Trade pickups help Avalanche complete Cup puzzle, cherish ‘being part of something special’

After all, Andrew Cogliano knows what it feels like to lift the 35-pound Stanley Cup high over your head.

After 1,140 regular-season games — the most for any NHL player since he joined the league in 2007 — and 116 playoff games, Cogliano benefited from the lifeline he received when he joined from the San Jose Sharks three months ago traded in the Colorado Avalanche, helped the Avalanche to a 2-1 win on Sunday, completing a six-game win in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“Very special,” said a bearded Cogliano, who became the third Avalanche player to accept the trophy after Captain Gabriel Landeskog presented it to Erik Johnson, Denver’s longest-serving athlete. “This was something that at the time of the trade to Colorado, the trade to such a team, presented an opportunity. You couldn’t ask for a better chance to be part of something special.”

It’s not the first time Cogliano, a 2005 first-rounder for the Oilers, has been part of a long playoff run. He lost twice in the conference finals with the Anaheim Ducks (2015 and 2017) and in the cup finals with the Dallas Stars in 2020.

According to Avalanche coach Jared Bednar and Conn Smythe winner Cale Makar, it was Cogliano who called a meeting and delivered an impressive speech to his teammates on Saturday night.

That’s the kind of thing you add a veteran to a cup contender for.

And Cogliano wasn’t the only one Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic was looking for this year to give his team a nudge over the top.

Before the close on March 21, Sakic Cogliano brought in from the Sharks, Artturi Lehkonen from the Montreal Canadiens, Josh Manson from the Anaheim Ducks and Nico Sturm from the Minnesota Wild.

All four new players blended in flawlessly and made huge playoff influences.

None more so than Lehkonen, who has a knack for post-season heroics. The 26-year-old winger scored the conference final winner for the Canadiens against the Vegas Golden Knights last year and this year’s conference final winner against the Edmonton Oilers. Now he’s adding a goal to his résumé to win the Stanley Cup, with Sunday’s 2-1 goal in the second third set as the game-winner. His father Ismo was at the Amalie Arena to score the winning goal while working on the game for Finnish TV YLE.

“I’ve been on both sides, on the losing side and now on the winning side,” Lehkonen said, referring to the loss to Tampa Bay last season when he was with the Canadiens. “It feels great.”

The purchase price for Lehkonen and Cogliano plus Manson and Sturm?

One – only one! – squad player, in Tyson Jost going wild in the storm deal. The cost for the other three players was three draft picks plus a minor league and a prospect in either 2023 or 2024.

That would be good business.

“They already had the Blitz, with (Cale) Makar and (Mikko) Rantanen and (Nathan) MacKinnon and (Gabriel) Landeskog and all these guys, but Joe knew what he needed to bring the team to the front, identified it and got it,” said former Avalanche coach Bob Hartley the athlete. “They add Manson, there’s no flash, but he’s almost a replica of (former Avs defender) Adam Foote. Plays hard, blocks shots, not fun to play against. You add Lehkonen, and he’s probably one of the most underrated 200-footers in the NHL, and he’s growing. He’s still a very young player.

“I think Joe has completed the puzzle.”

All four had great playoff moments.

The 35-year-old Cogliano scored three goals and six points in 16 games, including a crucial goal in the third period in Game 4 of the final to force extra time before Nazem Kadri’s winner. He also scored two game-winning goals.

Manson, 30, had three goals, including the overtime winner in Game 1 of the second-round series against the St. Louis Blues, and eight points in 20 games. He made his mark physically in the Lightning series, finishing second among Avalanche defenders with 50 hits.

The 26-year-old Lehkonen has scored eight goals and 14 points in 20 games.

And finally, the 27-year-old forward assisted twice in 13 games, including Makar’s overtime winner in Game 2 of the Nashville Series and Cogliano’s goal in Game 2 of the final when he deflected an initial shot at Andrei Vasilevskiy and then the Bank rebounded from Cogliano’s knee and went in.

“Each of us was hired for a specific task,” says Sturm the athlete. “And that’s how I feel welcomed. There’s that specific part of the game that the team needed, and we were allowed to come into that space and do it. Lehky has the forecheck and the shot on goal. I think Cogs and I were the first to forecheck, and for me, my faceoffs and penalties. Mans scored big goals, so physically.

“Everyone somehow knew their roles. We all feel like we are part of the puzzle. I think we are all very grateful. It was an incredible ride.”

Vancouver Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau coached both Manson and Cogliano in Anaheim. Watching this series from afar, he couldn’t have been happier for his former players.

“When we got Josh, he was a sixth-round pick and all he was thinking about was toughness because of him and his dad,” Boudreau said of Manson, the son of former NHL strongback Dave Manson. “But you look at the passes he’s making, his ability to leap into the rush. He had it all there, and while he’s doing it quietly, he didn’t realize he could pick his spots like that.

“He just did a great job. In his first (full) year in Anaheim, we won the Jennings Trophy (for fewest goals conceded in the league). He was paired with Cam Fowler or Hampus Lindholm and I mean Josh was consistent, consistent. And he scored five goals. He’s a big, strong defender that you can play with against any top liner.”

And on Cogliano Boudreau said: “One of my favorite players of all time. I tell people if you want someone as an example of how to be a hockey player, Cogs is it. He lives right. He’s working properly. He does everything right. He’s a real pro. You could see that hunger all through the playoffs. The one thing with Cogs, when we were in the playoffs all the time, if we scored, I had never seen a more excited guy. I don’t know if winning the Stanley Cup will make anyone happier.

“This boy was drafted as a goalscorer, but he reinvented himself. He’s so smart that he always knows his role and plays his part on every team he’s been on. He’s going to Colorado, and he just fitted into what they expected of him. Very smart guy.”

Trade deadline shifts often don’t work.

For Colorado, they helped propel the team to the top.

“If you come into this team it can be seamless because it’s a team that plays on their toes,” said Cogliano. “It’s a team that pushes the pace and it’s just a good hockey team. All the guys that came in just found their roles and were a great addition to the guys on that team driving the bus.

“After all, that’s what the deadline is for.”

(Top photo by Artturi Lehkonen: Phelan Ebenhack/Associated Press)

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