When the Colorado Avalanche finally pulled the trigger on the Matt Duchene trade, it was a relief for a team and a fan base that had been waiting to move on. It was a move that had to happen after Duchene’s trade request last December and the Avs got an incredible return for the 26-year old. Despite that, it’s hard to ignore the negative effect it has had on the team from an on-ice perspective.
Even though he hasn’t exactly been setting the score sheet on fire in Ottawa, trading away Matt Duchene created a massive hole in Colorado’s lineup. Samuel Girard has improved the blueline significantly, but right now his impact hasn’t been nearly enough to make up for the loss in the offensive zone. Duchene’s presence in the lineup gave the Avs two legitimate centers that were a threat to score on every shift. Now, the burden falls on Nathan MacKinnon alone - and as good as he’s been, it’s impossible for him to carry the team on his own.
Over the past 16 games, Nathan MacKinnon has an incredible 26 points. He’s been the best player in the NHL for a few weeks now and yet the team has lost nine of their last thirteen games.
What’s the problem? No one else is able to create any offense.
In those 16 games, the Avalanche have scored 52 goals. That means Nathan MacKinnon has been in on 50% of the goals his team has scored - that’s ridiculous. MacKinnon leads the team in goals, assists, shots, scoring chances - if there’s an offensive category the league tracks, MacKinnon leads the team.
With the removal of Duchene from the lineup, Alexander Kerfoot was thrust into the 2C role by default. The NCAA free agent is having an incredible rookie season, but he hasn’t been able to provide any sort real relief for MacKinnon.
Kerfoot has 20 points this season, but only 2 of them have come at even strength since the team has returned from Sweden - the trip on which he inherited the 2C role. He simply hasn’t been a threat when playing 5v5.
If the team isn’t getting secondary scoring from Kerfoot, they sure as heck aren’t going to expect it from Carl Soderberg, Colin Wilson, Dominic Toninato or whoever else they throw into the bottom-6 center roles.
What’s the answer? There might not be one this season.
The Avs are going to get Gabriel Landeskog back from suspension this week and that should help. It will allow J.T. Compher to slot back into his proper role on the second line and create a little more depth that might result in a more scoring. Unfortunately, that’s probably not enough to count on going forward.
The solution might be to just wait it out. Put the kids in a position to succeed and learn so that when next season rolls around, guys like Kerfoot, Compher, and Tyson Jost are legitimate threats to create a dangerous top-6 forward group.
Coach Bednar doesn’t seem to like him there, but I’d move Tyson Jost back to his natural center position and just ride out the growing pains. He’s incredibly talented and has the hockey IQ to allow him to succeed at that position. The team isn’t contending this season, so let him learn on the job. In all likelihood, he will be your 2C of the future, why not let him settle into the role now?
Moving Duchene was a necessity and it has drastically improved the future of the franchise. It did, however, shine a light on a major issue for the team. Secondary scoring is a major problem. This season, the team can wait it out as the kids grow, but going forward, Joe Sakic is likely going to have to make a concerted effort to add some - especially if he hopes to build a team that is ready to compete through the prime of Nathan MacKinnon’s career.