With only one playoff appearance for the Colorado Avalanche since the 2010-11 season, there hasn’t been much to celebrate. They were a team that had star potential, but never seemed to be in contention for a playoff spot.
In the midst of a bleak 2016-17 season, which saw the team finish with a dismal 48 points, things started to look even worse for the them when star forward Matt Duchene made it known that he wanted out.
Since Duchene was drafted third overall in 2009, he was in the top five of scoring for the Avalanche in all but one season — he finished outside the top five in 2011-12 when he was limited to only 58 games due to injuries. With his consistent production on the ice throughout his entire career, the future in Colorado looked even more daunting with the possibility of losing Duchene.
When it was made known last season that Duchene wanted to be traded, the league was left to anticipate the trade. Many thought it would come before the Feb 28 trade deadline, but it didn’t. Then, people thought it would come in the off-season, but again, it didn’t. As time passed, the whole situation with Duchene started to cast a dark cloud over the entire franchise.
All of the focus leading into training camp was on whether or not Duchene would report to camp or hold out until he was traded. While he did end up reporting to camp, all of the focus was on him and not any of his teammates.
The Avalanche held onto Duchene until Nov. 5 of this season, when he was finally dealt to the Ottawa Senators as part of a three-team trade involving the Avalanche, Senators and Nashville Predators. With Duchene out of the picture in Colorado, it wasn’t clear what would happen to the team that was already struggling in the standings, but that’s when 22-year-old center Nathan MacKinnon stepped up.
In his four prior seasons with the Avalanche, MacKinnon had been consistent with his play, often posting totals similar to Duchene. However, he had been off to a slow start in his fifth season in Colorado. In the 13 games that both Duchene and MacKinnon played in together, MacKinnon only collected nine points. However, since Duchene’s trade, MacKinnon has amassed 36 points.
During the two months without Duchene as a teammate, MacKinnon has flourished. His 17 goals, 31 assists and 48 points are all approaching his career highs. He’s only eight goals, nine assists and 16 points away from surpassing all of his career best totals. What’s even more impressive is that MacKinnon’s been able to come close to those totals in only 39 games compared to playing all 82 games.
MacKinnon doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon either. In his four games since the holiday break, he’s found the back of the net twice and tallied six assists to give him a total of seven points.
It’s hard to say what exactly has led to MacKinnon’s recent success. One could say that with the drama of the Duchene trade gone, MacKinnon has been able to play his own game without having to deal with a teammate who wasn’t happy playing in Colorado. Whether it’s the drama being gone, him being able to step up and fill the void left by Duchene or whether he’s just been on a hot streak this season, the Avalanche are benefiting from it.
The three-team trade has been the biggest trade so far this season, with the majority of the focus being on how Duchene has played in Ottawa and how Kyle Turris has played in Nashville. However, with the play of MacKinnon since the trade, it seems that he’s been the player benefiting from the trade the most.