Another NHL trade deadline came and went. As usual, plenty of action took place on the day of, but a bulk of big moves came in the days and weeks leading up to it, too. The Colorado Avalanche, a favourite to win the Cup this June, was no exception. While the dust settles, fans can mull over what went down. As such, it’s time for some trade deadline grade reports for the Colorado Avalanche.
Colorado Avalanche Trade Deadline Grade Overview
The Avs got to work early, making some moves in the week prior to the deadline. Colorado followed that up with some depth acquisitions on deadline day, just before the buzzer rang. They remain what feels like leagues ahead of the rest of the Western Conference. Their double-digit lead in points makes them extremely likely to retain the home-ice advantage in the postseason out west.
When expanding to the entire NHL, they still sit at the pinnacle of the standings. However, the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes continue breathing down the Avs’ neck.
Avalanche Deadline Approach in 2021-22
Last year, Colorado won the President’s Trophy by finishing the season in the first place. It was a tight race then, and it certainly appears they’re ready to repeat and win it again this season.
The difference between last year and this year, though, has been Joe Sakic and his willingness to be aggressive at the trade deadline. Last season, he added pieces around the edges of his team’s lineup. That included acquiring Patrik Nemeth on defence, Carl Soderberg on offence, and Devan Dubnyk in net. It provided an extra piece at each position, bringing years of experience to the table. However, none of them provided much impact; in fact, Nemeth probably caused far more woes in the postseason than a replacement-level defender would have.
Sakic seems to have learned from last season and went bigger this season. After all, what good does draft capital do a team that is truly in “win now” mode? Colorado knows, with Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Andre Burakovsky, Devon Toews, Nazem Kadri, and Darcy Kuemper all in their lineup, that they should be competing for Cups right now. Expectations are high within the room and from the fans, too. And Sakic went big this deadline, in hopes that it could help propel the group further than they’ve been in the postseason.
Acquiring Josh Manson
The first of the trade grades for the Avalanche is for the first of the players acquired: Josh Manson. They brought Manson over on 3/14 from the Anaheim Ducks. With Bowen Byram out indefinitely and Samuel Girard out too, Colorado had a hole on the back-end. Even with the elite first pairing of Devon Toews and Cale Makar, Colorado wanted more security. Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson hold down the third pairing, and so far Manson partnered with Ryan Murray to round out the club’s top four.
What happens when Byram and/or Girard return remains to be seen. More than likely, Murray shifts down to the third pair when one of those two gets healthy. If Colorado can get to a place where all of their blueliners are available and healthy, it could get crowded. In a perfect world, they want Toews and Makar on top (obviously). Following them, they could mix and match an offensive defenceman with a defensive one. That could mean Murray with Girard, and Byram with Manson. It could mean Byram with Murray, and Girard with Manson. Either way, that’s six top-four defencemen in the lineup.
If you can afford to scratch Erik Johnson, you’re probably one of the deepest teams on the planet. Not a shocking development for the Avalanche. Though a rental (his contract expires this summer), the return Colorado gave up on for Manson doesn’t break the bank. A defensive prospect (Drew Helleson) and a second-round pick in 2023 doesn’t hurt this club to lose. Helleson probably wasn’t breaking into this team’s deep blueline any time soon, and if the Avs get what they want, that 2023 second-rounder will be more like an early third-rounder.
Trade Grade = B
Acquiring Nico Sturm
This trade might be more about clearing cap space than adding Nico Sturm. That being said, he brings marginally better production than Tyson Jost was, who the team flipped to the Minnesota Wild in the deal. Jost, 24, was the Avs’ first-round selection back in 2016. He simply couldn’t break into the lineup in an offensive role due to the team’s abundance of skilled centremen. He improved the defensive side of his game tremendously and took on penalty-killing assignments more and more.
Given that Colorado’s penalty kill sits at 18th league-wide, though, indicates room for improvement. Sturm, 26, plays a more physical, consistently defence-first game. His 6’3, 206-pound frame brings an extra four inches of height and 20 pounds of weight over Jost, as well. Add the fact that the move cleared $1.275 million in cap space, plus frees up $2 million next season (since Sturm expires this summer, while Jost has another year remaining and will be an RFA), Colorado liked this move short- and long-term.
It’s not easy moving on from Jost, who they wanted to blossom into something more. He still believes he can take his game to the next level as well. Minnesota can give him more opportunities to do so than the Avalanche could, given the players ahead of him in the lineup in Denver. This deal works out for all sides.
Trade Grade = A-
Acquiring Artturi Lehkonen
While rumours swirled about a potential move to land Claude Giroux in Denver, the centre wound up going to the Panthers. That left Colorado without a top-six acquisition on the table. Enter Artturi Lehkonen, who could be quite an interesting asset for the Avs.
Lehkonen potted 149 points in 396 career games with the Montreal Canadiens. At 26 years old, his best years could very well still be ahead of him. He comes over with 13 goals and 16 assists to his name this season. The most surprising stat line, though, could be his even (0) plus/minus through 58 games on the worst team in the NHL.
Lehkonen’s deployment suggests defensive forward, but the left-winger also carries a scoring touch. He will be an RFA this summer and could factor into Colorado’s roster beyond this season as a result. That’s great news considering the move cost Colorado Justin Barron (one of their top defensive prospects) and a second-round selection in the 2024 draft. This stabilizes the team’s third line perfectly, and his style of play should mesh perfectly with what Jared Bednar wants.
Trade Grade = B+
Acquiring Andrew Cogliano
The 34-year-old Andrew Cogliano is past his prime. This year, he’s on pace for a fourth consecutive year with a single-digit goal total. His ice time hasn’t been above 15 minutes per night since 2017-18, and his possession metrics fell to an all-time low (-10.4% relative Corsi) this year too.
So, why Cogliano? Well, that Corsi percentage probably has a lot to do with the fact he’s starting a career-high 70.5% of his shifts in the defensive zone. Plus he gets utilized tons on the penalty kill and has been doing so on a weak San Jose Sharks team. So there’s more than meets the eye here.
He collected more takeaways than giveaways, which is favourable. Beyond numbers, this is a well-liked, well-respected forward with 1,122 games of NHL experience. He brings exactly 100 games of postseason experience with him, too. He might factor in as a regular on the fourth line, or as a depth option. Either way, he’ll be a leader in the room and knows what it takes to win important games. At the cost of just a fifth-round pick, this move feels like a low-risk, high-reward kind of scenario. He’d sure like to get his name on the Stanley Cup before retiring, too.
Avalanche Trade Grade = B-
Avalanche Ready to Go Deep in Playoffs
Ultimately, if Colorado raises the Cup in June, all these Avalanche trade grades can be revised to A+. That’s this team’s ultimate goal, and mortgaging some future picks and prospects to do so won’t matter if they achieve it.
On the other hand, falling anything short of a Cup does the exact opposite. Manson and Sturm can walk in free agency, though they could also re-sign if the price is right. Just like last summer, Colorado has some big decisions to make this summer. Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, and Valeri Nichushkin all hit the UFA market as well, not to mention Murray and Jack Johnson on defence. Oh, and starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who cost the club their first-round selection this summer to acquire last summer.
So, again, Colorado could look very different next season. Winning a Cup raises everyone’s asking prices and would make keeping the band together extremely difficult. But losing again could send some of the team’s pending UFA’s elsewhere to hunt for a championship, should their patience run out in Denver.
Summing up everything, for the third year in a row, the Avs appear to be thinking “Cup or bust”. And with good reason. Sakic has done outstanding work massaging the roster into place year after year, but at some point, that magic gets too difficult to pull off. This club needs a banner, and they need it now.
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