As the NHL trade deadline of February 26th fast approaches, it’s important to review the objectives and pitfalls which the Colorado Avalanche face as they get ready to head into the final 40 days and 21 games of the regular season following the deadline.
Utilize the opportunity
This should go without saying but the Avalanche do not have a great track record at the deadline. While there isn’t a huge concern this season about the Avalanche being aggressive in the rental market, there’s still many decision points and opportunities that face the organization. If GM Joe Sakic wants to earn that title of executive of the year on the heels of the Matt Duchene trade heist, he needs to show the continued vision of building and executing that plan at this juncture.
Last year’s deadline was pretty much a disaster just simply because a rebuilding team could not add a single draft pick to help begin their rebuild. Couple that with the highlight that Jarome Iginla was dealt basically for nothing in a conditional trade with impossible to meet conditions in which the Avalanche retained salary on as well.
To be fair, the desirability of pieces from a last place team is low and yet Sakic managed to pull off one deal in which he obtained the services of a serviceable NHL forward in Sven Angrighetto for a player who has now spent this entire season in the AHL in Andreas Martinsen. At the time Martinsen actually had more NHL experience so chalk it up to good pro scouting to make that swap. Still, overall the 2017 trade deadline was not a good showing for an organization who saw the writing on the wall on their season months prior to the deadline and couldn’t get much done.
Gather draft picks, don’t spend them
In previous years, and particularly with Patrick Roy’s influence, the Avalanche talked themselves into making a playoff push at the deadline several times and made a series of moves that were founded on short-term thinking. For an organization that has trouble bringing assets and in, especially draft picks, these moves quickly added up and undermined the process of building.
The only deadline draft pick gained since Joe Sakic entered the front office in 2013 was a 2015 6th round pick for Max Talbot which was subsequently sent back to Boston that summer for Carl Soderberg’s rights. Since 2009 the only other draft pick the organization has obtained at the deadline was in a 2013 trade of Ryan O’Byrne for a 2014 4th round pick.
The spent tally is a bit longer, two on pure rentals and the other two were eventually buried in the AHL. Those are; a 2014 2nd for Reto Berra during the miracle run of 2013-14, a 2016 2nd for Mikkel Boedker, a 2016 4th for Shawn Matthias and a 2017 3rd for Eric Gelinas during Patrick Roy’s last stand in 2015-16.
To say there is not a strong track record for managing draft picks at the deadline is an understatement.
Focus on the future
Buying should be out of the question at this point after the glow of the ten game win streak has worn off and the Avalanche are currently three points out of a playoff spot. Looking for deals which primarily benefit the team in the future could be explored especially for a young player under contract or a way to leverage excess cap space as an additional avenue to bring in assets.
Mainly the focus in this still early stage of the rebuild should be in asset gathering before spending and consolidation. The Matt Duchene trade brought in help in that area but still only net results in one extra pick (even after Ottawa likely defers their first-round pick to 2019 thanks to the Avalanche already spending a 2019 4th round pick on Colin Wilson) in the next two drafts. Additionally, a core player trade should not be the only avenue in which the Avalanche obtain draft picks.
Moves are still expected as the Avalanche generally tend to make a few deals that aren’t always felt at the NHL surface but serve to move around AHL pieces for minor league depth next season or prospects the organization feels ready to move on from. A prospect swap involving someone like Chris Bigras, who is in his final year of his ELC and waiver exemption, might make sense in this vein.
The Avalanche need to also consider moving out NHL roster players on expiring contracts such as Blake Comeau and Mark Barberio to not only get an asset in return but to also make room and plan for the future. Such as any incoming prospect acquisition who might need a trial run in the NHL or to bring up and keep other rookies such as Vladislav Kamenev, AJ Greer and Dominic Toninato who should push for permanent roster spots next season and gaining NHL experience now has value.
Don’t do anything stupid
Although the Avalanche might feel relatively set with their young roster and place in the standings with still a shot at the playoffs, the deadline is a big opportunity to make headway on the execution and realization on plans for the future. This does not undermine the opportunity they have in front of them to remain competitive and keep pushing for the playoffs. Depth players such as Gabriel Bourque have already stepped up to fill gaps with injuries and giving more NHL experience to young pieces who are parts of the future will only pay dividends down the road. Plus with Nathan MacKinnon leading the way, the Avalanche can offer an exciting present while they work behind the scenes on the future.