After weeks of speculation, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion finally dipped into the trade market Friday, dealing pending unrestricted free agent Matt Duchene to the Blue Jackets. The trade is the first of three major moves Dorion is expected to make.
Acquired in November 2017 from the Avalanche in a blockbuster three-team swap that sent Senators center Kyle Turris to the Predators, Duchene was perceived to be the missing link in Ottawa making a long playoff run similar to its run the previous season which ended in a Game 7 loss to the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals.
While the Senators capsized during Duchene’s 118-game tenure, the skilled center did not; he garnered 50 goals and 57 assists with them.
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Having played in just eight playoff games over his 11-year NHL career, however, Duchene fought the urge to become part of another rebuild in Ottawa. He spent several seasons with the Avalanche on the wrong end of league standings.
“That team is going to look a lot different come July 1. You know there are a lot of changes coming. The position I’m in, you get to do this (free agency) one time,” Duchene said at his Blue Jackets media availability. “You want to make sure you make the right decision. I just ran out of time a little bit. Obviously, I understood this (trade) would be the next step.”
Dorion was hopeful the 28-year old Duchene would remain with organization and become a mentor to younger Senators prospects, but it was not to be.
“As soon as it was determined that he did not want to be part of the rebuild, we shifted our focus to see what assets we could acquire in exchange for Matt that would help grow our pipeline of potential,” Dorion said in a press release.
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Let’s hand out the grades:
Blue Jackets received from Senators: C Matt Duchene, D Julius Bergman
Senators received from Blue Jackets: Columbus’ 2019 first-round pick (the Blue Jackets keep the selection if it’s a top-three lottery pick); a conditional 2020 first-round pick if Duchene re-signs with Columbus (if Duchene re-signs and the 2019 pick moves as a result of the lottery, the 2020 conditional pick moves to 2021); F Vitaly Abramov, F Johan Davidsson.
Blue Jackets: A
Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen went big-game hunting and found a No. 1 center in Duchene. He needed to strike quickly, too, because so few centers are available.
The Jackets are teetering in and out of a playoff berth on a nightly basis. They entered Friday’s game vs. the Senators trailing the Hurricanes by one point for the final wild-card spot in the East, but they held two games in hand.
Duchene adds experience (he recently played his 700th career game) to a young center core that includes Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alexander Wennberg. The Haliburton, Ontario, resident also adds scoring and playmaking skill to an already potent offense led by Dubois, Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson and Artemi Panarin.
More importantly, Duchene’s acquisition makes it more likely that fellow pending UFA Panarin will stay put, at least until July 1. The Blue Jackets’ leading point-getter (67) has been the subject of recent trade rumors.
It was imperative for Dorion that he replace the 2019 first-round selection he dealt to the Avalanche for Duchene last season. There’s a slim chance he’ll recoup first-round picks in consecutive seasons; it’s unlikely that the Blue Jackets miss the playoffs and Duchene re-ups with Columbus.
The odds are stacked against Columbus winning the draft lottery if it misses the playoffs, so the 2019 first-rounder should hold.
Abramov, the 2016-17 Quebec Junior League MVP with Gatineau Olympiques, joins a loaded group of Senators prospects that includes Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Alex Formenton. He’s on the smallish side (5-9, 171 pounds) and is still adjusting to the pro game. The 20-year-old right winger has 12 goals, 10 assists in 52 games in his first pro season with Cleveland in the American League.
One NHL executive calls Abramov a “high-skilled intelligent player” who has drawn comparisons to current Senators forward Rudolfs Balcers.
Dorion is hopeful Davidsson, a sixth-round pick of the Blue Jackets in 2017, will leave Sweden after this season. The 21-year-old right winger is playing for Djurgårdens in the Swedish League. He’s known as a solid two-way forward with solid hockey acumen.
The downside to the deal is that while both Abramov and Davidsson appear to be capable future NHLers, their ceilings may not be high.
Dorion’s next step is to decide the fates of Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel; he’s hopeful of having a resolution prior to Monday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline.
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