After Matt Duchene was bought out by Nashville on the eve of free agency, he was forced to turn the page quickly. Emotionally, he needs more time. Practically, he had no time. Something Duchene DOING there are options.
“What makes it easier is just the conversations I had with the team here (in Dallas) with Jim (Nill) and Pete DeBoer and some guys,” Duchene said. “The other options are incredible, too.”
Missing from the dialogue is what the Stars will get in Duchene — a top-6 talent two seasons removed from a career-high 86-point campaign who can play center or either position on the wing – so said Duchene, who signed a one-year and $3 million, arrived in Dallas.
One chance to win. A desirable place to live. An organization with structure.
A destination by choice.
On Saturday, Nill spoke about how excited the Stars are to land a player like Duchene. On Thursday, Duchene talked about how excited he is to join the Stars for a laundry list of reasons. The former happens every year to every player but the latter — a high-caliber player who considers himself lucky to be in Dallas — doesn’t happen all the time. But this has become a regular occurrence.
After 13 years in San Jose, the Sharks let Joe Pavelski go in 2019. After 14 years in Anaheim, the Ducks bought Corey Perry in 2019. After nine years, the Wild bought Ryan Suter in 2021. To a lesser extent. , this year, Evgenii Dadonov put together a strong season finale and strong postseason, but didn’t even bother to test the July 1 market.
These players, and others, have other options. All of them, including Duchene, chose to go to Dallas or stay there. In fact, Duchene’s interest in Dallas goes back to 2019, when he is an unrestricted free agent.
“We checked in with a few teams, Dallas being one of them, early on,” Duchene said. “Once that wasn’t an option, we really turned our attention (to Nashville). Also the cap at that point just went up ($2 million) that year. There wasn’t the same space that people thought they were going to have.
There is no linear formula for what makes a team a destination spot, as players have different motives. For others, the chance to play close to home gives a team a leg up. Because of how little NHL talent Dallas produces, the Stars don’t have much of an advantage there. For other players, there is something of honor, playing for an Original Six team or one with a long, storied history. The Stars, who came to Dallas in the 1990s and went through some bad years as recently as a decade ago, don’t check that box either.
Duchene’s recruiting process offers a glimpse into where the foundation of the Stars’ advantage began.
“With (Jamie Benn) being an amazing captain, I wanted to get his perspective and talk to him,” Duchene said. “I played with him in the Olympics, so we know each other a little bit. I also talked to (Jason) Robertson. I asked him a lot of hockey specific questions. Obviously, he had a big year last year, kind of putting himself in pretty elite company with what he’s doing and who he is (with) at the moment. Just want to know, like, what contributed to your big year and try to imagine myself being a part of that. We actually talked. Everything he said was great.
“Then, Tyler Seguin came up to me after. I know Seggy since we were 10 years old. He’s a year younger than me, but we crossed paths when we were kids, summer hockey and then playing against each other. Joe Pavelski reached me (Thursday).
The main voices in the recruiting process were Benn and Robertson. Benn is a soon-to-be 34-year-old captain who is well-respected by his teammates, and who has recently enjoyed a career resurgence. Robertson is a charismatic soon-to-be 24-year-old who just finished in the top-five in Hart’s voting this season after breaking the franchise record for points in a season. Those two players represent what the Stars organization offers to future players on a larger scale, which is a mix of older and younger talent that leads to a structured leadership framework. that one can only slide so quickly and talents, of varying degrees, that one can. just plug and play.
“The fact that you can come in right away and play with a guy like (Seguin) is pretty special,” Duchene said. “There’s not a lot of places in the league that (offer) to play with a guy like that, to play with a guy like Jamie Benn, to play with a guy like Jason Robertson, Joe Pavelski, (Roope) Hintz, Dadonov, etc. and on, right?”
Miro Heiskanen, Wyatt Johnston, Jake Oettinger. At Duchene’s point, the list goes on. The other pull now seems to be DeBoer. It is important for players to enjoy who they play with but it’s just as important to enjoy who they’re playing because.
“Talking to the guys, they like the style of play they played last year,” Duchene said. “I think that’s a big thing. Everybody’s looking at the roster, everybody’s looking at the goaltending and all that stuff, but if you’re not playing the right style of game, it can go to waste, sometimes. I know Pete is a very good coach. I have known him for a long time. Just talking to the boys, that’s part of the process, just asking how they feel about it and they’re loving it and saying nothing but great things. This made that decision very easy for me.
“Playing offense is fun and it’s an offensive league now. Back when I started my career, guys weren’t even scoring 80 points and now there are guys scoring 120. It’s changed a lot, and the teams score more. I think that’s one area where they can win 2-1 games for a long, long time and now they can win 6-5 games. That makes them very dangerous .I’m always more of a fan of the 6-5 game than the 2-1 game, so I’m excited to come in. I love playing offense, obviously, and hopefully come in and fit into that.
On the hockey side, Nill deserves perhaps the most credit as the architect of the entire hockey operation. The Stars were in a potentially difficult situation late in 2018, when the top of their own organization publicly pursued the two faces of the franchise in Benn and Seguin. It’s the kind of thing that makes free agents wary about joining the team, but less than a year later, Pavelski and Perry signed.
Nill has a reputation as one of the nicest guys in hockey and there have been examples of that throughout his tenure, from handling the untimely firing of coach Jim Montgomery to executing low-level trades. like Fredrik Olofsson and Jacob Peterson to do right by the player. Those things may get lost in the shuffle, but over time, they become the fabric of the hockey operation for a franchise.
Hockey factors are important, and can ebb and flow over time. But there’s a non-hockey side to these decisions for players as well, especially older players with families. Texas having no state income tax is a big draw. But also, think about the stage in life that guys like Pavelski, Perry, Suter and Dadonov are in. Duchene is no different.
“To have almost a sister city here in Dallas (compared to Nashville) is, I mean – when you make this decision, you’re looking first,” Duchene said. “But at the same time, now that I have three children and a wife, you have to take care of them. My biggest goal in moving here is to make it as seamless and easy for him as possible. Then, the hockey part was on me. That’s how I see it. I have divided it into two parts. Dallas just checked every box for us.
The family is an ice-free priority in choosing the market they want to play, but there are also elements of appeal for players. Duchene is an Ontario native, so he knows what the traditional hockey market looks like. He knows the kind of media scrutiny and public pressure that comes with those places, not to mention things like a level of popularity in public places that some players don’t feel comfortable with.
In Dallas, those things exist on a much smaller scale. Gamers can play the game they love, make millions doing it and still go to dinner on a Saturday night without much hassle. Team ownership may not always be a fan of that reality, but there is a certain pull that exists for certain players, especially older ones, as they make their decisions. Younger players may be more familiar with a splashier, more exotic setting, but you don’t need to worry too much about trying to relax them into signing out if you do. at a factory speed inside due to good drafting.
Duchene’s decision to come to Dallas isn’t all that different than Pavelski’s decision to come to Dallas in 2019 but after re-signing twice after his first deal. This is a validation of the culture and direction of the Stars. It’s clear the team wants these players but it’s not a complicated trade they have to make. Being the Dallas Stars is enough.
(Photo by Matt Duchene: Timothy T. Ludwig / USA Today)