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With Blue Jackets season over, Duchene faces difficult choice

Center loved his time in Columbus, but now must make decision

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Over the last two seasons, Matt Duchene has learned a lot.  

After spending the first eight full seasons of his NHL career with the Colorado Avalanche, the center became a bit of a hockey globetrotter, first going from the Mile High City to Ottawa early last season before being sent from Canada's capital to Ohio's at this year's trade deadline. 

Having played in three cities in a two-year span, he's been able to gain some valuable perspective on what it's like to play in different places. 

Now, he can use that knowledge to help him make what he calls "probably the biggest decision I'll ever have to make." An unrestricted free agent at the age of 28, he's about to sign what likely will be a long-term deal for the last time. 

Video: Duchene on the city of Columbus

"It's huge," said Duchene, who had 10 points including two game-winning goals in 10 CBJ playoff games. "I've got a chance in the last year-plus, I guess, to be on three different NHL hockey teams, see three different situations and see things you like, see things you don't like. You learn things that reaffirm what you believe already. It's kind of a blessing in disguise for me, actually. 

"As tough as it is to move around and be in different situations, it's been a great experience for me personally going forward. It really helps educate you on what you are looking for and really kind of shores up your belief system and that sort of thing." 

For Blue Jackets fans, though, one question remains more important than the rest in this case: What has Duchene learned about the Columbus Blue Jackets? 

The answer appears to be nothing but positive. The Haliburton, Ontario, native has been effusive in his praise of just about all aspects of the organization, from his teammates to the atmosphere in Columbus as the Blue Jackets got to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

For someone who had never won a postseason series in his career before this spring, the experience in Columbus this year clearly was cherished, and few Blue Jackets appeared to be having more fun this postseason than Duchene. 

"That experience that we just had, for me, that's definitely right up there with some of my best memories and my best experiences I've had playing hockey," he said. "I have some guys here that I've made such close friendships with already that I'll keep in touch with for a long time. 

"We'll see what happens. I'm sure we'll be talking through the process and if I have even more questions that I want to pick their brain ... I'll definitely be in touch with those guys. That's a heck of a group." 

Video: BOS@CBJ, Gm3: Duchene doubles lead with PPG

Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno, who was among the team members to visit Nashville with Duchene this past weekend for a trip that was chronicled by many of them on social media, said it was clear to him that the center was not giving lip service when he praised the organization and the city throughout the season. 

"He's a great guy in the room. Guys really loved him," Foligno said. "I thought he brought an element to our locker room that really helped us. On the ice, that speaks for itself what he can do. The thing with Dutchy is he wants that pressure. He wants the responsibility of being the go-to guy, and I think he can back it up because he's such a student of the game and he's a guy that really wants it, and you want guys like that.  

"I think he really enjoyed his time here. I think he saw how good of an organization this is, how good of a team this is. It's going to be his decision now, but I think we did our part in making him realize how good of a place this is." 

But there is, of course, no guarantee that will mean Duchene will sign in Columbus. As a center who wins faceoffs and drives offense -- he had 70 points in 73 regular-season games this year and has averaged a 26-35-61 line per 82 games in his career -- he'll be among the more coveted unrestricted free agents on the market this year. In fact, his 0.96 points per game this season well outpaced the next-highest UFA center, Kevin Hayes, who had 0.77. 

Duchene professed an affinity for Ottawa as well before being traded; boasts a personality and interests that would fit in Nashville; and has the talent and intangibles to end up at one of the league's glamour franchises as well.  

At the end of the day, Duchene said, the decision will come down to what makes the most sense. Factors such as his family will come into play, but he'll want to be somewhere he feels can win. 

"Everything comes into consideration," he said. "When I was in Ottawa, I said over and over this is going to be a hockey decision first and foremost. … Trust me, I've already had to do this mid-season when I was in Ottawa, so I've already been thinking about some of the stuff and gone through the process with a couple of scenarios, not many. It will be a much bigger scale this time. 

"The big thing is you try and forecast, you try to look what's there and then you try to see what fits in where you want to be too. That's very difficult. Very, very difficult." 

General manager Jarmo Kekalainen would see his team send a second first-round pick, one from 2020, to Ottawa if Duchene re-signs, but he has already given the forward a pitch to stay from the time he was acquired in late February. 

"We've talked to him about our vision and our plans and all of that several times, and time will tell what his plans are and we'll find out about them," Kekalainen said. "There's a lot of positives about him. The future will tell where it goes, but we were happy with his performance." 

In the end, Kekalainen is right -- time will tell what will Duchene's decision will be. He admitted he had a lot to think about when the team left Columbus after last week's loss, and there's more than a month to look over the landscape until free agency begins July 1. 

"My intent as this point is to explore everything that could be out there," Duchene said. "I've really enjoyed my time here and we will definitely be talking to Jarmo and the Blue Jackets and seeing what's in store. … I'm definitely going to take my time and talk to my family and my representation and figure out what's best." 

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