By Sylvain Godin | OSJ Staff
So, how is everyone enjoying the Anthony Duclair show this season?
To say Duclair is on a tear would be stating the obvious, but the theme of his rising star started way before this season. Since the day he was traded to Ottawa from Columbus, Duclair has steadily risen to become a fantastic offensive power and a treat to watch on a nightly basis. When Duclair is on the ice, it always feels like he is a threat offensively, and his speed is amazing to watch. But here are the big questions: Is this a true turnaround or a flash in the pan? Should the Senators sign Duclair to a long-term contract to grow with the core players? In today’s article, we'll discuss Duclair's pros and cons.
Signing Duclair to a long-term contract: One of the biggest benefits of re-signing Duclair is that Ottawa does not have a real ‘gamebreaker’ when it comes to goal scorers. Duclair has elite speed, a great offensive mind and is not afraid to shoot. Thanks to this, what we're seeing now will quite likely be the norm in the future. Head coach DJ Smith has restored Duclair's confidence, giving him the freedom to play his game, giving him top minutes as well as playing on the penalty kill, which has been a great part of this Senators team. Duclair also leads the Senators in goals and in points (21 goals, 30 points in 38 games), which is always a positive. You’re looking at a potential 35 goal scorer from a kid who’s only 24. He has a lot of years left to even be more productive and having him exceed 60 points is not a stretch.
To fully understand what kind of player Duclair can be, one needs to look at his QMJHL years to really see what he was. Between 2011-2015, Duclair counted 249 points in 203 games, which averages 1.23 points per game. That’s elite scoring. Immediately he got 44 points in his full year with the Arizona Coyotes before slumping the next two years. He was also on Team Canada in 2014 when they won the Gold Medal, having scored 4 goals, and 4 assists. Another point is that he seems to be meshing well with this young core and team. For a well-travelled player like this, stability like this might be just what he needs. Being closer to his home town likely doesn't hurt either. Duclair may very well be inclined to re-sign with the team that finally gave him a real chance with big minutes to really bloom into a great player.
Not signing Duclair to a long-term contract: Duclair is 24 and still an RFA for another two years; so Ottawa controls the player - important for a team that isn’t expecting to challenge for a cup for a few years, much less wanting to spend too much money. Contracts will be coming soon for other players and the money allocated may not allow Dorion to spend as much as Duclair would like to have. In the end, Duclair will want to get a huge contract with term as he’s bounced around the league quite enough and would rather have a home to stay put for longer than a couple of years. Term will be the key here as Duclair will want to probably give a couple of his UFA years to stay, but that means losing some top money if he continues to score at this pace or better.
Simply put, Ottawa has the control on this and should not be rushed to do any deals whatsoever. While he has turned it around since the trade, the fact remains that Duclair was traded multiple times; he now is on his fifth team in his young career (Rangers, Coyotes, Blackhawks, Blue Jackets and Senators). He's coming off a trade where his old coach stated: “I don’t think he knows how to play.” If you're an NHL GM, those are red flags. You can also argue that the player is currently playing in a contract year and putting his best foot forward right now to try to get that contract. Can a team trust that he'll continue to play this way or will he regress after he gets his deal? I’m always a bit skeptical when, suddenly, during a contract year, an explosion of points happens. It is very hard to forget a player's past. Currently, the Sens just don’t know what they have in Duclair.
The Verdict: While Duclair is showing a lot of promise, the Sens do have wingers in the pipeline that can definitely take up his role if he does leave at the end of two years. Also, with the upcoming draft, depending on the Sens' positions, they'll likely be able to draft a scorer and a center with their picks. While I get that Duclair might be comfortable and that his teammates love him and that he gels great with the team, the point remains that the club still has complete control over this player. If I were Dorion, I would play this year out, bring the player to arbitration and see how it goes. This gives him ample time to evaluate Duclair through the year. If he once more lights the lamp, I would then consider a longer-term contract or even consider him as an asset for future use such as a trade.
I like the player and wouldn’t be upset if Ottawa did sign him soon to a 3-5 year contract, but I would rather wait 'til the off-season.