Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Clearing the Way for Captain Matt Duchene

Shortly after the Avs made the Chris Stewart for Erik Johnson trade, Avs GM Greg Sherman was on NHL radio to talk about it. One of the things he said that stood out the most to Avs fans was that the Avs were on track with the plan. Plan? Plan to lose as many games as possible and allow 3 or more goals in every one of them as a bonus? That plan? No plan seems particularly apparent to fans or experts.

Here’s my theory on the plan. Yes, the team wants to stay young. They are happy to keep things on the cheap for now but to be fair they did offer Craig Anderson a nice contract that he walked away from. And they want to get back to a team that has an identity. It’s old news that Sakic, Roy and Forsberg are not going too save this team on the ice or at the box office.

Those parts of the Plan are readily apparent. Quietly playing out over time are the efforts of the management to lay a solid foundation for Matt Duchene. And I believe that part of that is nurturing the best environment for Matt Duchene to become the captain of this team.

Matt Duchene is slated to be the face of this franchise and it’s all been in motion for years. Duchene has been billeted with current captain Adam Foote since day one. Think that was a happy coincidence? I doubt it. He’s being groomed. Foote has strong leadership skills and Duchene is expected to soak up a lot of this directly from the source.

Need more evidence? Matt Duchene is on Twitter. Not only is that unprecedented for this organization, it’s completely out of character. No one else on this team has been granted that kind of access to social media. We will have to see what happens to Erik Johnson’s account now that he is an Avalanche.

The Avalanche’s “All About the A” ad campaign has featured Duchene prominently.

Do trades figure into this scenario? I think so; the trade of Scott Hannan was two-fold. The Avs certainly thought they were getting a quality player in Tomas Fleischmann but it also set up another scenario. Next year Adam Foote is expected to retire and that would leave Hannan in a clear position of leadership on this team. A position that would be somewhat difficult for a 20 year old to tackle, even one of Duchene’s drive and determination. Don’t see Hannan as a leader? How about that situation in Washington where it was said that Hannan took the lead in a team meeting only weeks after getting there? If he’s got the stones to pull that on a new team imagine the role he would feel needed filling in the Avs locker room with the departure of Foote. That kind of situation could derail the plans the Avs have for Matt Duchene.

Liles is another potential leader that could upset the apple cart. Could be one of the reasons he was again in play on the trade market. And if Liles hasn’t got the message yet that he is expendable then there is always draft day to take care of that situation for good. I’m not endorsing such a move; I think that Avs are much better off with Erik Johnson AND John-Michael Liles on the blueline. But the team may not see it the same way if it threatens Duchene’s ascent to Captain. Erik Johnson now gives them more options in parting with Liles. I think Liles can and does still provide important leadership on this team but he also has to accept The Plan and his place in the scheme of things.

And what about Stastny? It’s just possible that he is passive enough about leadership that he will not be a factor. He strikes me as a guy that is motivated to play hard and win but is more than happy to let others do the rah-rah stuff. Same situation with Milan Hejduk.

All of this is about chemistry. The Avs, like any team has to monitor the chemistry on the ice as well as in the locker room. If they think they have the leader of the future on their hands then they have to take steps to ensure that his position is secure. It’s not unusual for teams to trade away players to start a new chapter and set the stage for the locker room chemistry of the new era. The Avs know this but don’t expect them to come right out and say it. It just isn’t polite dinner table conversation.

-From the Point

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