Anthony Duclair was reputedly on the market for a few months, with interest in the Arizona Coyotes player going back to November of last year. John Chayka, the team’s general manager, finally found a fit.
He was sent to the Chicago Blackhawks along with Adam Clendening in exchange for Richard Panik and Laurent Dauphin.
Duclair is best known for the 20 goals he scored two years ago in his first complete season as an NHLer. This performance as he just turned 20 put him on everyone's radar, and the expectations were high for the career of the Montreal native.
This year, his play was still not satisfying for Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet, despite the nine goals he had scored. The coach had him on the fourth line or as a healthy scratch a few times. He got replaced by none other than Zac Rinaldo, who doesn't add anything close to the same offensive ability. This decision seemed more than anything based on effort level, and the comments from Chayka post-trade didn't suggest otherwise.
The Duclair situation had all the elements of a reclamation projects. A struggling player not too far away from his best days that doesn't get along with an organization currently hitting rock bottom. Everything to make the price of a transaction for him rather low.
He was exchanged for another struggling player in Richard Panik; a player with three fewer goals but a reputation to be hard on the puck that Duclair doesn't share. Already from the age of the two players, this is not equal value, but factoring in the contract of the ex-Hawks player, one that has him payed $2.8 million this season and the next, it's hard not to see Chicago come out of this deal on top.
So, why did the Habs not take a chance on a young hometown player, one who barely cost anything and seems to be a low-risk, high-reward option with an expiring RFA contract? This is a question that has popped around social media since the trade.
There are obvious answers, like the fact that Montreal's wings are not the problem right now with the talent being concentrated there. That being said, internal competition is a good thing, especially with so many underachieving forwards on the roster right now.
It's also commonly said that Duclair had shot close to 20 % in 2015-16 to score those 20 goals. It's high, but the stat is also highly affected by shot quality, and he currently is at the same goal pace with a much lower percentage (13.2%).
There are also reports of character issues, but like the Evander Kane rumours, it's often a chicken and egg situation where we never truly know which of the player or the organization is at the origin of the issue. Plus, a change of scenery could help solve whatever problems actually existed.
It's logical that an organization looks at stats and reputation before making a move, but it must not be the end-all of the interest in a player. Duclair is very intriguing, and with some luck and the right fit, he could likely help a team's offence.
But, not Montreal's.
He would have brought nothing new to the forward group. One that is in dire need of more playmakers and players who can create space for the goal-scorers they already employ. The Habs don't need another attacker who likes to find quiet ice waiting for a setup that rarely comes.
Duclair is a good skater, capable of quick adjustments to shake defenders, and he can pull off some impressive stick-handling moves to also create his own shots. But he suffers from something Habs fans have been exposed to a lot in the past six years: the Chucky Syndrome, or trying to dangle your way through three opponents instead of looking for a pass.
Duclair wore #10 with the Coyotes as reference for the next videos.
Duclair has a pure offensive mentality that manifests itself in a lot of cheating on the ice. He's very often ahead of the play looking for a hole in the defence that he can exploit with a stretch pass. When the stars align — like they did against Ottawa this season — it can create a breakaway that he has a good chance of capitalizing on.
But, obviously, it doesn't always work, and this tendency affects the defensive side of his game. He's often too far out on the breakout and seems reluctant to get back when the zone exit fails — something that routinely happens for the Arizona Coyotes.
System hockey is not something Duclair is very comfortable in. He has some effective reads, but mostly wants to keep his momentum as high as possible to be ready to skate the other way.
He is often mesmerized by the puck, and it's not rare for opponents to be left uncovered behind him, resulting in the winger being one step behind the other team, playing catch-up to his responsibilities.
It's clear that this is not the kind of player you target for his defensive prowess. But, in an organization like the Canadiens that prides itself in playing a tight system, Duclair would have likely felt that history was repeating itself with some periods spent warming the bench.
His addition would have likely clashed with the more work-oriented lines playing top competition, or he would have been an added liability to a purer offensive line comprised of some players still learning to play in their own end.
With the Blackhaws, potentially playing alongside some solid play-drivers like Jonathan Toews, the 22-year-old will have a much better chance to find success, especially if he stays in a top-six role.
This is a positive restart in 2018 for Duclair, one he badly needed. Now all eyes are on him. He will need to prove that he can become the player everyone thought he would be after his 2015-16 season.
Was his supporting cast the problem, or his work ethic?
Playing for a robust organization like the Blackhawks, those questions will be answered in short order.