Matt Duchene being bought out by the Nashville Predators on Friday is probably not one of the things that most hockey fans had on their bingo cards ahead of free agency on Jul. 1. He immediately becomes the top available free agent in a weak 2023 class, and will have freedom to choose a new team as soon as Saturday.
Duchene will be owed $8 million in each of the next three seasons to finish out the seven-year, $56 million deal he signed with the team in July of 2019. He had a bit of a down year in 2022-23, only registering 56 points in 71 games, but he scored at over a point-per-game clip the season before, and will draw a ton of interest across the National Hockey League this summer.
Here are five potential landing spots for the league's newest free agent.
5. Ottawa Senators
Matt Duchene had two of the best offensive seasons of his career with the Ottawa Senators in 2017-18 and 2018-19, scoring 107 points in just 118 games. With Alex DeBrincat almost certain to be traded this offseason, there is a spot in the Sens' top-six for Duchene, likely playing on a line with either Brady Tkachuk or Tim Stutzle.
The Senators are a team that are knocking on the door of playoff contention in the Atlantic Division, and with Duchene, they could get over that hump and make the playoffs in 2023-24. It would make sense for the 32-year-old to at least consider a reunion in the Canadian capital, especially with their star power up front.
4. Montreal Canadiens
Although the Montreal Canadiens are still a few years away from being a postseason contender, the future is bright in Quebec with a ton of young players and prospects. Montreal is a great place to play, and Duchene could slide in either at 2C or on the wing, and run the powerplay along with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki in 2023-24.
Duchene would undoubtedly speed up the rebuild in Montreal, and GM Kent Hughes has a ton of cap space to work with and the tools to lock him up to either a short or long-term deal. The young team would also benefit from his veteran leadership next season and beyond.
3. Detroit Red Wings
Like the Ottawa Senators, the Detroit Red Wings will be knocking on the door of playoff contention in the Eastern Conference next season, and could use another top player like Duchene to get over the hump. This is another place where he could have great linemates, and would look excellent either on Dylan Larkin's wing or centering his own line in the top-six.
He would also be a powerplay lock in Michigan, which is likely very important to the veteran scorer.
2. Colorado Avalanche
Although it's well-known that Matt Duchene and Colorado had a less-than-amicable split after he requested a trade out of Denver following an abysmal 48-point campaign for the team, it might be time to let bygones be bygones and reunite player and club in 2023.
Matt Duchene was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche with the No. 3 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, and there's no better time than now for his old team to bring him back. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2022, the Avs have gotten thin on the wing. Duchene could have an opportunity to play with Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon, which is a mouthwatering prospect.
If not, he would still make a lot of sense on the second line with Ryan Johansen, who was just traded from Nashville to Denver last week. If he wants a chance to win the Stanley Cup, which is likely on the top of his list as a 32-year-old veteran without a ring, the Avalanche would be an appealing and very sensical landing spot for the Canadian.
He is familiar with the team, could carve out an important role in the team's top-six, and would have an immediate chance to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in 2023-24 and beyond. That has to be in the back of Duchene's mind as he wraps his head around the buyout and starts to think about his NHL future.
1. New York Islanders
The New York Islanders play a great defensive system, but they really struggle to score goals. Bo Horvat wasn't quite the answer the team thought he would be on the offensive side of the puck as the team lost in six games to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first-round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Isles will certainly be kicking the tires on Matt Duchene as they look to improve their offense next season. He would also have a guaranteed spot on the top-six in Long Island, likely playing either at 2C or on Horvat's wing on line one. They have some money to offer the veteran, and as he is the best point producer besides Blake Wheeler in free agency, expect that GM Lou Lamoriello will be picking up the phone.
Overall, it's shocking to see Matt Duchene without a team after he signed a massive contract in Nashville just four years ago, and he will be the most intriguing player to watch when free agent frenzy opens on Saturday.