A Lookback At The Matt Duchene Trade

By Dan Dukart on June 28, 2021 at 1:20 pm
Matt Duchene skates the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Bridgestone Arena
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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When the Columbus Blue Jackets traded for Matt Duchene in February or 2019, the message was clear: this team is going for it.

A few years later, one could reasonably argue either way if it was "worth it". On the one hand, the team defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in one of the most improbable sweeps in NHL history. Two years later, the Lightning (as of this writing) still haven't lost a series and are on the verge of back-to-back Stanley Cups. On the other hand, the credit card bill has come due, and the Blue Jackets are looking at some lean years because of the decisions made two seasons ago.

But when doing a postpartum of these decisions, one that has held up well was the blockbuster trade for Duchene (and Julius Bergman), where the Blue Jackets sent a first-round pick in the 2019 draft (Lassi Thomson), highly-regarded prospects Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson, and conditional round 1 pick in the 2020 draft (were Duchene to re-sign with Columbus). 

In hindsight, it was for the best that Duchene was not re-signed. As of this writing, he has five years and $40M remaining on his contract. Through 100 regular-season games with the Nashville Predators, he has 19-36-55, and 2-3-5 in 10 playoff games. While he would certainly make the Blue Jackets a better team, his production has been a far cry from his $8M cap hit.

But what's interesting to analyze at this point isn't Duchene; it's what the Blue Jackets traded to acquire him. At the time, the Blue Jackets prospect pool was deeper than it is today, with players like Elvis Merzlikins, Alexandre Texier, Vladislav Gavrikov, Andrew Peeke, Emil Bemstrom, Kirill Marchenko, and Liam Foudy still in the pipeline. Trading Abramov and Davidsson, while painful, could be rationalized. But Abramov and Davidsson were the third and sixth-ranked prospects in the organization, according to an August 2018 article by The Athletic's Corey Pronman.   

Even being traded to a team squarely in a rebuild, Abramov and Davidsson struggled to find an opportunity at the NHL level. Over the past three seasons, Abramov has played five games in Ottawa, posting 1-0-0, and Davidsson played six NHL games, failing to register a point. Since the NHL's regular season ended, both Abramov and Davidsson have signed in Europe to continue their playing careers.  

That leaves Lassi Thomson, the first-round pick from 2019, as the only player remaining from the trade. And while trading first-round picks is a painful practice, Thomson hasn't made the Blue Jackets pay - yet. Will he? The jury is still out, but The Athletic's Scott Wheeler didn't speak glowingly of him when he was the Senators 11th ranked prospect earlier this year (for reference, Abramov was ranked 10th):

Thomson really struggled early on in Liiga this season and his minutes dropped from a 15:08 average a year ago to an 11:36 average this season. Now he has come over to hit reset in the AHL in Belleville. Thomson was drafted too high (that was as true then as it is now) but I think we can get a little lost in that debate and lose sight of a player’s value. He has some real pro qualities and had a good age-adjusted season in Liiga a year ago as a 19-year-old.

All told, Thomson probably tops out as a third-pairing two-way guy. He is more well-suited to North American ice and style, too, so he should hold his own in the AHL during this shortened season and then work toward a call-up role next year.

Take from that what you will, but the reasonable conclusion is that the Blue Jackets parted ways with three significant prospect pieces in exchange for a postseason in which the acquiring player put up more points (10) than he has in the two seasons since he joined the Predators (5). Two years later, none of those three pieces have materialized into anything of significance - two of them have left the organization on their own accord and one hasn't played in an NHL game and projects as a third-pair defenseman - and Duchene is underachieving compared to expectations in his new home in Nashville.

Would the Blue Jackets make this trade again, knowing what they know now? I think yes. 

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