Trade with the Colorado Avalanche at your own risk

Since joining the Colorado Avalanche as general manager prior to the 2013-14 season, Joe Sakic has consistently assembled one of the NHL’s finest and most talented teams. On Monday, they completed a four-game win over the Edmonton Oilers to redeem their ticket to the organization’s first Stanley Cup Finals since the 2000-01 season. That leaves them just four wins away from the championship that will confirm all the hype that has built up around this core group of players over the past five years.

The foundation of that core was largely laid through the drafts, with top 10 picks from superstars like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar, and the addition of rising stars like Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook in recent years.

That was the foundation of the team.

But no contender and no Stanley Cup team consists of just three or four players. You must complement these stars through development, free agency, and trading. In the latter category, Sakic and the Avalanche have truly dominated the NHL in recent years. Not only do they find good players in their deals, they make deals where they turn out to be clear winners.

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The first three or four years of Sakic’s tenure as general manager saw many mixed results on the ice and in her squad transactions. There were a lot of trivial trades and one big trade (Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo) that didn’t really do much or make much of a difference. JT Compher is still a good player out of this O’Reilly deal, but the overall return has been underwhelming for the most part.

On November 5, 2017 things started to change quickly. At this point, the Avalanche had a promising young core, led by MacKinnon, but had missed the playoffs three years in a row, in six of the last seven seasons, and was dealing with an upset Matt Duchene who wanted out. They not only complied with his request, but struck a deal that completely changed the direction of the Avalanche franchise.

In that three-team deal, which also included Ottawa, Nashville and Kyle Turris, the Avalanche gave up only Duchene in exchange for a package of players including Samuel Girard, Shane Bowers, Vladislav Kamenev, Andrew Hammond and three draft Picks These included #4 overall pick in the 2019 draft. The Avalanche eventually used this pick against Byram. Along with Girard, he and Byram will form a foundation of avalanche defense for the foreseeable future. Girard is already a top pair player and Byram seems well on his way to becoming a potential star.

Since then, nearly every major trade the Avalanche has made has been a significant win in their favor.

Just months after the Duchene deal, they sent Chris Bigras to New York for Ryan Graves. It was a deal that flew under the radar at the time, but Graves played three very solid years as a starter on the Avalanche defense before being dealt for a second-round draft pick last offseason. Since then, Bigras has not played a game in the NHL.

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In June 2018, they sent a second-round pick to Washington for goalie Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik (who was bought out). Grubauer was the Avalanche’s starting goalie for three years and earned a top-three finish in Vezina Trophy voting before departing as an unrestricted free agent the previous offseason.

A year later, they struck another deal with the Capitals to acquire restricted free agent Andre Burakovsky in exchange for second- and third-round picks. Burakovsky thrived in Colorado, scoring 26 goals and 65 points in 82 games with the Avalanche in his first three seasons with the team. Before joining the team, he averaged just 15 goals and 36 points in five seasons with the Capitals.

Just a few days later, Sakic made one of his most significant trades, sending Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot to Toronto for Nazem Kadri. Barrie played an unspectacular year in Toronto before signing in Edmonton, while Kerfoot was a solid back-up for the Maple Leafs. But Kadri excelled in Colorado, consistently outperforming Kerfoot and then putting together a career year of 87 points and strong two-way play in the 2021-22 season. He was having an excellent postseason until he was injured by Evander Kane in the Western Conference Finals. Barrie was more than expendable for Colorado while Kadri added another punch up front to an already deep group.

The 2020 off-season also turned out to be a big win. There, Colorado traded Nikita Zadorov (another very expendable defenseman) to the Chicago Blackhawks for Brandon Saad, a trade that looked ridiculously in the Avalanche’s favor the second it was completed. That’s how it played out on the ice, although Saad only played with the team for a year before going free.

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Just two days after the Saad deal, Sakic completed his biggest steal yet when he acquired Devon Toews from the New York Islanders for the low price of two second-round draft picks and then signed him to a four-year contract. Toews, who seemed a perfect fit for Colorado’s style of play, has been one of the league’s top defensemen since the trade and, along with Makar, Girard, Byram and Erik Johnson, has helped form one of the best defensive groups in the NHL.

This year’s offers were also hits. They again leveraged their defensive depth, trading Connor Timmins and a first-round pick to Arizona for Darcy Kuemper to replace Grubauer. While Kuemper was hit and miss in the playoffs, he had a very strong season and more than replaced Grubauer.

Before the close, Colorado also acquired Josh Manson and Arturri Lehkonen for the combined costs of Drew Helleson, Justin Barron and a couple of mid-round picks. Given the impact Manson and Lehkonen have had in the playoffs so far, it was worth the cost.

These are significant deals that have resulted in the Avalanche acquiring some groundbreaking talent and influencing players while mostly just giving up players they either didn’t need or didn’t want to be there, or draft picks that aren’t likely to result in players as good or useful as they have acquired.

Combine that with the core already in place from the draft and you’ve got one of the best teams in the league, a Stanley Cup finalist and a potential champion.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Write him a message or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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