Perhaps the oddest concept to grasp in this wonderfully unexpected Avalanche season is the idea that the Avalanche may be buyers at the March 3rd trade deadline. Last spring, just about every veteran from Ryan Smyth to Ian Laperriere were thought to be on the trade block, although Jordan Leopold was the only player traded in the end. This year, the Avalanche may be looking to add talent, not jettison some unwanted space junk.
While the deadline is March 3rd, the Olympic break is just 6 weeks from today. For teams scouting a non-Olympian, they'll want to have all their ducks in a row by then, as there are just 2 nights of games between the end of the Olympic break and the deadline. The Avalanche have 18 games left before that Olympic siesta and one post-Olympic, pre-deadline game on March 1st. With 11 of those 19 games against teams currently 9th or lower in the standings, the Avs have an opportunity to maintain their momentum and could be in a position to *gulp* shape the team in preparation for a playoff run.
What would the Avalanche need? I think we can all agree that goaltending is all set. With the logjam at defense, it's hard to picture the Avalanche making changes here, unless it's along the lines of tweaking by swapping players as they did in the Salei - Skrastins trade two years ago.
That leaves the biggest need at the forward position. The Avs' have some great young forwards in Stastny, Hejduk, Duchene, Wolski, Stewart, O'Reilly and Galiardi. Clearly, that's a group with tons of promise, but it might be a little premature to count on such a green group (Wolski in #2 on that list in playoff experience with 15 games). More importantly, it gets awfully thin after those seven. Do you think we'll go deep in the playoffs with a 3rd line of O'Reilly, Cody McLeod and Darcy Tucker? The Avalanche have a lot of great character guys working on the bottom 2 lines, but probably need to add a forward (or two, if David Jones is unable to return this year) who can put points on the board.
It's probably a little early to look at potential targets, but let's give it the old college dropout try just the same. There are currently 5 teams that are at least 10 points out of the playoff race: Carolina, St Louis, Anaheim, Columbus and Edmonton. Here's a list at some key forwards on those teams who are scheduled to become UFAs this summer.
Anaheim has just two notable UFA forwards in Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne. Selanne has a NTC and certainly isn't going to waive it to return to Denver. Koivu would certainly help in the veteran presence department. But he's a center, and the Avs are more likely looking for help on the wing.
Columbus has two intriguing left wingers in Fredrik Modin and Raffi Torres. Modin has a NTC, but who wouldn't want to leave Ohio? (kidding, folks) He's a veteran with a Stanley Cup ring who might be an excellent complementary player to the young forwards in Colorado. He's suffered a lot of knee injuries in the last few years, but if he's healthy (and available) he could be a good fit for the Avs. Torres would also be an interesting option, but as he's just 27 I'm not sure he'll even be on the market.
Edmonton has Mike Comrie and Fernando Pisani. Both of those guys are injured, and they both play for the Oilers (duh). I'll pass.
St Louis has Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya. As much as I love the thought of Paul Kariya burying passes from Paul Stastny, I don't think we're going to see Kariya return to Colorado (he has a NTC ). I dislike Tkachuk, but he'd be the kind of player the Avalanche could use both on and off the ice. He has a NTC as well, and seems committed to staying in Missouri for some unknown reason.
Carolina has three notable forwards set to become free agents this summer. Scott Walker has turned into a bit of a dud; it's scary to say, but I don't think he'd be an upgrade to Tucker. Matt Cullen is a speedy, two-way center. Uh, we've already got one, you see. That leaves Ray Whitney. Whitney is one of the few Hurricanes actually doing anything this year. The 37-year old (he was drafted the same year as Lindros) has a NTC and may not be anxious to leave Carolina, especially since he already has a Stanley Cup ring. If the 'Canes do decide to move him, though (and if he's willing to go), he might be a name worth exploring. We'll just have to try to forget about that one-year stint with the Red Wings.
The problem here is that the Avalanche don't have a lot of tradeable assets. While Ruslan Salei and Brett Clark would certainly be on the block, I can't envision there being much interest for either. The John-Michael Liles rumors are on once again, but he has a limited no-trade clause and may be a tough sell for the 12 teams he can't refuse a trade too. I would imagine Marek Svatos could be had for just about any reasonable offer at this point. Beyond that, you're looking at...maybe TJ Hensick (who is tearing up the AHL. Again). One wild card? Peter Budaj. He's an unrestricted free agent this summer, and if the Avalanche can find a buyer in need of goaltending (Philadelphia? Atlanta?), there might be a deal to be had. After all, it's not like the Avs have any need for a backup, right?