The 2022 NHL Trade Deadline is just around the corner, with Monday’s cutoff representing the last chance for Stanley Cup hopefuls to supplement their forces ahead of the postseason. A number of significant trades have already been completed which have taken several high-profile targets off of the market. The Colorado Avalanche sit first overall in the league standings and don’t necessarily need reinforcements. Still, the team is on pace to set a franchise record in points, and not rewarding this group with further help would represent a missed opportunity. With that, let’s dig into three trade targets of varying significance that the Avalanche may want to acquire for their playoff push.
J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks
The news that Claude Giroux was headed to the Florida Panthers has put the Avalanche out of the running, but J.T. Miller of the Vancouver Canucks would be a worthy consolation prize. The 29-year-old forward is a bargain considering his on-ice impact ($5.25 million per year) and remains under contract for another season. This gives Colorado two potential playoff runs with the versatile attacker but simultaneously drives his price up as a result.
Related: Colorado Avalanche Trade Deadline History
Even so, it’s arguable that Miller is more than worth what should be an immense haul. He’s currently in the midst of a career year in terms of production (73 points in 60 games), can operate anywhere across the three forward positions, and is frequently utilized on both special teams. Inserting Miller into the squad could push down Nazem Kadri or Andre Burakovsky into a third-line role, giving Colorado remarkable depth down the lineup. Even if played in tandem with Kadri, Miller’s strong playmaking and decisiveness in the offensive zone could be a boon for the Avalanche. As we’ve seen with the back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning, there is no such thing as too much firepower.
Colorado’s first-round pick in 2023 and one of either Justin Barron or Sean Behrens, their top two defensive prospects, are likely to be starting points in any trade conversation revolving around Miller. After including Drew Helleson as part of the trade package going to the Anaheim Ducks for Josh Manson, the Avalanche might hesitate to part ways with their remaining future rearguards. Their current group of defensemen is easily among the NHL’s elite, but that shouldn’t push the team to sell off the farm in haste. Still, you have to give something to get something, and the path to the Final is unobstructed. Decisions, decisions.
Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks
Although his stock has fallen in recent seasons, forward Rickard Rakell of the Ducks remains a viable middle-six option for aspiring contenders. His strengths are clearly on the offensive front, producing an above-average rate of shot attempts and scoring chances relative to the rest of the league. In particular, he thrives at getting into high-danger areas (in and around the slot) and could complement an indecisive playmaker (Kadri?) on the second line. He is also able to reliably generate controlled zone entries (with possession of the puck) and create scoring chances off of the rush, which fits in well with Colorado’s general attacking profile.
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It’s been a while since Rakell even scored 20 goals in a season (he potted 33 and 34 in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons respectively), but he’s seen his role gradually diminish with the Ducks. Behind the flash of Trevor Zegras, they’ve pivoted to an inspired youth movement and look set to rebuild on the fly. As a 28-year-old on an expiring contract, Rakell is of little use to a Ducks’ squad still a few years away from legitimately contending for a Stanley Cup.
His status as an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and relatively reduced production mean that Rakell’s value is at its lowest in years, yet he is a prime candidate for a resurgence in an offense-friendly environment. Although Colorado is missing a second-round pick until 2024, they could dangle one of their two upcoming third-round picks in tandem with one of their remaining prospects. He carries a cap hit of just under $3.8 million, but Gabriel Landeskog’s injury allows them to dip into its long-term injured reserve (LTIR) space. All things considered, Rakell could be one of the most impactful additions made at the deadline in the right situation – could that be with the Avalanche?
Nick Paul, Ottawa Senators
In an unsurprising twist, the Ottawa Senators are once again on the outskirts of the playoff discussion. As a result, the Eastern Conference bottom-feeders could look to auction off their assets, including 6-foot-3 forward Nick Paul. His meagre cap hit ($1.375 million) fits in easily within Colorado’s salary structure, but his desire to sign an extension in tandem with a trade makes his potential destination interesting. The organization must deal with a number of pending UFAs this offseason, so his salary wishes must be considered when deciding upon assets to give up in a trade.
Although the 26-year-old Paul is ineffective in transition, he is a notable force while creating chances off of the forecheck or the cycle. In using his size, he can muscle his way into dangerous scoring areas, which has lent itself well in tallying a career-high 11 goals in 59 games this season. His strength and defensive responsibility are evident in how well he operates in the corners. He is able to outmuscle oncoming forecheckers and facilitate clean zone exits to start the transition. On an Avalanche club that loves to fly out of the zone, this could be a sneaky add that works well within their system. He could also fill in on Colorado’s inept penalty kill, as he’s played the second-most minutes on Ottawa’s shorthanded units this season.
Paul has just begun to come into his own as a strong defensive forward in the NHL, and he would fit well on any prospective Cup contender. In adding the big center, and with Landeskog’s eventual return kept in mind, the team could push net-negative Kurtis MacDermid and the serviceable – but replaceable – Darren Helm out of the starting lineup. In doing so, they beef up an already impressive forward group.
Avalanche Have Many Forward Trade Targets Available
How the Avalanche view their current crop of forwards should inform their plans ahead of the deadline. If they are content with their main group of stars up front, management likely settles for bolstering their bottom-six depth. If the sentiment is to go all-in (as I believe they should), a Miller or Giroux-type player should be their primary target. Given the relative weakness of the Western Conference, Colorado should see this season as a legitimate chance to romp to the Stanley Cup Final. Combine the strength of the rest of the field with Nathan MacKinnon’s looming contract extension and you have the recipe for an unprecedented push for a title. The question stands: does general manager Joe Sakic share this interpretation? Tune in on Monday to find out.
Data courtesy of All Three Zones, Evolving-Hockey, and Hockey Reference.