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Avalanche need big payoff from Duchene trade

Young players, draft picks counted on to help turn around struggling franchise

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

Matt Duchene said the trade rumors began two years ago, in the fall of 2015. Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said Duchene asked for a trade almost a year ago, at Christmas. It felt like this had been dragging on forever.

"I had a lot of conversations with him," Sakic said. "I just told him, 'Be patient.' At some point it was going to get done. We just had to wait until we felt we were getting the right deal."

It finally happened Sunday, when the Avalanche pulled Duchene in the first period of a 6-4 loss to the New York Islanders at Barclays Center, and it was a blockbuster, the kind of three-way trade we often imagine but rarely see in the NHL.

 

[RELATED: Duchene traded to Senators by Avalanche | Avalanche moving forward after Duchene trade]

 

Duchene went to the Ottawa Senators. He got a fresh start near his home in Haliburton, Ontario. The Senators got a No. 1 center with speed and skill.

The Nashville Predators got Kyle Turris from the Senators and signed him to a six-year, $36 million contract, giving them a No. 2 center behind Ryan Johansen, slotting Nick Bonino at No. 3.

The Avalanche got quite a haul, especially considering Duchene has only this season and next remaining on his contract at an NHL salary cap charge of $6 million.

They got a first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, a second-round pick in 2018 and a third-round pick in 2019. They got forward Shane Bowers, 18, a first-round pick (No. 28) in 2017; defenseman Samuel Girard, 19, a second-round pick (No. 47) in 2016; forward Vladislav Kamenev, 21, a second-round pick (No. 42) in 2014; and goaltender Andrew Hammond, 29.

Video: Duchene reacts to trade as he leaves Barclays Center

Girard, in particular, could be a prize for a team that has needed help on defense. After producing 192 points (24 goals, 168 assists) in 190 games with Shawinigan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he made the jump to pro hockey this season and had three points (one goal, two assists) in five games with the Predators.

He will join the Avalanche in Stockholm, Sweden, where they will play Duchene and the Senators in the 2017 SAP NHL Global Series at Ericsson Globe on Friday (2 p.m. ET; NHLN, ALT, TSN5, RDS, NHL.TV) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, RDS, ALT, NHL.TV).

"We want to see him play," Sakic said. "He's an exciting player. He's got a lot of skill, a lot of talent, sees the ice real well. So we like what he's going to bring."

Sakic had one job when it came to Duchene: landing the best possible return. He had to do it on his timeline, no one else's -- and no matter how frustrated Duchene, his suitors, the fans and the media became.

Video: COL@NYI: Rosen breaks down Duchene trade

The longer he waited, the greater the pressure became to score big. He didn't get it done before the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline on March 1. He didn't get it done around the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago on June 23 and 24, when his fellow GMs had roster and salary cap flexibility. He didn't get it done before training camp either.

Forward Nathan MacKinnon couldn't wait until the end of the game Sunday to learn the return for Duchene. He found out during the second intermission.

"It's a huge thing," MacKinnon said. "It's one of our best players gone. It's been talked about for almost two years now, him getting traded. I was just curious what we got, and we got a lot of good players. It's great for our futures."

At least it should be.

The hesitation is this: The No. 3 and No. 33 picks in 2009 should have been great for the Avalanche's future too. They were used to select Duchene and forward Ryan O'Reilly, respectively. Each is gone now.

Video: Friedman breaks down the three team trade for Duchene

O'Reilly and forward Jamie McGinn were traded to the Buffalo Sabres on June 26, 2015, for forward J.T. Compher, center Mikhail Grigorenko, defenseman Nikita Zadorov and a second-round pick.

The Avalanche had the No. 2 pick in 2011 and selected forward Gabriel Landeskog. They had the No. 1 pick in 2013 and selected MacKinnon. They have had top-10 picks each of the past three years.

Yet they have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the past seven seasons and finished last in the NHL last season, 21 points behind the next-to-last team, the Vancouver Canucks. That's why they keep getting all these high picks.

They're 8-6-0 this season and hold the second wild card in the Western Conference, and perhaps a weight has been lifted now that Duchene trade has been made. Landeskog, the captain, talked about focusing on the guys who "want to be here." But it's early.

Assets are great. But what you do with them matters most, and it's hard to be patient. These picks and prospects must turn into difference-makers. The Avalanche and their fans have been waiting longer for a change than Duchene had to wait for a trade.

"We're trying to build this up and get younger and have our kids grow together," Sakic said, "so we here, in the next, hopefully sooner than later, are competing for playoffs and Stanley Cups."

NHL.com Senior Writer Dan Rosen contributed to this report.

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