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Did Not See That Coming: A Look at the Big Trade

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There's nothing quite like sleeping in on a Saturday morning, stumbling over to your computer and then opening your email to find out that your hockey team has made a massive trade. In the wee hours of the night last night, the Avalanche traded forward Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk - both former 1st round picks - to the St Louis Blues for defenseman Erik Johnson and forward Jay McClement. The teams also swapped picks in either 2011 or 2012, with the Blues getting the Avs' 2nd rounder and the Avs getting St Louis' 1st round pick.

A MHH commenter - Bibby, I think - recently commented that he hasn't seen Pierre Lacroix's stamp on any Avalanche transactions of late. I disagreed, as I felt the Wolski trade last year and the Fleischmann / Hannan swap a few months ago had Lacroix's "big splash" look all over them. And this trade is right in that same vein, if not more. When Lacroix was a GM, he loved to use a large brush to tweak the team and moved some big names in and out of the team: Drury, Morris, Blake, Deadmarsh, Ozolinsh, Nolan, Bourque, Rolston...Lacroix was never afraid to shake things up. How much influence the current team President had on this deal is open to debate, but this sure looks like a move he might have made. The Drury trade was the first thing I thought of when I read the press release this morning.

So, how does the trade break down? The Avalanche have given up a lot of talent here. Chris Stewart has played poorly lately and may fight inconsistency throughout his career, but he's still on a pace for 30 goals and 68 points this year. The St Louis Game Time folks have already speculated on the awesomeness of pairing Stewart with another physical forward in David Backes. Kevin Shattenkirk has had a strong rookie season - he's 2nd among defensemen in rookie scoring and is on a full-season pace of 12 goals and 46 points. Both players are very young, of course (23 and 22 respectively), and are in the early stages of what project to be solid NHL careers.

In return, the Avalanche get a 6'4", 236 lbs defenseman who was taken 1st overall in the 2006 draft and owns a big right-handed shot - something the Avalanche have needed since Rob Blake departed. Johnson immediately upgrades the Avs defense. Johnson hasn't quite blossomed into the dominant player the Blues thought they were drafting, but a 22 he still has plenty of opportunity to grow into his potential. Unquestionably, he is the cornerstone of this deal from the Avs perspective. Jay McClement appears to be a 3rd-line center with some good defensive skills. The Avs have no shortage of these types of players, and you wonder if there's another deal involving a forward in the works. McClement has played well against the Avs over the years - 5 of his 52 career goals are against Colorado. The Avalanche also grab a 1st round pick this year or next year (St Louis can defer to 2012 if they pick in the top 10 this year), an asset GM Greg Sherman described as "key". Essentially, 4 first rounders traded hands - Shattenkirk (14th), Stewart (14th) for Johnson (1st) and the future 1 (10th-20th range), plus McClement and the Avs 2nd.

I'm very much on the fence about this deal. I think both Stewart and Shattenkirk are destined for big things in the NHL and it's going to tough seeing them in another uniform. Johnson certainly is an upgrade for the Avalanche defense, and the long-term evaluation of this deal will ultimately lie with his play. We've screamed for the Avalanche to get bigger and more physical on the back end for years, and Greg Sherman has done just that in acquiring Ryan O'Byrne and Johnson this season. I don't believe the Avalanche are done "tweaking" their roster before the deadline, so it's difficult to see how the team's lineup shapes up in the future. But, I think one player who may benefit the most from this is John-Michael Liles, who put up his best numbers when paired with Rob Blake. The Avs still have a lot of assets - both current and future - on the blueline and Johnson is a tremendous defensive upgrade over Shattenkirk, which helps deflate the sting of this move a bit.

Up front, the Avalanche were already short on healthy, top-6 wingers both on the roster or in the system and will be even more so if Milan Hejduk retires after this season. Trading Stewart creates a huge void. I suspect Greg Sherman already has something in the works here, but that's just my humble opinion.

One thing that's interesting about the deal: it was neutral in terms of cap hit (Colorado actually shaved $125,000 off of their cap). That's been a hallmark of all of the team's moves this year. Cumulatively, the 5 trades this year have shaved about $1.5 million of full-season cap money. Only the Hunwick and O'Byrne deals added salary, to the modest tune of $575,000 and $941,667 respectively and both of those increases were offset by the $1.9 million savings in the Hannan trade. While it's extremely disconcerting to see further evidence that the Avalanche are operating under strict budget constraints, I do think that Greg Sherman deserves some credit for being able to make 5 moderate-to-big deals during the season while handcuffed financially.

I'm still in a bit of shock over this move. Adding Johnson is a great move for the Avalanche, and McClement and the future first are solid assets as well. Is the price too high? Time will tell.