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2017 NHL Trade Deadline Target: Can the Habs acquire the speedy Matt Duchene?

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A highly skilled centre might be exactly what the Habs need at the deadline.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Marc Bergevin isn't one to shy away from making noise on the market. With the addition of Alexander Radulov in the off-season, Montreal’s offence has looked threatening at times, but has been lacklustre in the second half of the season.

With the trade deadline looming, the Habs could use a top-six centre to improve their offence and bolster their forward corps. While Bergevin stated yesterday that elite centremen simply weren’t available, Matt Duchene is one candidate widely reported to be on the market who could give the team a more dynamic makeup down the middle.

Duchene has been playing alongside young and skilled players with the Colorado Avalanche. Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog have been among his most common linemates over the last two seasons. However, with Colorado's playoff hopes all but done, general manager Joe Sakic will be extremely busy swapping roster players for future assets, and Duchene is sure to be a hot commodity as the trade deadline approaches.

Duchene, 26, has spent his entire NHL career in Colorado after being drafted third overall in 2009. Known as a speedy, offensive centre, he has posted strong numbers throughout his career, with his most productive year in 2013-14 when he scored 70 points in 71 games.

Duchene’s pedigree instantly places him on radars around the league, as top-six centres are hard to come by on the market. His speed and skill with the puck allow him to expose defences easily, and he is a very capable playmaker. He also has good instincts around the net, as eight of his 15 goals this season have come around the blue paint, either from deflections or a rebound.

This following goal shows his offensive awareness and speed in combination, as he sets himself up for a breakaway.

Duchene has been in the playoffs on just two of his eight NHL seasons with the lowly Avalanche, scoring six points in a total of eight games. He has also represented Canada several times on a variety of stages. He has five World Championships, Olympic gold, and the World Cup of Hockey all under his belt, and is usually picked due to his skill and excellent skating ability (and his availability to attend the World Championships each May).

He is currently in the third year of a five-year deal with a $6 million cap hit. For that reason, he doesn’t qualify as a rental player, as he will still have two years left on his deal following this season.

Cost

Duchene will not be easy to acquire however, and various teams will be calling for his services. As a top-line centre, he is among the more valuable players in the entire league.

Montreal is in a position to win now with players such as Max Pacioretty and Carey Price on cap-friendly deals, but they’ll be in for big raises in the next few seasons.

Before those contracts expire, another key player is due for an extension, as Alex Galchenyuk

Galchenyuk’s bridge deal concludes at the end of this year. Given his performance over the two seasons that contract covered, he will be due a large sum on a new contract. If you compare it to the deals doled to similarly aged players Mark Scheifele and Johnny Gaudreau, Galchenyuk is probably looking at a dollar figure that eclipses what Duchene currently earns.

One solution to that situation was proposed by Elliotte Friedman in his latest 30 Thoughts column: trade Galchenyuk to the Avalanche for Duchene. The Habs would avoid the unknown of heading into contract negotiations with a star player and get an older player who fits into their “win now“ mentality while also becoming a key piece for the next few seasons.

Galchenyuk vs. Duchene

The two centres are fairly similar in several ways. They’re both high-end offensive players who thrive when playing with skilled linemates. The most basic comparison is their offensive output throughout their hockey careers, which is outlined below in terms of points per game played.

Matt Duchene Season Alex Galchenyuk
0.78 Draft -1 (OHL) 1.22
1.39 Draft (OHL) 0.00*
0.68 NHL Rookie 0.56
0.84 NHL 2 0.48
0.48 NHL 3 0.58
0.91 NHL 4 0.68
0.99 NHL 5 0.78
0.67 NHL 6 -
0.78 NHL 7 -
0.67 NHL 8 -
0.75 NHL Average 0.61

* missed all but two games with an injury | current season data in italics

Duchene comes out ahead in points between the two, even if you remove his two near point-per-game seasons from the latest lockout to the end of the 2013-14 campaign. They have nearly identical rates over the previous two seasons, and Galchenyuk has seen a steady progression in each of the past four years.

In terms of advanced stats, there’s nothing that stands out particularly in one player’s favour.

Galchenyuk has a more stable game-to-game performance, with Duchene having more ups an downs, but on average, the two match up well. Galchenyuk does hold a significant edge in scoring-chances-for percentage, but that advantage is neutralized when comparing their relative stats, factoring in the strengths of the clubs on which they play.

Interestingly, the ongoing slump from Galchenyuk that has seen him post just two points in eight games has been his best stretch of scoring-chance generation, rocketing up to a 10-game average of 75% after Saturday’s matchup with the St. Louis Blues. The string of games that have led to Galchenyuk’s most vocal criticism in some time is actually his most dangerous run since he was recording two-goal games with regularity at the end of last season.

Is Duchene a fit?

The fact that he holds his own in comparison to one of the Canadiens’ current stars is evidence that he would be an excellent addition to the team for a playoff run and beyond. But not if the price for acquiring his services is that equally talented, younger player the Habs already have.

That particular swap would essentially be a lateral move in the short term and, given that Duchene is three years older, a move backward from a long-term perspective. The savings on Duchene’s contract won’t be significant enough on the long extension that Galchenyuk has earned to trade potentially eight years of top-line offence for two-plus seasons of similar production.

A different package could work to bring in Duchene, keeping Galchenyuk in place and giving the Habs a 1-2 punch for the next three playoff runs at least.

Bergevin stated in his bye-week press conference that he wasn’t entertaining the notion of trading a top prospect for a deadline acquisition, meaning Mikhail Sergachev is likely off the table.

With two number-one centres on the roster, the team would have some redundancies down the middle. Ideally the Habs could convince the Avalanche to add the veteran presence of Tomas Plekanec to their young, struggling corps, thereby shipping out exactly enough salary cap commitment to accommodate Duchene’s deal. Even if the Habs added several more assets, that probably isn’t a very enticing combination.

The surprising Phillip Danault would be a great addition to an Avalanche team that desperately needs help on both offence (30th in goals for, even with Duchene) and in defensive aspects of the game (28th in goals against). The addition of a defensive prospect ready to make the jump to the professional ranks (perhaps Noah Juulsen, if he doesn’t meet Bergevin’s “top prospect“ classification), plus the Habs’ 2017 first-round pick (which will be closer to the second round than the beginning of the first if Duchene is able to help them turn things around), and a later-round selection with conditions to move up upon each playoff-round victory (as Bergevin negotiated on his Jeff Petry acquisition) could be enough of a sweetener to land Duchene in Montreal.