Perhaps nobody on the Nashville Predators needed to have a great 2021-2022 season more than Matt Duchene. He was signed in July of 2019 to be a spark that the team desperately needed on offense, and until this year, it was not working out well.
The Predators were in a state of free-fall from the better part of late 2019 to early 2021, and Duchene was sinking with them. He couldn’t generate any chemistry with his teammates, and was oftentimes invisible for someone making $8M per year.
But to understand just how important this season has been for Duchene, we have to go about five years back in time. To say those years have been a rollercoaster for the veteran forward would be a pretty big understatement.
Matt Duchene has not had it easy in recent years
Duchene’s story begins in the summer of 2017, in which his current team at the time, the Colorado Avalanche, were coming off of a season in which they were last in the NHL. His contract was set to expire in two years, and it was believed that both sides were looking to part ways sooner rather than later.
That being said, a trade would not happen until a month into the 2017-2018 season, in which the Avalanche dealt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators.
Despite this Senators team being one year removed from a surprise trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, his time in Ottawa would go on to be a disaster.
Their team was in a chaotic state, with lots of drama being mainly being centered around their now late owner Eugene Melnyk. It was just too much for Duchene and the rest of the team to overcome, and he would be dealt again as soon as the time came.
This time, he would go to the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team on the verge of a disastrous free agency but with one last chance to go in for a deep playoff run. A ton of pressure was put on him and his teammates, and despite a slow start there, he would make his presence felt.
That team pulled off what is still today regarded as one of the greatest upsets of all time, and Duchene averaged a point per game while finding himself in the front of the net at the right times. It was what he needed, as his contract was finally up and it was time to cash in in free agency.
It was a match made in heaven for both Duchene and the Predators, who both seemed to want to make it happen for years. It looked good at the time, but would not start well at all.
His first few months in Nashville were the last ones of Head Coach Peter Laviolette on the team, a stretch in which the team was down and looked to not be playing for their head coach anymore.
Laviolette was replaced by John Hynes in January 2020, and two months after that, the NHL season was suspended due to COVID-19, and the Predators would lose in the bubble to the Arizona Coyotes in the playoff qualifiers.
It was not a good year for Duchene or the team, but they would get a fresh start in the shortened 2020-2021 season, which would start out even worse for both him and the Nashville Predators. That was one of their worst stretches as a team in the past decade, and even when they turned it around midway through the year, Duchene would be banished to the third line with no fair opportunity to produce.
Despite being on the top line and turning in a better showing in the playoffs that year, he would be left unprotected in the Seattle expansion draft, a move in which General Manager David Poile basically admitted he made a mistake by signing Duchene.
The pressure for Duchene to perform was greater than ever, and it has resulted in maybe the season of his career.
Duchene is living up to his lavish contract, and then some. He went from one of the Predators’ biggest liabilities to one of their most important players, as he has scored 43 goals and over a point-per-game player. He’s showing that he is one of the more gifted offensive players that they have had in their team’s history.
Reaping the rewards of a good situation with Nashville Predators
One common thing to do for players is to make excuses for their underproduction, as it is a team game and you have to be in a good system to play well.
People were losing their patience with Duchene in the past few seasons, but when you look at it, his luck across most of the past half decade has been terrible.
You cannot blame him for the mess that was in Ottawa when he was there, and you cannot blame him for his bad start with the Nashville Predators.
It is easy to give Duchene a pass for his slow start in Columbus, as the team’s star players already seemed to be at odds with John Tortorella, and the added pressure from their all-in deadline push that year only amplified what they were dealing with.
People love to talk about how the Avalanche immediately got better when Duchene left them, but what is interesting is that they had a strong start to the year when he was there. And his second season in Ottawa actually was good, it was just overshadowed by what a mess the team was.
It has been mentioned many times, but the talk of the “Duchene curse” never made sense. He had to be on a good team in a good spot, and with a full year to see what he could do on the Nashville Predators’ top line, we are seeing what he is capable of.