The following is a guest piece by Stefan Wolejszo, formerly of Integrating Hockey Analysis and Stories Numbers Tell. You can find his guest pieces all around the Sens blogosphere, and follow him on Twitter @StefanWolejszo
After about a year of rumours and ongoing speculation the Ottawa Senators were finally able to land Matt Duchene in a three team deal that saw Kyle Turris, Andrew Hammond, Shane Bowers, a 2018 first round pick (top ten protected), and a 2019 3rd round pick. Like many trades of this size the deal is complicated and has many dimensions to it.
When rumours began to swirl about possible Ottawa-Colorado trade involving Matt Duchene one of the biggest questions was how the Senators would fit Duchene into their existing salary structure. Duchene is currently signed for this season and next at a cap hit and salary of $6.0 million, and the initial ask from the Avalanche was Thomas Chabot who is currently on an Entry Level Contract that runs under $900k per season. It was always clear that the Sens would need to move out salary in order to get a deal done, but it seemed unlikely that the Avs would take on a larger contract like Phaneuf or Ryan.
Kyle Turris is making $4.0 million (3.5 M cap hit) this season so one key to making this deal work for the Sens was adding another contract. Dorion scored by managing to add Andrew Hammond, whose primary role this season was blocking Marcus Hogberg, into the deal. Hammond is making $1.5 million (1.35 M cap hit) this season and was never going to be re-signed by the Sens. With the inclusion of Hammond the Sens were left adding only $500k of salary this season.
To make the deal work the Sens had to top up a bit by adding Shane Bowers, a 1st round pick next summer, along with a third round pick in the 2019 draft. Based on what I have seen this is the part of the deal that makes some fans question whether the deal was worth it. I would argue that the cost in future assets looks more significant than it really is.
Shane Bowers was selected 28th overall in the 2017 draft. As a C he would probably have a long wait to try to crack the Senators’ lineup with Colin White and Logan Brown firmly entrenched ahead of him in the depth chart. Bowers does not really project as a top 6 player so if he did make the big club he would probably max out as a 3rd or 4th liner. That has value, but with Smith and Pageau locked up over the next few season Bowers would likely only get a sniff at the NHL if someone got hurt. Of course that story could change five years from now, but that is a long time to hang onto a middle-tier asset.
The draft picks involved are really long shots in terms of making an NHL impact. While it is typically better to hoard draft picks than not in the hope that one of those lottery tickets cashes in there is also a danger in overvaluing them. Based on historic information from past drafts, if the Sens make the playoffs this year their 1st round pick will have a greater than 50% likelihood of topping out as a 4th line F or bottom pair D. While this player could end up being a gem like Thomas Chabot there is a better chance of ending up with someone like Curtis Lazar. As for the 3rd round pick that was included, only 1 in 7 third round players manage to reach the 100 NHL game mark. The Avs could hit on a great talent with either of the picks but that would have more to do with luck than the inherent value of the pick itself.
The Domino Effect
A key element to any trade is how it impacts upon the organizational plan moving forward. Kyle Turris was looking for a long term extension with a raise that would kick in next season. This is understandable since he has been underpaid for pretty much the entire length of his existing deal. One source of concern for the Sens was that Mark Stone and Cody Ceci are also set for contract extensions next season and they will both also be looking for big raises. Although Duchene’s $6 M salary is not cheap it is certain for next season and, if push comes to shove, the Sens will have the flexibility to move on from it at the end of 2019. As some fans in social media pointed out this effectively widens the window of contention for the team from one season to two. This directly lines up with the remaining portion of Erik Karlsson’s current team friendly deal.
What has not been discussed enough is the longer term impact of the deal. Being in “win now” mode for an extra season will remove any sense of rush in developing key prospects such as Chabot, White, Brown, and Formenton. By the time Karlsson and Duchene are set for new deals at least a couple of those prospects will be ready to make an impact on the club while on Entry Level Contracts. That will give the Sens the flexibility to move more expensive assets in order to manage their budget moving forward. At the end of the day the extra year in Duchene’s deal is a big, but underappreciated, win for the Sens.
Who got the Best Player?
There is an old hockey maxim that the team who got the best player is the team that won the trade. That may be the case, but in my mind there can be more than one winner in hockey trades providing each team addresses its needs. Nashville certainly got better with the deal, and considering they lost in the Stanley Cup Final last season they will be a force going forward. Colorado will not be a playoff team and it made a lot of sense to get a haul of picks and prospects for Duchene. The question is whether Ottawa did as well as the other teams in this deal.
Turris and Duchene appear at first blush to be comparable players with similar numbers, with Duchene being a bit better at 5 v 5 and Turris being more effective on special teams. However, it is always important to add context to the numbers being used in any analysis. Duchene’s numbers over the past couple of seasons may be very similar to Turris, but Duchene was playing on one of the weakest teams of the league that had little or no depth. The lack of depth is important because it allowed other teams to key in on defending Duchene and MacKinnon which had a dampening effect on their production. To make matters worse, trade rumors revolving around Duchene started to swirl about a year ago. Those had to take a toll on the player, especially considering how long it all lasted. A more fair and accurate way of framing the comparison in stats is that a beaten down Duchene playing on a tremendously bad hockey team is about level with Turris in terms of talent and production. I fully expect Duchene to really shine and surprise a lot of people when he suits up with Ottawa.
Looking to the future Duchene is also about 1.5 years younger than Turris. While the 6 year deal Turris signed with Nashville looks good now, it is important to consider that he will turn 29 next summer when the new contract kicks in. Based on what we know about aging curves among NHL players it would be a good bet to expect his production to start to drop off sooner rather than later. At 26 (turning 27 in Jan), Duchene’s production will not taper off as quickly. I think it is safe to say that part of the extra price the Sens paid for Duchene was because of this age difference, and I believe the price was worth it.
The trade that brought Matt Duchene to Ottawa fundamentally altered the direction of the franchise. Turris is a very popular player who made a lasting impact both on and off the ice. Having said this I am convinced the Senators are better positioned moving forward as a result of this deal. Being able to hang onto key assets such as Chabot and White was huge. It will almost certainly be framed as a “win now” type of move, but being able to hold onto key assets provides the team with some degree of flexibility moving forward when the current core becomes too expensive and eventually needs to be dismantled. Also, the upgrade from Turris to Duchene is not as trivial as some make it out to be. I am sure Duchene will get an extra point or two by virtue of being fed passes from Karlsson.