- Scott Burnside, NHL
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Before the start of the regular season, Steve Downie was chatting with great enthusiasm about being back in NHL competition after a couple of years marked by bad luck and injury. He was on a line with Matt Duchene -- maybe the player who has made the most dramatic steps in his evolution through the first month of the regular season -- and Ryan O'Reilly.
Through 11 games for the surprising 10-1-0 Avs, Downie collected a goal and six assists. He averaged 16:43 a night in ice time, including 2:43 a night, on average, on the Avs' power play.
So it was more than a bit of a surprise that on Thursday afternoon the Avs announced they had traded Downie to Philadelphia for Maxime Talbot.
Given the growing up that Downie has done in recent years, he’ll surprise folks in Philadelphia -- the team that drafted the rough-around-the-edges winger with the 29th overall pick in 2005 and later shipped him off to Tampa. In fact, Downie may be just the tonic for a Flyers team that has sleepwalked through the first month of the season with an embarrassing 3-8-0 record heading into action Thursday.
Downie, 26, is in the final year of a deal that carries a $2.65 million cap hit and can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so that was a factor in the decision to send him packing by Colorado hockey boss Joe Sakic and coach Patrick Roy.
Talbot, 29, has two more years on his deal with a cap hit of $1.75 million annually. Surely the Avs aren’t thinking about shaving a little money off the bottom line while the team is finally creating some positive buzz after years of being a nonfactor in that market. Surely ownership wouldn’t be that shortsighted.
This isn’t to suggest Talbot isn’t a useful player. In fact, he is exactly the kind of player an emerging team would covet. He was part of a Pittsburgh Penguins team that accelerated through the learning curve to advance to Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and 2009, playing inspired minutes on the third and fourth line and chipping in on the penalty kill. In 2009, Talbot scored the Cup winner in Game 7 in Detroit.
But he seems like the kind of player a team would add as a complementary player, someone to augment a lineup as opposed to swapping out a younger, more talented player like Downie.
"He’s a character player. He will help our penalty killing," Roy told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun before boarding a team flight Thursday. "It also gives us some lineup flexibility as a guy that can play both center or wing. And he’s a guy that’s performed well in the playoffs. He’s won a Stanley Cup. I really think he’s going to help us.
"We like the fact that he’s got this year plus two more seasons on his contract. That was also a factor."
Bottom line, unless there’s an unknown backstory, this one is a bit of a puzzler.
7dScott Burnside and Craig Custance