year, but being able to mix and match Duchene and Turris in the middle six allows the coaching staff to tinker with lines and matchups to the team’s advantage. Nick Bonino could shift his focus almost entirely to defense to shut opponents down on the fourth line.
If Duchene or his agent expresses to Pierre Dorion that he isn’t coming back next year, management is going to trade him for something—anything. He wasn’t too happy with the Zach Smith cut. Although Duchene is closer to his boyhood home of Halliburton, Ontario, if the entire reason he wanted out of Colorado was to play winning hockey, I don’t see a scenario where he stays in Ottawa regardless of how much money they are willing to pay him. It goes without saying that if we’re talking about Eugene Melnyk and willingness to pay, that pretty much ends the conversation. The Senators will find their way to the salary cap floor, but that’s about all they are going to do.
The return for Erik Karlsson was underwhelming. The Sharks didn’t give up any of their top prospects, but did include a first round pick, which isn’t likely to be in the top 24 in next June’s draft. They attached a few conditionals based on whether the Sharks reach the Cup Final or Karlsson finds his way to an Eastern Conference roster. The first is a pretty standard condition.
Just spitballing here but maybe a first-round pick, Frederic Allard, and Grant Mismash might be enough. Attach a second-round pick as a conditional for reaching the Cup Final, and Dorion may be obligated to take it. If the Predators are really in win-now mode, they should be kicking the tires on Duchene yesterday.