Duchene is ripping up stat sheets every game, installing doubt in his doubters while establishing himself in Dallas.
It’s the summer of 2023 and Dallas Stars Jim Nill just watched his team get overwhelmed by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final. He knows the club needs to beef up. Matt Duchene is on the market after division rival Nashville Predators bought out his contract.
It’s the opportunity Nill has waited for since 2019. For Duchene, it’s the opportunity to rediscover the scoring touch he had in 2021-2022 when he recorded 86 points.
This year’s unrestricted free agent class included Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Killorn, Radko Gudas, Ryan Graves, and an underrated Gustav Nyquist among others.
Duchene is the 46th highest-paid player out of the 419 free agents that signed in the offseason.
O’Reilly is imprinting his mark on the transitioning Predators with 14 points in 15 games (five of which occurred on the power play), Tarasenko, who joined the Ottawa Senators in July, has 11 points across 13 GP. The Senators are struggling on and off the ice after being expected to take a leap forward this season.
Forward Alex Killorn and defenseman Radko Gudas signed with the Anaheim Ducks for $25 million/4 years and $12 million/3 years, respectively. Points aren’t everything. These experienced, grizzled veterans provide leadership in a locker room housing young stars like Mason McTavish, Leo Carlsson, Jamie Drysdale, and Pavel Mintyukov.
It’s a bonus when someone like Gudas, known for knocking people’s faces in, whips a puck into the net for a critical game-tying score like he did on Tuesday night against Nashville.
Graves is the highest-paid free agent of 2023. He charges $4.5 million AAV until 2029 for his services as a defenseman on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Graves does the opposite of Duchene. Instead of producing offense, the defenseman denies offense. The left-handed blueliner plays alongside offensive defenseman Kris Letang. Pittsburgh seems to be reaping the rewards of this pairing.
Nyquist, 20th on highest paid free agents, is the perfect linemate to Filip Forsberg and O’Reilly on Nashville’s top line. That trio has 41 points altogether through 15 GP (each played 15 games so far). O’Reilly and Nyquist joined the Predators at the same time and are assisting on each others’ goals.
Duchene was a singular addition, and a rather perfect one, to the Stars’ third line. It’s a third line that has spurred a four-game win streak and elevated the Stars to six wins in their eight games this month. Duchene is red-hot with eight points in four games, including three GWG, after a quiet start to the season. The 32-year-old is likely to near, match, and possibly surpass his career high (43 goals, 43 assists for 86 points).
Hockey is a weird sport. It’s extremely fast and the best players in the league aren’t able to guarantee wins for their team. It’s also difficult to assess the value of defensemen versus forwards, especially because they can all do different things.
This is all to argue that the signing of Matt Duchene by the Dallas Stars should be considered one of the best free agent acquisitions of the year.