As we’ve entered what is increasingly looking like the first real drought of content for the offseason, many people are quite confused as to why so many quality players are still on the market. Part of it could be the long-standing rumors of internal caps, part of it could be changes in management, and part of it could be overzealous agentry attempting to win some extra dosh for their clients.
Whatever the case, one of the most intriguing choices of the current UFA period is Anthony Duclair. A guy who has not been signed by any team yet.
But frankly, he should be.
At a Glance:
On the surface, it feels like Anthony Duclair should’ve remained a fan favorite forward in practically every place he’s ended up in. And yet...he’s a journeyman for reasons it feels like could either be explained away in a way that either makes the organizations he was apart of look bad, or hockey in general look really bad.
Because Anthony Duclair? He’s a keeper, if you can get him.
It feels kinda hacky to say that Duclair has a “scorer’s touch”, but it does ring pretty true when it comes to his shot, that when given any sort of space at all seems supernaturally destined to beat goaltenders, and Duclair knows it. Every minute he is on the ice he is relentlessly trying to create that highlight reel goal for himself or somebody else, taking a huge wind-up shot or getting a quick pass off.
His stick-skill is also top notch, even with a player practically standing on top of him, which is of course, no mean feat. Duclair is that kind of explosive skater which fools you into thinking he’s not really all that swift, and then he’s off to the races in an instant, completely unafraid of contact that might come his way. Hell, he’ll shoot through you if he can, as one of his more impressive highlights to date can attest.
All of that made Duclair such a boon for the otherwise moribund Senators, who were able to generate at least a smidgen of goodwill thanks to his offensive output being the best it’s been since his first year in Arizona.
...Y’know, when he was able to play a full (or in last year’s case, what passed for full) season.
Duclair has had an extremely strange time when it’s come to ice-time, having an extremely up and down career so far, averaging around 42 games a season. Some of it is injury like any player, but just a big part of why I think that is is that Duke’s production is overall somewhat spotty, especially on poor defensive teams where his poor defensive play...only made things worse. It got to the point that prior to making the Sens, his former coach and living ad for finishing your prescription to the letter John Tortorella famously declared that he “didn’t know how to play”, and that he had gone “Off the rails.”
Which feels a bit harsh. But considering how weirdly his career has gone, it feels like it’s at least worth looking under the hood to decide what’s real about this winding road of an NHL career and what’s fake.
First of all, if you assume a “scoring winger”’s job on a hockey team is to score goals or at the very least put shots on the other team’s goaltender, John Tortorella’s assessment of Duke is at best incomplete, or at worst full of shit. He’s very good at generating offense, and probably the best shooter on the Sens last year.
The problem is that, if we’re taking that Tort’s interest is in a more complete “score goals and then also backcheck” kind of player, then his impression of Duclair is not entirely off-base. Duke is not good at defending. At all. Shots phase right through him as though he were a ghost, and he’s certainly not making it harder for the opponent’s team to score on whatever team he happens to be on.
Granted, none of the teams Duke ended up on have ever been defensive powerhouses (one just has a reputation for it), but his defense is, at least as a rule, just as much a detriment to his play as his offense is a positive. Hell, in Evolving-Hockey’s Goals Above Replacement percentile charts, it more or less confirms it with a near perfect split of 4.2 goals gained and lost.
Because of all this, Duclair’s 2019-20 is one of the more fascinating players analytically so far. Most of the time when we look at analytics, we’re trying to find out whether or not a player actually matches up to the eye test, trying to square what we’re seeing with what’s actually happened.
Duclair is fascinating precisely because of how... oddly distributed his performance is.
First of all, where he shoots: being only one of two players on the Sens this year who were any good at navigating the Neutral zone, his strategy was big honking one-timers. He’s not subtle about it, preferring to just skate in and put a blast on a goalie, but that’s perfectly fine. What makes it interesting is that he’s been doing well while shooting from distance (as in to say, not in the crease or slot), something that’s been becoming increasingly rare among shooters in the NHL over the past decade, making him a rarity.
Now, you’d think a player like Duke would have a pretty open and shut special teams results: good at power plays, never played any penalty kill for fear of his defensive woes crippling an already pretty not good penalty kill, something like that right?
...it’s actually the opposite.
Duke was terrible at man-advantage situations! Terrible! Just couldn’t do anything while he was on the man-advantage. But you put him on the penalty kill? He suddenly became a defensive nightmare, a player you actively gambled shooting the puck near because he could easily turn that up ice and turn it into a goal!
In short, Anthony Duclair is the best offense-first penalty killer currently on the market?
That sure is a sentence that the math seems to support.
Man, Hockey can be weird.
So why hasn’t anybody signed him?:
So, let’s take a minute to assume that every team is in some way cash strapped and probably extremely hesitant on taking on talent at even close to face value right now unless they’re loading up for a potentially long cup run. Now, what are some reasons why he remains a free agent?
Nobody has any real idea when the season’s gonna start
How long is a year, right now?
Truth is, we don’t know, and we’re probably not going to know until December at the earliest when the NHL makes it’s more concrete plans to set an NHL schedule. It could be 60 games, it could also be less than 40. In theory, it makes short-term deals very attractive. Problem is...most teams only like short term deals for guys who aren’t expected to score around 15-20 goals, because they usually wanna hang onto guys like that, and will be expected to pay through the nose to keep him if, god forbid, people are allowed to go to hockey games next year.
His defensive woes are just that hard to ignore.
Duke’s defense issues have plagued him ever since he made it in this league, and they have only ever gotten worse since going to the Sens. Part of it isn’t entirely his fault (The Senators are not good), but plenty of teams need defensive help, especially from the forward position. It’s entirely possible that guys like Duke just can’t find the places to land right now because of a need for forwards that can do things that he just can’t.
It hasn’t quite yet sunk in that nobody feels justified paying what he wants.
Okay, so we’ll entertain one way money could be a problem: Duclair seems to believe in himself quite a lot, and with his scoring rebounding into form, it’s certainly natural to feel like your paltry 1.7m contract with the Sens was probably not a great indicator of what you’re worth.
The problem is that Duke fired his agent, and is now representing himself. And it’s clear he’s going for what he feels like he’s owed. Which could be a bit of an issue, since now he has to deal with the realities of having to navigate negotiations in the NHL for the first time...during this pandemic.
Playing hardball right now is probably the least smart thing you can do if you’re a guy like Duke.
Would he even fit on the Bruins?:
Yes and No.
Yes, in that he’d be a natural fit for the system, especially given the amount of players who play with a pass-first mentality in the offensive zone, would almost certainly have his biggest issues masked or at least excused by the Bruins system, have at least one goal NESN will play over and over and over again, and probably be a dark horse candidate for the local player of the year award by game 23-34.
...but No, as in “left wing depth on this team suddenly got a lot more complicated with the acquisition of Craig Smith, and Duclair would only serve to complicate it further.”
As it stands, the depth at LW currently stands as:
- Smith and/or Bjork
- Nick Ritchie
And barring a buyout in times like these or a trade, it seems extremely unlikely that they’d bounce any one of those guys for Duclair. Yes, I know you don’t like Nick Ritchie. I’m not a huge Nick Ritchie fan either. Nick Ritchie isn’t ideal, but they’re still paying for him and Bruce Cassidy and Don Sweeney have gone on record saying that they like that he’s a big lug. If you don’t care for that, might I suggest calling your season ticket rep and threaten to cancel until he’s traded?
It won’t work, but it’ll at least get somebody’s attention.
But that also leaves a problem: if used properly (and accounting for the bump in on-ice results the Bruins system usually gives it’s players), Duclair really doesn’t strike as a depth signing. It’d be more like adding a 3rd middle six player on a team already kind of struggling to decide what to do with their middle six. If you sign him, you kinda want him to be playing with a center that can get him the puck as much as humanly possible. In Ottawa, he was playing most of the time with Logan Brown and Brady Tkachuk prior to a slump in scoring, and say what you will of the Sens, it definitely benefitted Tkachuk to be playing with Duke, who like Brown preferred to dump the puck in as opposed to enter the zone cleanly.
The Bruins could definitely use a guy like Duke, and using him in a depth role with someone like Charlie Coyle would be a good idea, it would require an understanding that if done, the entire left wing outside of one player could be mixed and matched at any given point, something coaches are generally loathe to do because it screws up line chemistry.
In short, you’d have to have at minimum another player sitting up on level 9 making a decent chunk of change to do nothing in order to make it work. And they already got a couple of those.
Well if that’s the case, should they go get Andreas Athanasi-
He’s worse than Duclair at everything. Absolutely not.
Would you go for Anthony Duclair as a free agent?
This poll is closed
Yes, we need a punch on offense and the system can support him!
No, I have reservations about his backchecking
But what about a LD tho??????????