How the Matt Duchene trade from the Avalanche unfolded over months — and how it all ended for Colorado

How the Matt Duchene trade from the Avalanche unfolded over months — and how it all ended for Colorado

NEW YORK — His head was on the trade block for more than a year before Matt Duchene finally let his dream die. Frustrated by a team heavy on talented scorers but light on elite defensemen, and having seen his place atop the roster heap slowly erode, the Avalanche’s star center walked into his hero’s office.

Duchene grew up a rabid Avs fan as a boy in Ontario, watching with marvel the antics of Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg. He was the poster boy of Colorado’s next generation after they drafted him No. 3 overall in 2009. He oh-so wanted to go No. 3, and showed a sigh of relief when defenseman Victor Hedman went No. 2 to Tampa Bay. Duchene was always supposed to be the second coming of Sakic.

Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9) ...
AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9) waits for a face off against the Winnipeg Jets during the third period of the Avs’ 4-1 loss at the Pepsi Center on Monday, Dec. 27, 2011.

So his sitdown with Sakic around near Christmas last year carried a certain burden. Duchene wanted out. His desire to play with the Avalanche was over. He asked the general manager for a trade.

“That was a long year,” Duchene said. “A long couple of years really.”

On Sunday, in the middle of a game in Brooklyn against the New York Islanders, the Avs finally ripped off the bandaid. They yanked Duchene from the first period immediately after finalizing a blockbuster, three-team trade that will send the 26-year-old to Ottawa.

Not since 2010 when the team traded for Erik Johnson, a No. 1 pick of the St. Louis Blues, have the Avs made such a franchise-altering deal. And Duchene is not the only recent high-profile departure from a once-great franchise that is struggling to find its way. Some 15 months ago, Roy abruptly quit as Colorado’s coach shortly before the season after he grew increasingly frustrated with a lack of control.

The return bounty coming to Colorado in the trade does not lack for quantity. The Avs will receive seven players, including four prospects and three draft picks, highlighted by 19-year-old defenseman Samuel Girard, who was expected to join the team in Sweden on Monday and will immediately see the ice Friday.

Already the second-youngest team in the NHL, the Avs are now all-in on a youth movement.

Sakic said he started talking with Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion in January of 2016. But concrete talks about a Duchene swap only started to solidify three weeks ago. They finished those negotiations in a flash Sunday as the deal came together in about 15 minutes.

“We’re trying to build this up and get younger and have our kids grow together,” Sakic said. “So that we, hopefully sooner than later, are competing for playoffs and Stanley Cups.”

But Duchene’s trade was about more than building for the future. The Avs used a TV timeout in the first period to pull him from a game, then he showered, packed and trudged his bags up a service elevator to a waiting SUV in a loading dock behind Barclays Center.

And in the immediacy of his awkward departure, a sense of relief settled in. If not good-riddance.

“Our No. 1 focus is on the guys who want to be here,” Colorado captain Gabe Landeskog said. “It is hard to deal with sometimes for the guys who are here and put their heart and soul into this team and want to find a solution. Matt had his opinions and reasons. But for the guys who are here, we want to win and turn things around for this team.”

Johnson, too, did not display any sadness about Duchene’s sudden exit.

“At the end of the day, we all want to play for the Colorado Avalanche and do great things here,” Johnson said. “He didn’t. We wish him well.”

The Avs will turn to 22-year-old rookie J.T. Compher to center Duchene’s former line, a second line that will likely include Sven Andrighetto on the left wing and a rotating cast on the right. Girard, the Avs hope, will make an immediate impact even in his final year as a teenager.

Duchene could see his departure coming, he said. He was prepared to make leave of the team on Saturday even before the Avs’ 5-4 shootout victory over the Flyers in Philadelphia. Duchene told his wife early Sunday morning that he could sense a trade was near.

The chasm Duchene leaves behind will carry through the season, if not in years to come. But it will be thorny even sooner. The first team Duchene and the Senators will face is his former team. Colorado and Ottawa will play back-to-back games Friday and Saturday in Stockholm.

Duchene was gone from the locker room Sunday night in a flash, before his former teammates took their seats after the first period. Sakic and Duchene then met one last time. The GM was there to greet him as he came off the ice, still in skates. They sat down one-on-one in the locker room — Sakic, the once hero of a Stanley Cup champion, and Duchene, the player who never escaped that shadow.

“I know he’s happy, he’s relieved,” Sakic said. “We feel like we did the best thing for us.”

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