Last November, when the Colorado Avalanche finally found a deal worthy of moving their long-time star Matt Duchene, it marked the start of a new chapter for the franchise.
The trade had been a long time coming, and many assumed that Joe Sakic has lost any leverage he had by waiting as long as he did to move a player that everyone knew wanted out of Denver.
That wasn’t the case.
The trade that Joe Sakic was able to pull off was one of the biggest we’ve seen in a long time. The addition of a third team was necessary in order to make it work — but in the end, the Avalanche turned one unhappy player into a treasure trove of assets that will be key to any success they have over the next five years.
While the trade will define the new era of the Colorado Avalanche, though, it could subsequently have the opposite effect on the Ottawa Senators.
We all know why the Avalanche made the trade. They had a high-end, top-6 forward with an inflated value and a desire to move on. They then turned Duchene into a package of six assets — and already, a few of those have proven to yield an incredibly high value.
Sam Girard is only 20-years old and is already playing on the top pair of a good NHL blueline. Add him to Ottawa’s first round pick, and you’ve already got a package most Avalanche fans would have accepted for Duchene.
The deal doesn’t stop there, though. The Avalanche also received Shane Bowers, Vladislav Kamenev and a couple more picks — essentially, four lottery tickets that could make the trade even more fruitful.
It was a trade made for the future that happened to improve the Avalanche a lot quicker than anyone expected.
Of course, we can’t forget the Nashville Predators and their involvement.
We know why David Poille made the deal. He had a team that was ready to compete for a Stanley Cup — and while he was the one that gave up the uber-talented Girard, you can understand why he made the trade.
In Kyle Turris, Poille was able to land a top-6 forward that would improve his lineup, while giving up three assets that were not going to help the Predators win last season. Girard was a great prospect, but he was a guy buried in one of the strongest defensive depth charts in the league. It would have been a long time before he was going to make the kind of impact in Nashville that he will immediately in Colorado.
Then there are the Ottawa Senators.
Some might wonder why they made the trade, but the answer is simpler than people think. After nearly reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, Pierre Dorion misjudged how good his team was on a sustainable level.
Of course, he deserves a bit of a pass. it’s not the first time a general manager has thought his team was a lot better than it is.
In September 2009, Brian Burke traded his first and second round picks in 2010, along with his first round pick in 2011, to the Boston Bruins in order to bring Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs. At the time, Burke thought he had a team good enough to contend, and that Kessel would be the missing piece.
In hindsight, the trade backfired spectacularly.
Kessel led the team in scoring, but the Maple Leafs went 30-38-14 on the season. They finished last in the Eastern Conference, only finishing ahead of the perennially-hapless Edmonton Oilers and earning the second overall pick — which they hadn’t bothered to lottery protect. That pick went to Boston, where the Bruins ended up selecting Tyler Seguin in 2010. Add in the Dougie Hamilton pick made with the second first rounder a year later, and it’s clear that the trade set the Leafs re-build back a number of years.
The Leafs were a bad team, Brian Burke just didn’t want to admit it.
The same was likely the case for last year’s Ottawa Senators.
After an improbable run to the Eastern Conference Final earlier that summer, Pierre Dorion was under the impression that his team was one piece away from a legitimate chance at a Stanley Cup last season. He thought Matt Duchene was that piece.
The problem, of course, is that most NHL observers could see that the Senators were due for a regression following their year of success.
Ottawa had lost 8 of the 14 games they played last season before the Matt Duchene trade happened. They were, statistically, highest in the standings of the teams involved in the trade, but their defense still had a handful of holes after their Norris-winning captain and their goaltending was uncertain.
Moving from Kyle Turris to Duchene gave them a younger asset with a better body of goal-scoring work; Duchene’s career .73 points per game was an upgrade on Turris’ .59 points per game, and the team bought an extra year before they’d need to make contract negotiations. But the trade didn’t address their more glaring needs, and the team finished with a 28-43-11 record and the 4th overall selection in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft.
Extenuating circumstances led to the Senators trading away their superstar defensemen and one of their best scoring forwards this past summer — circumstances that led team owner Eugene Melnyk to finally accept that they needed to re-build.
The problem, of course, is that the team’s rebuild was set back a year ago today.
Like Toronto nearly a decade ago, the Senators are coming off of a disastrous season without a top draft pick, and there’s a chance they’ll lose Duchene to free agency as well. In comparison, the Predators gave up Girard, Kamenev and a 2nd for their part of the deal, which acquired Turris from the Avalanche as a middle-man.
If the Senators, instead, had taken that package and held on to their own picks/prospects, the trade would have given the Ottawa a pairing of Thomas Chabot and Sam Girard to build around, as well as the ability to properly bottom out and select a franchise-altering player at the top of this year’s draft.
They wanted Duchene, and that’s perfectly ok. For a team that had aspirations of a deep playoff run, Matt Duchene was a great player to bring in.
Unfortunately, he didn’t alter the team’s path, the Senators didn’t address their other holes, and they still fell to the bottom of the standings.
Then, the icing on the cake really rounded off the lopsided optics.
At the 2018 Entry Draft — full of decent players, but very few game changers — the Senators had the ability to hand over their first round pick (4th overall) and close the book on the trade. It would have been a tough pill to swallow, but it would have allowed for a proper re-build. The team could have traded their pending UFAs - Karlsson, Duchene, Mark Stone - bottomed out, and built from the ground up.
Dorion chose instead to select Brady Tkachuk and forego his 2019 first round pick.
While Tkachuk is an incredibly talented player with a productive NHL career ahead of him, the top end of this year’s draft is significantly more talented. Add to that the pressure that Tkachuk will face if the Avalanche end up with a superstar like Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko or Kirby Dach from this year’s draft, and Tkachuk’s entire career is going to be mired by the stigma that the Sens chose him over those players. Right or wrong, it could become the cloud that he’s stuck under from here on out — the same way it has with Kessel and Seguin.
The Senators have started to lose again, and things don’t look like they’ll change any time soon.
On the flip side, the trade was a huge win for Joe Sakic and the Avalanche — and now, it’s only going to improve when this summer. It didn’t give them the team’s foundation, but it has provided the assets to surround the core group of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Erik Johnson and Gabriel Landeskog with the talent necessary to become a contender.
In 1992, this same franchise made a trade that would shape their team into a two-time Stanley Cup Champion. And while we’re a long way from seeing the kind of optics that resulted from the Lindros trade, for the Avalanche to swing this kind of thievery again isn’t something you expect in this era of the NHL.
The trade happened a year ago, but thanks to that first round pick, it won’t be finalized until this June. It involved three teams and completely re-shaped two of them.
We already know it was devastating for the Senators franchise, but we are a long way off from finding out just how massive a home run it was for the Avalanche.