It may be the start of a new season, but the Colorado Avalanche are still facing an old problem.
The Matt Duchene soap opera continues to rage on, but could the looming risk of another season becoming damaged by a distraction force general manager Joe Sakic to make a trade? That remains to be seen, as does the fate of other notable players who face uncertain futures due to roster crunches.
With that in mind, let us delve into the latest rumors circulating the NHL as the preseason wraps up.
Duchene Still in Limbo
Despite wanting out of Colorado since the 2017 trade deadline, Duchene still made his way to training camp. Yet, he made it clear he reported just to honor his contractual obligations before refusing any questions, per Mike Chambers of the Denver Post:
When asked by Chambers five days later if he planned to play for the Avalanche even if no trade is reached by the start of the regular season, Duchene responded that he has not "thought that far ahead," and that he is taking his situation "day by day."
At the moment, it seems both parties are not in ideal spots, so naturally one would think that a deal is imminent to end a toxic situation. Yet, BSN Denver's Adrian Dater reports on the contrary:
This comes on the heels of a report last week from the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch that the Ottawa Senators were deep in pursuit of the mega-talented forward. As a result, Sean Tierney of the Athletic Toronto asserted the Senators should include one of their young defensemen in a package for Duchene:
Cody Ceci is a nice player, having already played three full NHL seasons at just 23 years old. He would complement Tyson Barrie well as a defensive-minded player who can also move the puck up ice, but Ottawa would need to drastically sweeten the pot. Ceci has just one year left on his current deal, which adds to the fact that the Senators would need to include a high-end prospect like Logan Brown or Colin White.
Outside of these two players and Thomas Chabot, Ottawa lacks potential impact players in the pipeline. Giving any up for Duchene, who is undoubtedly electrifying, when he only has two years left on his deal in addition to Ceci does not seem like the smart play for a team that is no lock to contend for a Stanley Cup this year.
This leads us to our current situation, which is tricky for both Duchene and Colorado.
It is clear that the Avalanche are not going anywhere after a dismal 48-point season. Duchene's production dipped as a result—to a career-low 41 points last year, a far cry from the 70 points in 71 games he put up in 2013-14 to earn a spot on the Canadian Olympic team. Thus, it is easy to see why Duchene wants out.
Yet, Sakic is doing what is best for the long-term outlook of Colorado, since he apparently cannot deal Duchene based on the offers he has received. Sakic cannot be undermined into giving Duchene away just to squash a distraction, so he has to hold strong until a suitable offer formulates.
Sitting out regular-season games in demand of a trade hurts Duchene and his teammates way more than it does Sakic, so that option does not seem likely. This drama looks destined to drag on far into the season, but the longer this goes, the more likely Duchene could be traded before the deadline.
Forward Surplus in Toronto
There is no doubt that the Toronto Maple Leafs are an emerging superpower in the NHL after their young core of Auston Matthews and company led them to an unlikely playoff spot a year ago. However, it seems an abundance of budding talent could come at a price.
The Maple Leafs legitimately have 10 to 12 forwards who could play in the top nine, and that does not include veteran checking forwards like Eric Fehr, Matt Martin and Dominic Moore who are likely to occupy the fourth line. This has created a logjam of forwards competing for spots, which Josh Leivo is aware of, per TSN's Mark Masters:
That is why it should come as no surprise that Sportsnet's Chris Johnston reported Saturday that a "rival team" made a serious push for Leivo, but that the price is too high at the moment. Yet, that may not be the case this time next week.
Leivo is skilled enough to play in almost any other top nine in the NHL, and he came into his own last season with 10 points in 13 games. At 24 years old, he is now just entering his prime, which makes Leivo far too valuable to try to put through waivers if he does not crack the opening night lineup. It also would hurt his development for the team to carry him around as an extra forward just to avoid waivers.
Thus, a trade could be Toronto's only choice in the next week-and-a-half. Leivo only carries roughly a $613,000 cap hit for this season before becoming arbitration eligible. This makes him an intriguing low-cost, high-reward option for a contending team with tight cap space.
The Los Angeles Kings stand out as a team that needs some more skill in its scoring group while also needing to get a bit younger. Perhaps a deal involving promising defense prospect Kale Clague could work? The Kings are not brimming with defensive depth, but perhaps acquiring a plater like Leivo would be too much to pass on.
Regardless, expect the Maple Leafs to make a noteworthy trade soon. Whether that involves Leivo or not remains to be seen, but time is running out for him and other bubble players to secure roster spots.
Edmonton, Maroon Talking Future
Suddenly, cap space has become a major issue with the Edmonton Oilers, which leaves the future of a key veteran up in the air.
Patrick Maroon is set to make $1.5 million in the upcoming final year of his contract, and TSN's Ryan Rishaug reports he and Edmonton are at least exploring an extension:
Yet, Rishaug's last thought looks to be the key cog in this situation.
With Leon Draisaitl's $8.5 million annual deal kicking in this season, the Oilers have roughly $8.3 million in cap space at the moment. It is the next few years where things are sure to become dicey. Connor McDavid's mammoth $12.5 million annual deal starts next year, while young contributors Matt Benning, Darnell Nurse and Ryan Strome will also need new deals.
This leaves general manager Peter Chiarelli with a ton of maneuvering to pull off to keep this team under the cap and competitive. It also likely means that at least one of the three youngsters needing new contracts could be dealt to make room financially.
So where does this leave Maroon? He is 29 years old, but he has found instant chemistry with McDavid. He put up 14 points in 16 games after joining Edmonton around the 2016 trade deadline, and he followed that up with 27 goals last season. Prior to that, he had never potted more than 11 goals.
Repeating that production guarantees he would net a substantial raise on the free agent market, so how much term and annual value would Maroon be willing to concede to make himself affordable to Edmonton? That is the main question, but in the end, it may not matter.
As has been the case with Sidney Crosby, it is not too difficult to find guys who happen to mesh well with the best player in the world, which McDavid arguably already is. It seems more logical to take a chance putting any other forward under Edmonton's control with No. 97 to produce similar results rather than bend over backwards to fit in Maroon.
The big winger is a nice player, but if a player like Jordan Eberle was expendable in the name of cap space in Edmonton, then most definitely Maroon is as well. Unless he agrees to a massive discount, expect Maroon to be elsewhere after this season.