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The Colorado Avalanche signed star center Matt Duchene to a 2-year contract on Friday. It'll pay him $7 million, making $3.25 million and then $3.75 million. He'll be a restricted free agent in Summer 2014.
The whole thing was a little … unexpected?
Colorado's first-round pick (third overall) in the 2009 Entry Draft, Duchene has recorded 150 points (65g/85a) in 219 games during his three seasons with the Avalanche. The Haliburton, Ontario native was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy in 2009-10. He followed that up by becoming the youngest player in franchise history (20 years, 84 days) to lead the team in scoring with 67 points in 80 games during the 2010-11 season.
"Matt is an important part of our team," said Avalanche General Manager/Executive Vice President Greg Sherman. "We are excited to come to terms with him and we look forward to seeing him at camp."
The most comparable player is John Tavares of the New York Islanders, who was drafted two spots ahead of Duchene in 2009 and signed a 6-year, $5.5 million annual cap hit contract last season. But Tavares had something Duchene didn't have: Negotiating power.
Tavares was getting progressively better, increasing his point totals in his first three NHL seasons and clearly rounding into an NHL star. Duchene actually outscored Tavares in their rookie year and then matched his 67 points in their sophomore year. But last season, Tavares 81 points while Duchene struggled mightily: 28 points in 58 games, during a season derailed by injuries and inconsistency.
No doubt the Avs will re-sign Matt Duchene this summer, however, it will be interesting to see what kind of contract he receives after such a low scoring season. Matt Duchene will likely be compared to fellow 2009 draftee and 1st overall pick John Tavares. The Islanders recently rewarded Tavares with a 6 year deal averaging $5.5 million per year.
However, considering Duchene's offensive struggles and the Avalanche's reluctance to commit to players long term we'll likely see him return to the Avs for less years and less money than Tavares. A three year deal would preserve Duchene's RFA status, but if Duchene bounces back, it could give him the negotiating leverage to make Kroenke's head spin.
Instead, it's a two-year window for Duchene to prove he's earned a Tavares contract. To prove that he's a foundational player for the Avalanche like Gabe Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly appear to be.
He lost his leverage this season; he's got the talent and the drive to get it back. And the willingness to take less annually than David Jones shows a bit of character. Or perhaps humility.