A month has passed since the Calgary Flames forced the Colorado Avalanche's hand in the Ryan O`Reilly contract dispute. While the Avalanche weren't able to cash in on the disagreement with their character-leading centerman, there is one player who has benefited in a variety of ways because of O`Reilly's contract dispute: Matt Duchene.
We've been treated to multiple reports on Matt Duchene's improved season and the factors that have helped return him to form and also propel him to the next level: a gluten-free diet, off-season training with Sidney Crosby, new workout regime, recovering from injuries, a legit winger in P.A. Parenteau, and so on. But one factor that has been overshadowed is the effect O`Reilly's contract dispute played in Duchene's rise.
Over the course of last season's injury-riddled campaign Matt Duchene slid down the depth chart at center behind the breakout seasons of the O`Reilly-Landeskog line, but also because the Avs' lack of quality wingers left Matt Duchene without consistent quality at his side. Couple that with Sacco's tendency to play Duchene as a winger and Matt was literally left dangling in the wings. But because this shortened season started with no Ryan O`Reilly, it was dictated that the Avs were going to have to play Duchene at center, and it was certain Duchene would at least get the chance to play with top 6 caliber wingers because of the unfortunate lack of top tier centers signed and on the roster. #9 took the opportunity and ran with it.
No doubt Matt Duchene would have had an improved season over last year - his dedication and noticeable drive were going to get him back on track, but opportunity has also played a role in his success. Had O`Reilly re-signed with the Avs and started camp with the team, Sacco would have had to ask some hard questions again about where to put Duchene. Back on the wings? Centering the third line? McGinn-Stastny-Jones displayed good chemistry last season so Sacco would be slow to break that up, same with Landeskog-O`Reilly-Downie. Now Downie's injury may have opened a door, as could have the sub-par play of both Stastny and Jones, but I contend that the greatest factor in providing Duchene with the chance to reclaim his top billing was the void left by "Factor". And no discredit to Duchene, he got himself primed and ready and in position to take control of the situation.
And for anyone who feels bad for Duchene or subscribes to the caddy idea that Duchene holds a grudge because he took a hometown contract while O'Reilly secured a hefty payday, keep in mind that Duchene was making 3.2 million a year while O`Reilly was making just 900K, and overall Duchene will have made 16.6 million over the same 5 years that O`Reilly will compile 12.7 million - I have no qualm with those those ratios as they seem on target with performance and fairly equitable. [note: #s taken from capgeek's cap hit totals which are affected by bonuses, plus I'm real bad at math, so some variance could apply to those tallies] [note #2: Apparently I didn't delve into capgeek's vaults deep enough (TWSS), but Duchene likely didn't collect his full amount of bonuses in any one season except maybe his stellar sophomore campaign].
Duchene is playing at a point per game pace and will likely finish there for the season - for the first time in his career. More importantly he has quieted the doubters and solidified his place as a top line center in the NHL and will not be pushed off of that pedestal any time soon. The Boy Wonder's career is back on track and he may have Ryan O`Reilly - or the lack there of - at least partly to thank for it.