BOSTON -- When Matt Duchene was growing up he didn't wear the No. 9 he currently dons for the Colorado Avalanche. He wore No. 21 at times back then, in honor of Avalanche great and NHL Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg, whose posters plastered his walls as a kid in Ontario.
"I have the utmost respect for Peter," Duchene said on Monday after the Avalanche defeated the Boston Bruins 4-0 at TD Garden. "He was one of my heroes as a kid."
So it was, perhaps, jarring when Forsberg made the comments he did on Saturday, criticizing Duchene for the place the Colorado center now finds himself in -- on the trade block for a year, unhappy and impatient as he hopes for his situation to be resolved, as Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic waits for a team to meet his still sky-high price.
"Doubtful that he should be allowed to play [for the Avalanche]," Forsberg said on the Swedish broadcast on Saturday, as translated by Expressen reporter Robin Lindgren and reported in the Denver Post. "Put him in the stands. If I were playing with a player that I know doesn't even want to be in the team, it's not like he is going to throw himself on the ice and block shots with his head. It is mostly difficult to have a player like that in the team, although he is skillful and is doing his best.
"I would rather play with someone that wants to be there. I would put him on the bench and trade him."
Video: Duchene responds to Peter Forsberg's comments
Duchene acknowledged after the game on Monday that he had seen the comments. But he wasn't willing to start a war of words with the Avalanche legend.
"I don't think it was meant to be anything personal," Duchene said. "He and I have a great relationship. I'm not taking it personally. I think he's just commenting on a situation. A lot can get lost in translation too."
He continued, "It's unfortunate, obviously, how it's blowing up, but at the same time I still have the same admiration and respect for him as a player and a guy -- he was a guy I looked up to a lot as a kid."
That wasn't all that Forsberg had to say, adding that Duchene "takes energy from the rest of the team. I would trade him."
At the moment, that hasn't happened, at least in terms of results. And that has been good, so far, for Colorado, a team that has gotten off to a better-than-expected 2-1-0 start through a three-game season-opening road trip, defeating the New York Rangers on Thursday, losing to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, before bouncing back with the win over the Bruins.
"Yeah, I disagree with that," coach Jared Bednar said before the game. "It's hard for someone to say that that's outside of our room. These guys have been together for a long time and we're focusing on winning hockey games and he's a big part of that."
In fact, Bednar said, Duchene is "a top player for us right now and he was arguably our best forward [against the Devils], so I like the way we're handling the situation. I like the way he's handling it. He's here to play and his line's been really good."
Duchene had a goal and an assist in the win against the Rangers, though he has been held scoreless since.
Video: COL@NYR: Duchene pots the rebound to open the scoring
It's a far cry from 2016-2017, when the Duchene situation and others swirled throughout a season in which the Avalanche finished last by a large margin - going 22-56-4, earning 48 points, 21 less than the Vancouver Canucks. There were trade rumors and disappointments and discouragement. It was not easy, for anyone, especially Duchene.
"I think that last season we didn't, as a team, handle the second part of the season well," Bednar said. "There were rumors last year -- there always are around a last-place club -- but some of the rumors have been going on for quite some time, so our focus is playing hockey.
"That's what Matt's done a real good job of, coming in here and focusing on playing the game and being productive and being a good pro. So I don't have any problems with the way we've handled it this year."
They have won twice, already, just 20 fewer times than they did all of last season. They have seen improvement in young players, like Duchene's linemates Nail Yakupov, who scored twice against the Bruins, and Alexander Kerfoot.
"We just refocused over the summer," Duchene said. "It stung -- it was a really terrible last, probably from December on [last season]. I think guys had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder.
"We've got a lot of young guys, a lot of guys that are experiencing a lot of this for the first time and it's fun to be an older guy that's done this for nine years now, watching the excitement. It brings you back and it puts you in that place that you were at when you were that young. It's fun. It's fun to see those guys enjoying themselves and having these first-time experiences. It definitely makes you appreciate playing the game even more."
Fun? Really? For Duchene, in the position that he's in, with questions and comments and legends circling around a player locked into a difficult situation on a team that might not be his for much longer, it's actually fun?
"I'm just trying to enjoy playing hockey," he said. "Every day I come to the rink and try and be the best I can be. I'm really pleased with where my game's at right now. Our line's been dangerous every night. My wingers are playing really well and we could even have a few more than we do right now."
So, yes, there is fun amidst the tension, fun amidst the criticism, fun on the ice with his Avalanche teammates. The only question that remains is one that has been there all along -- how much longer will they be his teammates?