Even though Matt Duchene was voted as the player “most likely to be traded this summer” by Bob McKenzie, it’s the end of July and he’s still with the Colorado Avalanche. There has been plenty of interest in the young center (as he is a very good player) but a trade has yet to materialize. It may be because GM Joe Sakic is asking too much or there just hasn’t been a good fit is up for debate, but Duchene is still on the block and available, as both parties could use a fresh start. Could the New York Rangers be a good trading partner?
Sakic and GM Jeff Gorton have some familiarity between each other, as Nick Holden was sent to New York for a fourth round pick last year before the season started. But what makes a Duchene trade an interesting possibility is the Rangers pressing need for another top-six center. After shipping Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes just a few weeks ago, the Rangers are left with very little options at center, lacking one too many top-six centers. Mika Zibanejad is a quality center but would be ideally suited on the second line, instead as of now having to fill in for Stepan on the first line. This forces Kevin Hayes to move up to the second line and J.T. Miller to slide over to center the third line. Besides Hayes probably being best suited for the third-line center role, Miller is arguably a better winger than he is a center, and this is if everyone is 100% healthy. All the Rangers need is one Zibanejad injury to completely destroy their center depth.
Enter Duchene, the Avalanche’s 26-year-old first line center. A former third overall pick, Duchene has shown throughout his career that he can score, posting a career high 70 points in 71 games in 2014 and scoring 30 goals two seasons ago. While he had a down season last year (with only 41 points in 77 games), the entire Avalanche team struggled. He may carry a $6 million cap hit but Duchene would be the first-line center that the Rangers need.
But what about the asking price? Do the Rangers have the assets to acquire a player like Duchene, who’s asking price is reportedly quite high? If the Rangers were serious about pursuing Duchene, there are probably two routes they could go down.
Option 1: Draft picks and prospects
While many would probably not want to see the Rangers trade away another one of their first round picks, they might be willing to trade their upcoming first rounder after having two just this past draft. Combine this pick with one or two good prospects and the Avalanche may be willing to trade Duchene to New York. It’s unlikely the Rangers would trade away their top prospects like Igor Shestyorkin or even Sean Day along with their first round pick but there are other good prospects the Avs might have interest in. Ryan Graves is a very solid defensive prospect that could help a team’s blueline in the future while the Rangers have plenty of good goaltending prospects that the Avalanche may be interested in, especially after losing Calvin Pickard to Vegas in the expansion draft. A combination of the Rangers first round pick, Graves, and Adam Huska could get the ball rolling on a potential Duchene trade.
Option 2: Brady Skjei
This is the much more unlikely scenario but if the Rangers REALLY wanted Duchene, they could easily get it done by offering up their star rookie defenseman Brady Skjei. The Avalanche’s weak defensive core would get an immediate boost by adding Skjei and, at only 23-years-old, he fits in nicely with the other young pieces the Avs have in Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog.
It would be tough for the Rangers to lose Skjei but the only reason this idea is even a possibility now is because of the Shattenkirk signing. Though Skjei isn’t expendable, his loss could be handled as Ryan McDonagh, Shattenkirk, and Brendan Smith would still be on the back end. Plus, to make the salary work, the Avalanche could take on Marc Staal’s cap hit, clearing enough cap space to let the Rangers add Duchene and get Staal’s contract off the books. A Skjei and Staal for Duchene deal could be good for both parties.
While I don’t think either of these options are likely (especially trading Skjei), I don’t think their crazy either. The Rangers center depth issue is a real concern and acquiring Duchene could fix that. Sakic wants to trade Duchene and if the Rangers would be willing, they have the pieces to make it work.