Matt Duchene said it was the most difficult request he has ever made.
The Colorado Avalanche, his favorite team as a child, drafted him third overall in 2009. Duchene spent the next nine seasons as one of the franchise's greatest players, scoring the fourth-most goals (178) since they moved from Quebec in 1995. But Duchene felt it was time to leave the team, before his contract was up in summer 2019 and before it entered yet another rebuilding phase -- so he had to ask the team's general manager Joe Sakic, his favorite player growing up, to move him.
"Asking for a trade out of Colorado, from Joe Sakic, who was my idol, was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Duchene said Monday in Ottawa after the Senators acquired him in a three-way blockbuster trade that sent center Kyle Turris to the Nashville Predators and seven assets -- players and picks -- to the Avalanche.
"It was something I sat on for a long time. I wanted to wait and see how things panned out," Duchene said. "Last year when it happened, it was around the time I saw the writing on the wall in terms of the future of that franchise, in terms of the rest of my contract. We had a horrific year last year, and I could see a rebuild coming. It was something I've been a part of, multiple times, and I just couldn't do it."
The biggest issue with another rebuild? That Duchene has barely tasted playoff hockey, especially in comparison with John Tavares (24 playoff games) and Victor Hedman (65), the two players drafted ahead of him in 2009.
"I wanted to play playoff hockey. I have eight playoff games to my name right now. For me, that's not where I want to be at this point in my career," Duchene said about joining the Senators, who made the Eastern Conference finals in coach Guy Boucher's first season in 2016-17.
"I only have one shot at this. I get to play this game for however long my body lets me play it."
It took over a year for the Avalanche to fulfill Duchene's trade request due to Sakic's asking price. The 26-year-old star center wore that uncertainty like an anchor, to the point where Duchene was accused of packing it in in the final months of Colorado's 48-point last-place season. He had three goals and six assists in his last 33 games.
"He didn't want to be a Colorado Avalanche anymore. The fact that he didn't want to be a player for the team anymore, I think guys in the room were kind of waiting for it [a trade] to happen too. We all want to play for this team and win in Denver, and he wanted to go somewhere else. That's his right," defenseman Erik Johnson told BSN Denver on Sunday.
Duchene said last season "was the hardest thing I've ever been through" as far as playing on a hockey team that he had asked to leave.
"We went so far down the drain. I struggled. I was dealing with this stuff. I was a maturity process for me, a learning process. I think something that's made me stronger. If I can handle that, I can handle almost anything," Duchene said.
He admitted that he "didn't expect to be back in that uniform coming into camp," but Duchene played 14 games for Colorado and had 10 points this season. That effort, according to Senators general manager Pierre Dorion, was more indicative of Duchene's character than anything that happened last season.
"We all know what was going on in Colorado with Matt. The one thing that really impressed me was that he asked for a trade, but no matter what the tough circumstances were, he went to camp, played well and never said a bad word about the Avalanche. That told me a lot about his character," Dorion said Monday.
Duchene, who will wear No. 95 with the Senators because Nos. 9 and 19 are spoken for, said he's ready to turn the page on his past and start anew with the Senators, even if the emotional goodbye with this former general manager still resonates.
"It was a relief to have this behind me. It was a long time going through everything. I have nothing but great things to say about my time on Colorado and the people there. There's no such thing as a perfect human being, but for me Joe Sakic is pretty darn close. He's a guy I've looked up to my whole life," Duchene said.
"A lot of people pitted us against each other at times, but it was never like that. We had a great relationship, and we both had a bit of a tear in our eyes yesterday when he talked to me."