Matt Duchene believed he was finally part of a team with a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
"I'm kind of in a dream world right now," Duchene said after the Ottawa Senators acquired him from the Colorado Avalanche in a blockbuster trade on Nov. 5, 2017.
"I wanted to play playoff hockey," he continued. "I've got eight playoff games to my name right now and for me that's not where I want to be at this point of my career.
"I only get one shot at this."
But that dream quickly spiralled into a nightmare, and just over 15 months later the star centre is on the move again.
The Senators dealt Duchene to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday for forward prospects Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson, and a first-round pick in 2019.
Ottawa will also receive a first-rounder in 2020 if Duchene, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, re-signs in Columbus. Minor-league defenceman Julius Bergman also goes to the Blue Jackets in the swap.
The trade came hours before the teams were slated to face each other at the Canadian Tire Centre, and suggests Columbus is prepared to risk losing its own pending unrestricted free agents — winger Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky — for nothing in order to make a playoff run this spring.
WATCH | Rob Pizzo's 3 thoughts on the Duchene deal
When Duchene officially became a Blue Jacket, these three things popped into Rob Pizzo's head. 1:00
"We are extremely excited to bring [Duchene] to Columbus," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. "He is a tremendous fit for our team."
The 2019 pick involved in the deal is lottery protected if it falls in the top-3, meaning Ottawa would instead get the Blue Jackets' first-rounder in 2020 under that scenario, and then receive their top selection in 2021 if Duchene re-signs.
Duchene, along with fellow pending UFAs Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel, were held out of the Senators' lineup in Thursday's 4-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils as the team looked to avoid potential injuries ahead of Monday's NHL trade deadline.
Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion said moving on from Duchene was crucial as the team continues to attempt a rebuild.
"We had hoped [Duchene's] addition would drive us to another deep playoff run," Dorion said in a statement. "That did not materialize. More than a year ago, we shifted our focus to a proper rebuild of the entire organization. Our desire was to have Matt be part of this and as such we approached him with a fair and comprehensive contract offer.
"As soon as it was determined that he did not want to be part of our rebuild, we shifted our focus to see what assets we could acquire in exchange for Matt that would help grow our pipeline of potential."
Worst in NHL since trade
Coming off a post-season run where they fell in double overtime of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final, the Senators acquired Duchene from Colorado in a three-team trade with Nashville that saw Kyle Turris leave Ottawa and join the Predators.
It was thought the Senators would sign Duchene to a long-term deal, but a new contract never materialized as the team tumbled down the standings.
To make matters worse for Ottawa, the trade with Colorado and Nashville included giving up a first-round pick to the Avalanche — at the Senators' choosing — in either 2018 or 2019.
The selection was not, however, lottery protected.
Ottawa decided to keep the No. 4 pick last June, grabbing winger Brady Tkachuk. But with the franchise currently sitting last in the NHL's overall standings, Dorion is now staring down the very real possibility of missing out on either Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko — the presumptive top-2 picks — at the 2019 draft.
Duchene leaves Ottawa with 50 goals and 57 assists in 118 games, but those numbers did little to help the club in the win column. The Senators were just 39-69-10 with the Haliburton, Ont., native in the lineup and an NHL-worst 44-73-11 since the trade.
The third overall selection at the 2009 draft, Duchene has recorded 228 goals and 307 assists for 535 points in 704 career NHL games. The 28-year-old has six assists in those combined eight playoff games with the Avalanche.
Abramov, 20, was the 65th pick in the 2016 draft, while Davidsson, 21, was selected 170th overall in 2017.
"I want to thank the Senators organization for everything," Duchene said on Twitter after the trade was announced. "It was so amazing to play in our nation's capital in my home province, that's something I'll never forget."
Duchene's time in Ottawa coincided with the Senators' dramatic slide down the standings and a string of off-ice public relations disasters.
Team owner Eugene Melnyk threatened to move the club if ticket sales didn't improve just over a month after Duchene's arrival before eventually backing down — comments that spurred a group of disgruntled fans to erect four billboards sporting the .MelnykOut slogan thanks to a GoFundMe campaign.
After the team finished a disastrous 30th in the 31-team league in 2017-18, assistant GM Randy Lee was charged with harassing a 19-year-old male hotel shuttle driver at the pre-draft combine. Lee was suspended by the Senators in June, stepped down in August and pleaded guilty in December.
Two weeks after Lee was charged, news broke that the wife of Senators captain Erik Karlsson had levied cyberbullying accusations against the fiancee of winger Mike Hoffman, who was quickly dealt for pennies on the dollar to the San Jose Sharks and then flipped to the Florida Panthers, Ottawa's Atlantic Division rival.
The best player in team history with a year left on his contract before reaching UFA status, Karlsson was then traded to San Jose at the start of training camp as the tear down began in earnest.
Ottawa actually had a decent start to this season on the ice, but a video from an Uber vehicle surfaced in November featuring seven Senators players, including Duchene, discussing ineffective tactics and mocking assistant coach Martin Raymond.
And the future of the team's proposed move from suburban Kanata to a proposed downtown arena is very much in doubt with Melnyk and his potential business partners suing and counter-suing each other (the parties are currently in mediation) over the plan to redevelop Lebreton Flats — prime real estate just west of Parliament Hill.
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