On Wednesday, Robert broke down why Wayne Simmonds was not a good trade target for the Dallas Stars. The piece revolved around the fact that Simmonds is not the player he once was, and would be too expensive of an acquisition relative to the value he would bring to Dallas.
Believe it or not, I actually had a similar idea about a week ago for a different popular deadline target. After spending a few days sulking and silently cursing Robert for beating me to the punch (now you’ll think I’m just shamelessly copying him), I’ve finally gotten around to writing about why the Stars shouldn’t — or at least be hesitant to — trade for Matt Duchene, albeit for very different reasons.
First of all, unlike Simmonds, Duchene still is a top player. He’s not a strong possession player — his current 47.0 CF% and 48.1 FF% are slightly below his career averages of 48.3 CF% and 48.5 FF% — but that can be attributed to typically playing on bad teams, like the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators. When you look at him compared to his teammates, it’s clear that he has a positive impact:
The Stars could currently use a boost to their top six, specifically a center on the second line, and Duchene would arguably be a great fit for the team. He would boost the team’s secondary scoring, and if the Stars paired him with Alexander Radulov while keeping Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin together, they would have a deadly one-two punch. By all accounts, Duchene’s arguably the perfect deadline acquisition.
I still wouldn’t trade for him, however.
First of all, despite all of the reasons I listed above, Duchene is a top deadline target for every playoff team. That means he’s going to be an expensive acquisition, and considering he plays center — a premium position — he might bring in the largest haul of any player not named Artemi Panarin.
If you’re a true Stanley Cup contender like the Winnipeg Jets or the Nashville Predators, Duchene is probably worth the cost. But what if you’re closer to the playoff bubble like Dallas? Is adding Duchene — or any big name acquisition — going to be enough to lift them past the Jets and Predators this season? I don't think so, especially not after that poor showing against the Tampa Bay Lightning yesterday.
In comes the obvious counterpoint: if the Stars trade for Duchene now, they can then sign him to an extension. That solves both the immediate and future concerns at 2C, giving the Stars a solid “Stanley Cup window” for the next several years. And while the trade cost would undoubtedly be higher — any Duchene trade would likely include conditional picks based on whether or not he signs an extension — finding the “missing piece” would be worth the cost.
Here’s the issue, and it’s one that would apply to targeting Duchene in free agency as well: his next contract is going to be expensive. In mid-January, it was reported that Ottawa had offered Duchene an eight-year, $64 million extension. Ottawa is notoriously stingy with money and Duchene could likely make more on the open market, but let’s say that cancels out with the Stars’ “no state income tax” advantage and that he would sign the same deal with Dallas.
Eight million per year doesn’t scare me for the salary cap in Dallas. Even when you combine that with Tyler Seguin’s pay raise, it’s still completely covered by Jason Spezza and Mark Methot coming off the books this summer with $300,000 to spare. What scares me is the term. Even adjusting for a higher cap, that contract will be a decent dent in the Stars’ cap space when it comes time to re-sign players like Miro Heiskanen or John Klingberg in the upcoming years. It would also expire in 2027, when Matt Duchene would be 36 years old. Odds are he’ll start regressing long before that.
Of course, it’d all be worth it if the Stars win the Cup as a result. Which leads me to a different point — are we even sure that Duchene would want to extend with Dallas?
Consider this: Duchene played for a historically bad Avalanche team and was absolutely miserable. Then, when he was finally traded away to the Senators (who were one OT goal away from making the Stanley Cup Final the previous postseason), Ottawa immediately plummeted to the league basement while Colorado ended up making the playoffs.
That might raise a red flag for some people, seeing Duchene as an obvious common factor between the teams and their poor performances. I personally think that’s hogwash. Bad teams like the Avalanche suddenly surge up the standings all the time — see also the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks — and the Senators are a trainwreck for a lot of reasons. If I were the Stars, I wouldn’t be concerned with Duchene’s impact on the locker room.
However, if I was Duchene, could I say the same about Dallas? Remember, this was a team who made national headlines earlier this season when CEO Jim Lites ripped into Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for being “f**king horse-s**t” on the record to the media. Also earlier this year, head coach Jim Montgomery talked about how the Stars had fostered a “culture of mediocrity.”
Maybe your average UFA won’t care much about those statements. But what about Duchene? He demanded a trade out of Colorado because he was fed up with how perpetually bad they were, and got thrown into an even worse situation in Ottawa. This summer will be the first time in his NHL career when he can choose where he wants to play, and you think he’ll want to pick Dallas? As in, the team who could sign him to a fancy new contract and throw him under the bus just a couple months later?
No, if I were in Duchene’s skates, I wouldn’t want to take the risk that Dallas would be different. Even if I were traded there and had an option of an eight-year contract instead of seven, I’d still opt to hit free agency instead. Which brings us back to where we begin. For the Stars, Duchene would simply be a rental. An expensive rental. In a year where he won’t magically make the team a Cup contender.
Look, I love Matt Duchene, and think he would be a perfect fit in Dallas on paper. Maybe the Lites and Montgomery comments wouldn’t bother him and he’d be willing to sign here. Perhaps he would opt to take a short-term contract just in case and hit FA again when the salary cap is higher post-Seattle expansion.
But realistically speaking? I think the Stars should look elsewhere this February when it comes to trade targets.