For NHL fans, the NHL trade deadline is like Christmas. Anticipation builds up before it as every fan wonders what their team's GM will do to improve their team for the future, the present, or both. Like the religious on the day of reckoning, teams are cast into two categories: the buyers and the sellers. Every fan expects their team to make a change and if they don't, they end up feeling like the Jewish child in public school in late December. In this frenzy of anticipation, trade rumors and ideas are thrown out for fans to eat up and spit back out with more creative juices. Naturally, the biggest names begin to look good in your team's uniform. The focus becomes inward and ridiculous trade ideas are placed upon the outlets of the internet as fans try to throw away their garbage for gold. But I for one like to take a more sane and logical approach to the trade deadline. We all may have wants for our team, the Avalanche, but let's assess the team's situation and it's current and future needs.
The Avalanche have already stressed their deep desire to make the playoffs this year. Between the sour taste of last year's finish, the changes made in the offseason, and the changes and performance since the team started off poorly this season, we can see that the Avs really are a team that wants to be back in the playoff picture this season. That being said, the Avs are not going to sell out in order to get to the playoffs and they are also not going to rush their prospects.
Between Nikita Zadorov and Mikko Rantanen being left to San Antonio, the Avs have shown that they will bring their prospects up when it is best for both them and the team. While the Avalanche have clear needs for a top-four defenseman and a winger, the front office does not appear to want to stint Zadorov's and Rantanen's development by forcing them into roles they may not quite be ready to fill at the NHL level. Instead, the Avs have been filling those roles with less than satisfying spot holders.
On the winger side, the Avs just acquired Shawn Matthias from the Maple Leafs this weekend. While Matthias has seen some time as a top-six forward, he is not the top-six winger that the Avs need playing with guys like Matt Duchene and MacKinnon instead of aging guys like Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla.
On defense, the Avs face another major hole. While Nick Holden is a decent defenseman on a team that is not built around defense, he is a poor excuse for a regular top-four guy. The Avs need a top-four guy if they want to do anything in the playoffs and if their prospects aren't ready to take that spot, it may be time to turn to the trade market.
Looking forward, the Avs are actually looking alright. While after last year's free agent debacle and struggling negotiations with Ryan O'Reilly, the future of the Avalanche looked cloudy, the plan of the Avalanche's contract situations now appears to be taking shape. Though the Avs still need to sign two important restricted free agents in Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie to extensions this summer, most of the rest of the team seems to be rather set.
As Alex Tanguay's contract expires this summer, Mikko Rantanen wil rise to take his place. The following year when Jarome Iginla goes off the books, a few attractive free agent wingers will be hitting the unrestricted market. On defense, the left side of the ice will begin to open up to the Avalanche's long list of young left-handed defensive prospects here in the next year or two, while Francois Beauchemin's minutes begin to decline to lower pairing minutes. Nick Holden can stop-gap on the third pairing. And in net, the Avs are set with Semyon Varlamov as the number one with multiple options for a back-up with the young restricted free agent Calvin Pickard and Reto Berra.
What does it all mean?
The Avs may still be making moves this deadline. With the team still at 49 contracts even if Chris Wagner is claimed off waivers, the team may want to move out some excess in exchange for draft picks. The most likely place for one of these trades would be in net, where the Avs will have a choice to make between Calvin Pickard and Reto Berra. With a few teams looking for back-up goaltenders, one of the two could be trade bait. If the goaltender moving out is Calvin Pickard, you can expect a bigger return than just a mid draft pick. The return could quite possibly be that top-four defenseman that the Avalanche are looking for. Though if the Avs are unwilling to surrender such a young trade chip like Pickard, they might be willing to go for a cheaper option and take a chance on more stop-gap top-four type defensemen rentals.
If the Avs are able to give up nothing more than a late-round draft pick, I wouldn't be surprised to see them take a chance on a troubled defenseman like Christian Ehrhoff, Nikita Nikitin, or even Radko Gudas. If the cost is low it may be worth the risk. That type of trade may be the Avs best option to fulfill their current conundrum on defense without forfeiting a bright future.
But for those of you that are still holding out for that big blockbuster trade, there may still be hope. The Avs are still one of the names that continues to be floated around as a team that may be interested in the services of the young and talented Jonathan Drouin. And why not? It's not often that a 20-year-old top-five pick hits the trade market. Yes, he may have hurt his name with his holdout, but he's still a very talented player with tons of upside. Drouin and MacKinnon skated circles around other junior players when they played together in Halifax and the thought of them doing the same thing in the NHL is downright scary. But what really should terrify Avs fans is what it may cost to get that talented player.
Sure, if the Lightning were to ask for a first round pick or maybe even last year's first round pick in MIkko Rantanen, you take the trade. Drouin is a first round pick essentially. But if the rumors are right and the Lightning are looking for a young defenseman, the Avs should stay away. If there's one thing the Avs can't possibly lose it's young defensemen. The team needs their defensive prospects if they have any chance of contending for a cup some day. Even with Mackinnon and Drouin reunited it would be hard if they never get the puck in the offensive zone.
With the Lightning's GM Stevie Y in town this Friday to face-off against Joe Sakic in the alumni game, maybe the Avs do have a shot at pulling the trigger on Drouin. Maybe they'll shake hands on it in the face-off circle. Or maybe this trade is just another wild Christmas-like rumor around the deadline. Either way, my money is on the Avs playing it safe and leaving all those eager fans a little disappointed.