DENVER — Matt Duchene didn’t even skate around his situation. The Colorado Avalanche forward simply sidestepped the topic with as much speed as he flashes on the ice.
“I’m here to honor my contract. I’m here out of respect for the fans. I’m here for my teammates,” Duchene said Thursday before retreating from the dressing room.
And that’s how Duchene arrived for the start of training camp as his future with the team remains murky.
His name was floated last season in trade talks, but no deal was struck. General manager Joe Sakic also wasn’t able to move Duchene on draft night or over the offseason. There’s still no guarantee Duchene will be in the lineup for Colorado on opening night Oct. 5 at the New York Rangers. He remains their best trade chip to acquire a young defenseman.
It’s now a delicate situation for an Avalanche team that doesn’t really need any further distractions. They missed the postseason for a third straight year and finished with just 48 points— the lowest in a full season since 1999-2000, when the expansion Atlanta Thrashers had 39.
“The important thing is that he is here,” said defenseman Tyson Barrie, who’s also been linked to trade rumors over the last few seasons. “Hopefully after a few days, it can kind of blow over and we’ll get down to playing.”
In his brief time in front of the cameras Thursday, the 26-year-old Duchene added that he had a “great summer of training” and is in “good physical condition.” Duchene has two years left on his contract and will make $6 million this season.
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar downplayed the Duchene situation.
“I spoke to him at the end of the year and know it was a tough finish for him. I know things weighed on his mind. I’m on his side,” Bednar said. “We’re all in this together. I think that organizationally, we want what’s best for Matt. It’s up to him to get his mind ready to come in here and compete for this team. Again, I’m confident he’ll do that.”
There has been some swirling interest from teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets and two-time Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
“He’s one of our best players,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “I’m happy here’s here.”
The third overall pick in the 2009 draft, Duchene is coming off a season in which he had 18 goals and 23 assists. Bednar is already talking about his plans going forward with Duchene, including playing him at center.
“He’s a prideful guy. He’s a hard working guy. He’s real good player,” Bednar said. “I expect he’ll come out on the ice (Friday) and today in testing and give it his all — just like he has throughout all his career.”
After a dismal 2016-17 season, the Avalanche are eager to turn the page.
They have a healthy goaltender in Semyon Varlamov, who’s returning from hip surgery to alleviate lingering groin issues. Along with that, there’s another veteran voice in the locker room with forward Colin Wilson. He was acquired from the Western Conference-champion Nashville Predators in July.
So far, Wilson likes what he sees out of a team that has plenty of youthful scorers in Tyson Jost, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon. Defenseman Erik Johnson thinks the Avs can be in the mix as well — if they can tune out the past.
“Start over and start fresh,” said Johnson, who missed a chunk of last season with a broken leg. “No one expects anything of out of us. We’ve got to embrace that and say (forget) everybody and go out and play.”
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey