One of the biggest stories surrounding the Ottawa Senators this season has been their unrestricted free agents. Their three top forwards, Matt Duchene, Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel are all free agents this summer. With the Sens sitting last, what should they do? Keeping Stone, if they can, is one option the team should explore. However, for Matt Duchene, a trade may be the best option.
Matt Duchene Trade Makes Most Sense
Let’s get this out of the way now. Matt Duchene is a great player. He has been one of Ottawa’s best players since the trade and relatively speaking, on a better team that trade wouldn’t look horrible. He has 96 points in 109 games since becoming a Senator. He is one of the play-makers offensively driving this team forward. However, his overall play driving metrics are not quite where you’d want it to be given the talent of the rest of the team.
His next contract will be signed when he is 28, turning 29. It will likely be 7 or 8 years with an AAV of at least 8 million. So, does his actual play warrant that kind of money?
Giving almost anyone above the age of 25 or 26 a long-term deal likely won’t end great for a team. Research has shown that a forwards peak is actually 23-25, not 27-31 like many people previous have thought. So, giving almost any player an 8-year deal likely means that in their mid to late 30’s, it will not be in your team’s favour.
Looking at Matt Duchene’s age curve, it’s obvious the Sens should take this into consideration. Three big GAR/WAR models for hockey are currently Manny of Corsica’s, Evolving Wild, and Chace McCallum. All three of these models had Duchene peaking 5 years ago, at age 23. Since then it has been a steady decline to the point where he is a fringe 1C.
Why are so many people comfortable with Duchene getting massive money long term?
He clearly peaked at age 23 which was… 5 Years Ago. Otherwise, my model has been the highest on him where he’s only been a bad 1C/high-end 2C. Signing him at 29 for 8 years doesn’t seem wise. pic.twitter.com/KlL7ugw3br
— Chace McCallum (@CMhockey66) January 20, 2019
This season will obviously be better. However, throwing away 5 years of data showing a player declined because he had one really good year doesn’t seem smart. There are very few players that quit declining and actually get better at age 29. The Sens should really take this into consideration.
Doesn’t Fit The Timeline
This is the biggest point about moving Matt Duchene. He simply doesn’t fit the Senators timeline. As mentioned above, players decline into their 30’s. However, the way the NHL free agency market is set up, you usually have to pay big dollars for guys past their prime. These deals almost always turn out bad near the end, however, can be worth it for a team who has a cup window to win now.
Teams like the Washington Capitals and the San Jose Sharks can give John Carlson, Brent Burns or Evander Kane long contracts that will look horrible by the end. But, this is because they are in a win-now window. When those contracts look bad and are not worth it, it’s more than likely the team will be bad as well.
With Ottawa, however, Matt Duchene’s contract just doesn’t fit. Ottawa will likely be rebuilding for at least two, possibly even three more years. Unless luck goes their way right away and they win the lottery next season while finding lots of other young talents, it will take a little bit for Ottawa to find some true top-end talent if they wish to be a contender. By the time they wish to compete, Duchene may already be 31 or 32, and that contract may already start to look poor.
Will Need Cap Space
The other thing is, Ottawa will likely need the cap space. It is well known they work under an internal budget with Eugene Melynk. However, even if he does happen to be gone in three years, the Sens may still need the space. Signing Stone should be a number one concern. He is 26 and is an elite player with lots of room to fall down from. Those two years and skill difference can mean a ton of difference when it comes to the future. However, if Ottawa does get Stone signed that will likely take up tons of cap room right there.
Add Thomas Chabot, Colin White and Brady Tkachuk contract raise’s, among others, in the future. These will all add up and Ottawa will need the cap space. Especially if they are still on an internal budget. Having a Matt Duchene that makes more than his value he is producing won’t be a smart use of resources for the Sens. Using cap space on an older player in the future when you’re trying to contend instead of better or younger players would be poor asset management.
Contenders Need High-End Talent
If Ottawa truly wishes to be a contender, the way to do it is by acquiring high-end talent through drafting. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and even Nashville Predators have all drafted well along with other moves to either be contenders for the past few years or for years to come. If the Sens truly want to be a contender, finding your own young talent in their early 20’s is a way to do it.
They already have some great building blocks in Chabot and Tkachuk. Guys like Stone can provide leadership and players like White or Rudolfs Balcers will be solid supporting cast players in the future. However, more high-end talent is needed. The Sens need to find at least one or two more solid defensemen and more high-end forwards that have an elite potential for 5-10 more years. While Matt Duchene is very solid right now, he just won’t be that in the future.
On top of all of this, the Sens will need to figure out goaltending moving ahead too. Marcus Hogberg and Filip Gustavsson are both in the Sens system. However, neither of them are a sure thing for the NHL. Trading Matt Duchene could really help the Sens get some high-end prospects or picks back to find some key players moving forward.