Championship teams have a special feel. Whether in retrospect or as they are developing into the presumptive best team in the league, players often talk about the close knit group that develops on the road to victory. In Denver, former Broncos Super Bowl Champions and former Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup Champions talk about how they are still closest with those specific teams. This brings the rift between Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene into context. They are not about to win a championship together.
In the Denver Post, Mike Chambers wrote that fourth year players Duchene and O’Reilly no longer appear to be best friends, like they were coming into the NHL together as 18-year-olds. Despite cries from fans that the established media is trying to make a big deal out of nothing, Chambers’ comment is a factual observation. Does this mean that this fractured relationship on the Avalanche is the end of the world? No, it just means that the two are not spending time together like they used to, which happens in a lot of relationships.
The supposed dispute stems from Ryan O’Reilly’s contract impasse with the Colorado Avalanche. Matt Duchene accepted a contract that will pay him $3.5 million for two years, while Ryan O’Reilly will make at least $6.5 million next year and for any qualifying offer on the contract moving forward. No one will dispute that O’Reilly is not worth three million more dollars than Duchene, but that is both players’ fault. Duchene chose to take less money in order to prove himself to the team. O’Reilly tried to hold out for $5 million, but was rewarded by the Calgary Flames larger offer sheet.
O’Reilly felt he was owed more than Duchene’s $3.5 million because he believes Duchene deserved more than $3.5 million. The Avalanche stuck to Duchene’s number and enacted their policy of “we don’t negotiate with our own players.” This left O’Reilly’s camp without options, because history shows that negotiating with the Avalanche is futile. Even if O’Reilly had come down to $4.5 million, the Avalanche, stubborn in their ways, would not have moved. $4.5 million would have been a fair contract for both centers.
I’m not trying to make excuses for O’Reilly’s or Duchene’s logic but obvious friction exists. A Duchene who soured as soon as he heard O’Reilly’s contract number greeted Mike Chambers right after Duchene had expressed joy about the Avalanche’s comeback victory over the Flames last week. For those assembled interviewing Duchene, there was no doubt that the center was not thrilled about the way things ended between O’Reilly and the organization. Especially when Duchene’s reaction was comparedto that of the team’s 20-year-old captain, Gabe Landeskog, who was nothing short of ecstatic. From a pointed Duchene answer about management handling contracts, you have to wonder if the logic used by the Avs to sign the 22-year-od Duchene to a contract is no longer holding up after O’Reilly’s deal.
So are the Avalanche doomed because Duchene and O’Reilly cannot be best friends on a championship team? No, the Avalanche do not have a championship team for the two players to play on. Before signing O’Reilly, the Avalanche were more than a couple of pieces away from elite status and they still are. There are bigger issues with this team than a feud between centers on two separate lines. That fact doesn’t change the details of the story. I think both athletes still carry themselves in a much more mature manner than many of my college friends. If Duchene and O’Reilly were in college, they would be graduating along with me in May, on a four-year plan.