Matt Duchene’s name has been swirling in trade rumors for months, but the question is, what would it take to acquire him? Is Duchene a first line centre? A key piece of a Stanley Cup winning team? Well first let’s start off with what is a first-line centre these days.
What is a “First-Line” Centre?
Over the past 5 full seasons, the 30th ranked centre in terms of points has scored 53 points, 54 points, 52 points, 51 points, and 51 points. Averaged out, that’s 52.2 points. When sorting by points per game, over the last 6 years the top 30 centres have scored at a pace of at least 0.70 points per game (among centres who’ve played at least 82 games over the past 6 years). Over an 82 game season, that’s 57.4 points. So, a first line centre must score at least 52-57 points per 82 games on average. Of those top scoring centres, they had a cumulative faceoff percentage of 51.5%. Also, all of the Top 30 players in points per game were positive possession players at 5v5. So overall, to be a first line centre in the NHL, you (generally) need to score at least 50 points, have a faceoff percentage of at least 50, and be a positive possession player.
Is Matt Duchene a First-Line Centre?
Over his career, Matt Duchene has scored 418 points in 572 games, for an 82-game average of 59 points. His career faceoff percentage is 52.7, and his career 5v5 CF% is 47.41. However, his career 5v5 Rel.CF% is 1.13, which means it’s more likely that his team is a poor possession team rather than him, as he makes his team better possession-wise while on the ice. Therefore, I would classify Matt Duchene as a first-line centre, as he fits the criteria of scoring at least 50 points, with a faceoff percentage of at least 50, and a positive possession player (relative to his team). Is he one of the Top 5/10 centres in the league? No. But he can definitely hold his own on the top line of most teams in the league. Now that we’ve established that Duchene is a first-line centre, what are some recent examples of first-line centres being traded?
Here are 5 examples of first-line centres being traded since 2012, and their returns:
In 2016 Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets was traded straight up for Seth Jones of the Nashville Predators. At the time of the trade, Johansen was Columbus’ first-line centre, having scored 63 and 71 points in his previous 2 full NHL seasons. Seth Jones was an up and coming defenseman, averaging 19:43 of ice time per game, third among his teammates over the course of his career. He was a 4th overall draft pick 3 years prior, and was thought of to have the potential to be a number one defenseman. So, in this case, a first line centre was traded for a potential number one defenseman with NHL experience.
In 2015 Ryan O’Reilly was traded from the Colorado Avalanche to the Buffalo Sabres. Now O’Reilly might not be generally thought of as a first line centre, but he averages above 50 points a season, wins faceoffs, and was a positive possession player relative to his team. O’Reilly was traded along with depth forward Jamie McGinn for prospects Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, and J.T. Compher. At the time of the trade, Grigorenko was not held in too high regard, having not shown much in his time in the NHL. Zadorov was thought of as a good defensive prospect with potential. Compher was thought of as a two-way forward prospect with some upside. Overall, the Avalanche traded a first-line centre for 2 decent forward prospects and a high end defensive prospect.
In 2014, Ryan Kesler was traded from the Vancouver Canucks to the Anaheim Ducks. In return for Kesler (along with a third round pick), the Canucks received Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, and a first and a third in the 2014 NHL Draft. At the time of the trade Bonino was thought of as a Middle 6 centre, who was probably better suited for the 3rd line, but could play 2nd line minutes, and had 22 goals and 49 points in the year prior to the trade. Sbisa was a former first round pick that hadn’t panned out, and wasn’t likely going to be anything more than a bottom-pairing defenseman. The draft picks were both in the later parts of their respective rounds. So, the return for Kesler was a first round pick, a middle six centre, a bottom pairing defenseman, and a third round pick. Now this trade isn’t exactly the best example, as Kesler had trade protection so the Canucks were very limited with who they could send him to, so the return was likely not as high as it could have been.
In 2013, Tyler Seguin was traded to the Dallas Stars from the Boston Bruins. Seguin, along with forward Rich Peverley and prospect Ryan Button were traded for roster player Loui Eriksson, and prospects Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, and Joe Morrow. At the time of the trade, Peverley was a third line centre, and Button wasn’t a good prospect, so they were essentially throw-ins to the trade, so won’t hold much weight. Loui Eriksson was supposed to be a good, top 6 scoring winger for the Bruins. At the time of the trade, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser were thought of as middle 6 scoring wingers, and Joe Morrow was thought of to be a Top 4 offensive defenseman. So overall the Bruins traded a first-line centre and a third-line centre for a Top 6 forward, 2 Middle 6 scoring prospects, and a Top 4 defensive prospect.
In 2012, Jeff Carter was traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Los Angeles Kings. The return for Carter was a first round draft pick, and defenseman Jack Johnson. At the time of the trade, Carter had struggled in Columbus after being traded from Philadelphia, and was unhappy with the trade, thus bringing his value down. The first round pick was conditional, depending on whether the Kings made the playoffs, so essentially a low first round pick. Johnson was 25 at the time, and was thought of a solid, Top 4 defenseman. So, although Carter’s value was lowered by his not wanting to be there, the Blue Jackets still got a first round pick and a perceived-high-end defenseman.
Typically, teams that win the Cup do so by drafting and development, as key players on Cup-winning teams are rarely acquired via trade. That said, it isn’t unheard of for a first line centre to be traded. In all of these examples, the centre was traded for a high-end prospect, a solid roster player, and either a first round draft pick or another solid prospect, with maybe another player/prospect thrown in, or for a blue-chip prospect. While there isn’t an exact blueprint for a trade like this, you can generally boil it down to these key pieces:
- A High-End Prospect (Top 4 Defenseman/Top 6 Forward)
- A Roster Player
- A First Round Draft Pick/A Solid Prospect
- (Optional) Another Player/Prospect
- A Blue-Chip Prospect
Now will Duchene be traded for these things? Probably not. Will he even be traded? Who knows. However, given the trade market of the past few years, this could be a potential trade package to acquire him.