When the Nashville Predators signed Matt Duchene to a seven-year, $56 million contract back in 2019, many thought this would be one of the key pieces needed for the team to return to the Stanley Cup Final and claim what they could not back in 2017. They needed playmaking and Duchene provided that. He figured Nashville was the perfect fit for not just the team and their style of play, but also the lifestyle choice was also good for him as well.
Since the arrival on the ice, however, there has not been a great return on the investment, as not only have there been chemistry issues, there has been a pandemic, stoppage of a season, a coaching change, and now Duchene’s contract has been looking like an albatross that can’t be shaken. In fact, we ran a piece on bad contracts, and guess who is the worst on the Predators? That’s right, Duchene.
However, despite the rollercoaster tenure that Predators fans have endured since the arrival of #95, there’s still a lot that Duchene can bring to this team, and it’s all good things. It’s just a matter of execution.
Duchene’s Playmaking Abilities
Duchene is still a great playmaker, he illustrated that in the Predators’ win over the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 24, when he dished out three assists in the 5-2 effort. His ability to move the puck around is one of the key attributes to his game, and he definitely gave that reminder. It was his second three-point game with the Predators, with the first coming in his first game with the team, on Oct. 3, 2019, which ironically was against: the Wild.
In the season before arriving in Nashville during his time with the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets the year before, Duchene had four three-point games in that season. If there can be more consistent production from not just Matt but his teammates to finish those plays that he sets up for them, then the feelings of being ripped off can subside, and fans and management alike can see the worth of the deal and the return on the investment will pay off.
Another thing that Duchene needs is his guys to complete the plays. If the guys he set up finish the passes, those equal assists, and obviously, that makes things look a lot better in the long run. Also, he has a knack for scoring himself, so sometimes when you are looked at as one of the key players and with an obvious contract that reflects that, you have to show some more aggression and not only make plays for your teammates but make plays for yourself. Duchene has that capability and it needs to be shown.
Duchene’s Leadership Qualities
Some observations of Duchene since his arrival is that he hasn’t been the leader by example that was expected, but that could be due to the already established core and hierarchy that is there in Nashville (captain Roman Josi, alternate captains Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Johansen, and Filip Forsberg), however, he was considered (and may still be) one of the top producers in the league, and that can naturally galvanize his teammates and have them gravitate to them.
Duchene has always been more of leading by example, and if any improved play happens on his end, it will rub off on his teammates going forward. The Predators are in a period of transition as they have added a ton of young talent to go with the established core, and Duchene can be a good leader for those players as they evolve into the future of the hockey team.
Duchene’s Openness to Changing Positions
So when Duchene signed with Nashville at the time, Peter Laviolette was the head coach, which made for a good fit with the team with his system. However, Laviolette was fired midway through the season and entered John Hynes. He was more focused on moving Duchene off the center position, which was resisted by the player. Of course, the pandemic happened, and then the shortened season that followed, and a season that was also derailed by injuries, limiting him to 34 games and only 13 points (six goals, seven assists). The season that was cut short by the pandemic only saw him score 42 points (13 G, 29 A) in 66 games, which was the second-lowest point total of his career (16-17 season, 41 points).
However, this season, Duchene has moved to the right wing position, and the return seems to be working out for him. He has five points (2G, 3A) in seven games this season, and as long as his health holds, this could be a beneficial move for not just the team but for himself too. Think about the production he had early on in his career and then do it consistently. With the season back in full swing and the new openness to playing off-center, the rewards could pay dividends. He can prove that he is worth the money that Nashville invested when he was a coveted free agent and won’t look like a huge fail.
Year three of this deal needs to be a great year, and Duchene still can bring plenty to Nashville. It will be up to him to get there.
Do you feel Duchene will step up, or will it be another year of disappointment? Comment below, or find me on Twitter @ddunhamjr!
Nashville Predators writer. Graduate of North Carolina A&T State University and Northeastern University. Been into hockey since NHL 94 and not knowing what I was doing to having a pretty good idea of how to play. Based in Nashville since 2015. Sharks fan.