Quick Thoughts: Matt Duchene Traded to Columbus

The return is decent, but we didn’t need to be here in the first place.

The Ottawa Senators announced today that they’ve traded Matt Duchene to the Columbus Blue Jackets. After being scratched in last night’s game against the New Jersey Devils, this trade was expected to happen soon. Pierre Dorion finally pulled the trigger, acquiring Vitali Abramov, Jonathan Davidsson, a 1st round pick in 2019 and another 1st round pick in 2020 if Duchene re-signs.

Taking a quick look at the return, while I may not be underwhelmed considering there’s no contract extension in place for Duchene with Columbus, I would’ve hoped for potentially some better prospects. Vitali Abramov, a small player who rose to stardom in the QMJHL, has seen some bumps in his first year of pro hockey. Despite being given top minutes, the production just isn’t there right now. And while that may not be fully indicative of what’s to come, it certainly tapers his value in a trade scenario.

As for Jonathan Davidsson, I’ve been impressed by how well he’s been able to handle professional hockey in Sweden. This is his third full season playing pro, and while I would’ve rather the Sens push for Emil Bemstrom — another Blue Jackets prospect who plays for the same team with better production — there’s certainly some potential. My impression is that Davidsson doesn’t have as high a ceiling as Abramov, although he could be a useful NHLer.

Regardless, the two picks are also important assets, and could end up being the most valuable pieces if Ottawa uses them right.

But with this trade, as is customary with everything Senators right now, we have to take a step back and look at why we’re in this situation to begin with.

The truth is, the Senators didn’t have to rebuild. Back when the team originally acquired Duchene, he along with Karlsson, Stone, Hoffman and Chabot made for a top notch core. The team made the Eastern Conference Finals the prior season, and if more investment had been put into the surrounding team, there was certainly an opportunity to turn this team into a legitimate contender.

Yet that extra investment wasn’t made, and the team plummeted. That should be reason enough to not want to leave, then tie in the fact that ownership doesn’t have the financial resources and commitment to turn this team into a winner, then you end up with situations like today. Nobody wants to re-sign with the Senators — Karlsson, Duchene, Stone and Dzingel — and it all traces back to Eugene Melnyk.

It’s why the Senators’ statement for the trade today felt empty, and was basically just a rephrasing of the message sent out after Karlsson was sent packing.

“When we acquired Matt in November of 2017, we had hoped his addition would drive us to another deep playoff run,” said Senators general manager Pierre Dorion. “Obviously that did not materialize; more than a year ago, we shifted our focus to a proper rebuild of the entire organization. Our desire was to have Matt be part of this and as such we approached him with a fair and comprehensive contract offer to remain a Senator for the long term.

“As soon as it was determined that he did not want to be part of our rebuild, we shifted our focus to see what assets we could acquire in exchange for Matt that would help grow our pipeline of potential. We feel that both Vitaly and Jonathan, along with the first-round pick will help enhance the team’s future and fit with our continuing effort to build a younger, faster and stronger roster.”

Don’t be fooled, this is not a rebuild. The Senators have already cut their internal costs to the bone, and now it’s seeping onto the main roster. And while trading Matt Duchene may make sense in the context of a rebuild, it requires significantly more commitment to turn that rebuild into a winning team.

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