Colorado fans have been spoiled by their Avalanche. They inherited a team that was the result of another city's years of struggle; they inherited a team that was ready to contend for the Stanley Cup and did. For several years the Avalanche were a team that went out and out-bid other teams in free agency and every year when the trade deadline came along, they were a team that went out and always seemed to pick up the biggest names. After the NHL lockout in 2005 and the advent of the salary cap era, the Avalanche began a slow decline that epitomized in a rebuild in 2009.
It's been eight years since that rebuild began and the Avs are in the middle of their worse season in the history of the the team's tenure in Colorado. Now, for the first time since the franchise came to Denver, the Avalanche are firmly planted as sellers as the deadline approaches. The team that once made the trades that brought some of the NHL's biggest stars to Denver for a chance to win the cup is now looking to unload some of its stars in the prime of their careers for assets that will help their future.
The first major fire-sale in Avalanche history began with the trading of the Avalanche's most tenured player, Cody McLeod on Friday. While McLeod was far from being a young star for the Avalanche, he did represent something else. McLeod was the last player on the Avalanche to have played in Colorado with GM and Avalanche legend, Joe Sakic. Mcleod was the last player remaining from the years before the Avalanche rebuild; the last player remaining from the glory years.
Now it seems that just about anything could happen to this Avalanche roster. But just because it can, does it mean that it should. While the Avs are desperate for help on the blueline and to get younger, it doesn't mean they should hastily trade some of the major chips of their rebuild to ignite version 2.0 of the rebuild. That being said, there may be some deals out there that make sense for the Avalanche now and their situation down the road.
THE GAME PLAN
The rumor mill has some big names out there for the Avalanche. Sakic has essentially put up a for sale sign on every player not named Nathan MacKinnon or Mikko Rantanen. And while some people are concerned about the Avs trading themselves into a worse situation by trading their best players, Sakic is doing exactly what he needs to do. Sakic isn't calling teams and making offers, he's putting out a trades wanted sign and seeing what the other GM's in the NHL have to offer. While many GM's may be calling concerning players like Duchene or Landeskog, they are coming away having trade talks with the Avalanche over players like Cody McLeod and Jarome Iginla. Those latter players are exactly the players the Avalanche should be trading away for depth and draft picks. Those veterans and expiring contracts are exactly what selling teams want to sell this time of year.
So, as painful as things are right now, the game plan for the Avs should be exactly what they are doing: put up the for sale sign and wait for the offers to roll in. Rumor mills will continue to speculate and a lot of names and teams will be mention, but let's examine some new trade ideas that could work their way into the Avalanche's future.
Jarome Iginla to the Blackhawks for Trevor Van Riemsdyk
Iginla is a future Hall-of-Famer who deserves a shot at a Stanley Cup. The Chicago Blackhawks need a forward and have a shot at that Stanley Cup. The only problem here is the salary cap. Iginla has a big hit for what he provides. The Hawks may not be willing to give up on a young player like Trevor Van Riemsdyk who has been a regular on their third pairing for years now, though they would likely need to give up a player on their roster to acquire anyone at this point. If the Avs sweeten the deal by eating up a fair amount of Iginla's salary, maybe Chicago will send a young defenseman with NHL experience back in return if the salary situation still allows them to acquire a left winger for their second line. While it's more likely the Avalanche find a draft pick from someone for Iginla, this is the type of deal the Avs shouldn't turn their nose up at. While Van Riemsdyk may not be the sexiest name the Avs could target, the Avs need defensemen, especially with only three d-men under contract for next season.
Matt Duchene to Carolina for Jaccob Slavin and a 2nd round pick in 2017
Colorado and Carolina are the perfect trade partners. The Hurricanes are stacked with defensive prospects and can use some NHL firepower up front. Matt Duchene provides the perfect fit for a centerman to work alongside Jeff Skinner. Jaccob Slavin is a Colorado kid who has broken into a top-4 role with the Carolina Hurricanes. Slavin is a fantastic young puck-moving defenseman who has exploded on the scene last year and has flashed some solid shootout moves. While Matt Duchene should command a lot in a trade, the Hurricanes hold Slavin in high regard and will be hard pressed to move him. The Avs could swap Colorado fan for Colorado kid and probably fetch one of Carolina's two second round picks in the process. If that doesn't work, there are plenty of other high-end defensive prospects that could be in play in a Carolina/Colorado trade.
Gabriel Landeskog to Anaheim for Cam Fowler and a 1st round pick in 2017
This deal would likely work itself out during the offseason when the salary cap wouldn't hold back the Ducks' ability to work out a deal. The Ducks have an excess of defensemen and would love to get rid of one. Any deal the Avs would make involving Landeskog, the first name the Avs should ask for is Hampus Lindholm. The Ducks are not about to unload a 22-year-old stud like Hampus Lindholm even after the big contract he signed at the beginning of this season. Cam Fowler, however, would be on the table. Fowler comes at a cheaper cap hit and is signed for only one more year, but at 25 years old, he could be exactly the young stud defenseman the Avs are looking to acquire and sign long-term. The Ducks may be looking for more of a draft pick and prospect package for Fowler with their draft situation looking bleak for the draft in June, but if forced to pick between trading away a draft pick for a young left winger like Landeskog signed to term or see one of their stud defensemen picked up for nothing in the expansion draft, the Ducks may choose to sit out most of the 2017 draft in order to have Landeskog bruise up the NHL with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf for the next few years.
Colorado's 1st Round pick in 2017 to Tampa Bay for Jonathan Drouin and a 1st round pick in 2017
Tampa Bay is struggling right now without Steven Stamkos. Unless they can turn things around, it's looking like they will likely miss the playoffs. What is really jarring for Tampa fans though, is the uncertainty around the team heading toward the expansion draft. The team has a lot of young core forwards that will need to be protected for the expansion draft, and not enough protection slots to protect them all. If that's not bad enough, Tampa also has several young restricted free agents in need of a new contract. One of those players is former number three draft pick in 2013 and good friend of Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin. Drouin and MacKinnon lit the lamp together in junior on way to their high draft status. The Avs were linked to Drouin last season when he was requesting a trade. Now after a good playoff performance, Drouin has cemented himself into the Tampa lineup. But if the Lightning don't want to lose one of their core forwards for nothing, perhaps they would consider trading Drouin for another high pick that they wouldn't have to protect this summer. If Tampa dangles Drouin in a swap of first round picks, Sakic should consider it.
The next month and a half is going to be difficult for Avalanche fans to watch the product on the ice, but off the ice it will be a lot like the glory years. For the next six weeks, Avs fans can dream of future rosters as they parade the rumor mills looking to find out who may be coming in returns for their young stars and spare parts. This time, however, those rosters will be formed for future playoff runs, not the one coming this spring.