With the NHL draft just around the corner, trade talk is vibrant around the NHL. With comments from Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic at the end of another disappointing season in Colorado, it's no surprise that a number of members of the Avalanche's core's names have been circulating around the rumor mill.
Last week, Sakic attempted to pull Tyson Barrie's name out of that chaos by claiming that he wanted to sign Barrie long term. But last year Sakic said something very similar about Ryan O'Reilly a week before he was traded. The year before that, it was Paul Stastny. So, with Sakic's recent comments on Barrie, we can assume it's either third time's a charm or Tyson Barrie will most likely be wearing a new uniform next season. Like O'Reilly before him, Barrie is a high end player in the NHL, but may find himself somewhere else, because his money demands outweigh the Avalanche's need for him. While Barrie's puck moving skills are among the top defensemen in the league, his defensive skills are not, and the Avalanche are losing games because of their defensive ineptitude. This reality of the Avalanche's faults coupled with a young defensive core of Nikita Zadorov and Chris Bigras and an expansion draft on the rise, the Avalanche may find it worth their wild to trade a valuable piece in Barrie now while he's a restricted free agent.
Many teams have interest in Barrie. Most notably would be another team frustrated with the core of their hockey team: the Edmonton Oilers. The problem with a trade with a team such as the Oilers is, however, they lack any solid defensive return for the Avalanche. Teams looking for defense tend not to want to surrender defense. If the Avalanche were to trade Barrie to the Oilers, the return would most likely be a package of draft picks (something the Avalanche could use) or a young high end, but underachieving forward such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, or Nail Yakupov. If this is the return, a young forward on the Avs almost has to become available in order to secure a top-4 defenseman to replace Barrie. This is where a name such as Matt Duchene has entered the rumor mill. But here I must ask the question: Is Duchene really the core player that should be traded?
As of today, the Avalanche have five players signed past the next two years: Duchene, Landeskog, Soderberg, Varlamov, and Johnson. Of the five of those players, only one, Soderberg, has a cap hit under 5.5 million. This in effect, makes Soderberg a non-core player. So, that leaves four true core players under contract. With the Avs already thin enough on the blue line, Johnson is right out of the question for trade bait. With Reto Berra already traded, Varlamov is also unlikely to be traded as Calvin Pickard still needs some growing and the goaltender market is already saturated with veteran goaltenders like Marc-Andre Fleury, Jimmy Howard, and Ben Bishop. So, that leaves two forwards signed for the long term and two players that have been landmarks of the recent Avalanche years: Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. Matt Duchene's name has already come up in rumors, but why not Landeskog?
Landeskog has been the captain of the Avalanche for four seasons now. While he may be one of the youngest captains in the league, his team has only made the playoffs one of the four years he's been captain and has failed to complete late season runs two years in a row. Sakic and Roy said it was time to look at the leadership of their core. Maybe it should start with the captain. While the failure of the Avalanche in the last two seasons can not be placed upon one man, it can be seen as a failure of mentality. A failure of mentality is a failure of the coach and a failure of the leadership. The coach isn't going anywhere. Leadership needs to change.
Praised for his hockey smarts and strong leadership qualities, Landeskog has been missing them the last two years. Instead of standing up for his teammates and dropping the gloves when his teammate is smoked by a hit to the head, Landeskog instead uses his physical side for cheap shots that get him suspended at crucial points in the season. With leadership like that, it's no wonder the Avalanche have been standing on golf courses in late April the last two years. Landeskog is still young, and he's still a hell of a player. Maybe a change of captaincy will wake up his leadership skills. Given the Avs' current roster situation and the number of teams like the Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks looking for a top-six winger like Landeskog, his greatest value to the Avs may be as trade bait.
Hypothetically speaking, the Avalanche trade Barrie to the Oilers. If the return is a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, you trade the similar forward in Matt Duchene for a defenseman. Given the choice of those two forwards, I say the Avs should go the draft pick route with Barrie. Trade Barrie to the Oilers, swapping first round picks with the Oilers and receiving the Oilers' second or third round pick in return. The Avs would now sit at number four in the draft and could pick their next top-tier winger at that position. Now Landeskog is more than expendable.
The Ducks are looking for a winger just like Landeskog and have plenty of defensemen to spare. The ultimate prize on the Ducks blue line and the player that makes the most sense straight up for Landeskog is fellow Swede, Hampus Lindholm. Lindholm is a top-pairing defenseman in the making and would slot nicely next to Johnson for years to come. He can move the puck and he has size. He is a restricted free agent, but his money demands may be more reasonable to the Avalanche given his size and skill set compared to Barrie. If Lindholm can not be had, there's also recently signed Sami Vantanen or Cam Fowler, both of which are young and capable. If Fowler is the acquired defenseman, expect a much needed draft pick to come back the Avalanche's way. Any of these returns make sense for an Avalanche team needing help on the blue line and in the pipe line.
Something needs to change in Colorado. With the craziness of the NHL draft set to kick-off tomorrow night, the Avs should look at every possible outlet to improve their team, even if that means parting ways with the young man that currently wears their captain's C on his chest.