In the end, the elephant in the room during training camp, preseason and the first 14 games of the regular season was well worth it. Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic successfully put Matt Duchene in his place before the best possible trade package was placed in front of him. By all accounts, Sakic and his staff did an outstanding job of trading a disgruntled player and pending 2019 free agent for a glorious package of youth and promise.
Sakic, however, found Duchene’s immediate replacement three months before he completed last Sunday’s big three-team trade. Signing college free agent Alex Kerfoot in August was Sakic’s first step in happily parting ways with Duchene. Kerfoot, 23, is a gifted young center who leads Colorado with seven goals, tied for second most among NHL rookies. In the big picture, Duchene was getting replaced before he was gone.
Nevertheless, what Colorado received by sending Duchene to the Ottawa Senators might ultimately go down as one of the best Avalanche trades in the 22-year history of the club. Before you analyze the seven-piece return package, remember that Duchene wanted out and had no interest in discussing a contract extension on July 1 when the final year of his current $6 million annual contract kicks in. He was destined to play elsewhere following the 2018-19 season and, make no mistake, his Avalanche teammates didn’t want him around.
“The guys in the room were waiting for it to happen,” Avs defenseman Erik Johnson told colleague Nick Groke. “We all want to play for this team and win in Denver. He wanted to go somewhere else. Now we have a group in this room that will all be pulling the same rope in the same direction.”
Because of Duchene’s contract and his relatively low 18 goals and 41 points last season, I didn’t think the Avs would get more than a good NHL player, a prospect and a draft pick in return. I figured the player would be a defenseman, which it was — albeit a very young one in 19-year-old Samuel Girard — and the prospect would still be in his three-year, entry-level contract, and the draft pick could be a first-rounder.
Mission accomplished, and more. The prospect is Russian forward Vladislav Kamenev, 21, who has already had significant success in the American Hockey League including four assists in two games for Colorado’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio. Kamenev could make his debut with the Avs as early as next week. And the draft pick was indeed a first rounder: Ottawa’s conditional first pick in 2018 or 2019.
Three bonus pieces overwhelming speaks to Sakic’s success with this trade. From Ottawa, the Avs received Boston University freshman forward Shane Bowers, who was selected with the 28th pick in June and is centering the Terriers’ top line, plus the Senators’ 2019 third-round pick. From Nashville, which obtained forward Kyle Turris from Ottawa, via Colorado, the Avs received the Predators’ 2018 second-round draft pick.
Goalie Andrew Hammond, 29, also came over from Ottawa, and he provides depth at the position before likely becoming a free agent next summer.
This trade won’t only benefit Colorado in the future. The elephant has been removed from the room. Kerfoot will continue to excel as the second-line center. Girard is an electrifying young offensive defenseman showing the rare ability to defend at this level as a teenager. Kamenev is bound to play for the Avs this season. And the Avs have stockpiled nine draft pick in the first three rounds of the next three drafts.
The draft picks could potentially help Colorado bolster its blue line this season, or next. And yes, by losing Duchene’s $6 million cap hit the Avs now have plenty of financial freedom to make that happen.
Nothing about this trade is negative.
NHL Spotlight: Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals
When: The Avalanche hosts Holtby and the Caps on Thursday at the Pepsi Center in what will be the first home game in Denver in two weeks, since Colorado defeated Carolina 5-3 on Nov. 2.
What’s up: Holtby made 27 saves in a 4-1 win Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins for his 200th career win — becoming the second-fastest to reach that milestone. Holtby produced his 200th win in 319 games, 10 more than Ken Dryden of the Montreal Canadiens did so on Nov. 15, 1977.
Background: Holtby, 28, is essentially the reason Semyon Varlamov, 29, plays for the Avalanche. They were up-and-coming goalies for the Capitals, along with Michal Neuvirth, in 2010-11 and someone had to go. It was Varlamov, who was traded to Colorado, and ultimately Holtby was favored over Neuvirth in Washington. Holtby won the Vezina Trophy in 2016 after going 48-9-7 with a 2.20 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
Chambers’ take: Varlamov has a NHL career record of 175-137-36, with a .916 SP. Holtby: 200-76-31, .922. The Caps have had better teams than the Avs since 2011, but it surely appears Washington made the right choice.