Avalanche, Lightning show importance of making smart trades

Tampa, Fla. – In a copycat league known for following the Stanley Cup champion, Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog paused when asked what other teams could do to emulate their success.

With a grin, Landeskog replied, “Find a Cale Makar somewhere.”

Playoff MVP Cale Makar was a big part of Colorado’s title run from the blue line, but more than anything else, the Avalanche showed the value of speed and skill in the NHL, as hockey moves dramatically to prioritize these elements in the name of scoring to grant The Avalanche and the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who was two wins short of a threepeat, also proved that it’s worth taking risks at the close for the right fits.

Colorado traded its top two prospects and a couple of second-round picks to grab forward Artturi Lehkonen and defenseman Josh Manson, along with trades for Andrew Cogliano and Nico Sturm that helped the Avalanche win their first championship since 2001. Captain Gabriel Landeskog had plenty of praise for general manager Joe Sakic and assistant Chris MacFarland in the moments after winning the trophy.

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“Joe and C-Mac did a great job picking up some pieces along the way that made it really, really difficult for us to play,” Landeskog said. “Look at Cogs, look at Homer (Darren Helm), look at Sturm — look at all these guys, all these plays they want to win so bad they want to do whatever it takes. It just adds up to a difficult team to play against.”

Perhaps the best lesson to be learned from this postseason is what a team that is difficult to play against looks like.

The fast-paced Avalanche thundered through the Western Conference playoffs, which for years had been known for big, powerful teams pushing each other around. They needed the bulk and grit that Manson, center Nazem Kadri and others provided to endure the Flash.

Thanks to sixth-year coach Jared Bednar, who instilled focus in his team after several playoff disappointments, Colorado was also mentally ready for Tampa Bay’s push – and much like the Blitz proved that patience can pay off for organizations, who are willing to stand behind their best Important people even in difficult times.

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This Stanley Cup Final ended that point after Lightning prevented elimination to send the series back to Tampa. Even after falling behind in Game 6, the Avalanche bounced back and became champions.

“They came at us, we gathered and we were ready,” said owner Stan Kroenke. “This team will beat you if you’re not ready.”

And the Lightning could do this for more teams next year. As the Avalanche face a cap crunch with Manson, Kadri and goaltender Darcy Kuemper on the free hand, Tampa Bay has some leeway without cracking its core for the first time in several years.

Prolific goalscoring winger Ondrej Palat and defender Jan Rutta are free agents, along with Nick Paul who has taken over the trade deadline, but Lightning GM Julien BriseBois has done magic before to get below the cap and since they’re around next season 1 million dollars rise, there is some air room.

Don’t bet the Lightning reach a fourth straight Finals and seek a third championship in four years. They are 10-1 favorites according to FanDuel Sportsbook, just behind Colorado (5-1) and Toronto (9-1).

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“Who says we’re done, right?” said Captain Steven Stamkos. “That core is here and we’ve struggled and been through everything you could think of and for the most part we’ve found a way to get to the top.”

Except for this year, when the Avalanche’s depth and talent was just too much to overcome. That was a product of Sakic adding three players on deadline day, which proved useful when injuries threatened to derail the organization’s latest attempt, with the core led by Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and of course Makar the hump to overcome.

“We found a way,” said Rantanen.

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Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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