The news that team captain Gabriel Landeskog was undergoing knee surgery after being hamstrung by a nagging injury for most of the season means that the Colorado Avalanche are now staring at a massive hole in the lineup. Fortunately, the rugged winger is scheduled to return for the playoffs, but they suddenly possess a swath of cap space afforded to them through the machinations of long-term injured reserve (LTIR). If he doesn’t return for the remainder of the regular season, the organization can exceed the salary cap by the same number that Landeskog is owed ($7 million). This gives the franchise a glorious opportunity to bolster their already vaunted attacking group and make an extended postseason run in the process.
Although Colorado currently sits first-overall in the leaguewide standings, the team bears several holes in their otherwise impenetrable armour. They own an ineffective penalty kill (20th by efficiency), are among the worst groups in the faceoff dot (31st), and rank within the bottom half of teams in terms of successful forecheck pressure. If a championship is the end goal, these weaknesses must be addressed before the trade deadline. With that in mind, here are four intriguing forward trade targets for the Avalanche to pursue in their quest for an elusive Stanley Cup.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
It’s no secret, the Avalanche are aggressively courting Claude Giroux and waggling their figurative eyebrows at the gem of the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. For the longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain, the appeal of a deadline move to Denver is obvious. Since succumbing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, Giroux and the Flyers have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs. It’s an agonizing reality for such an esteemed player set to eclipse 1000 regular season games played this week.
Though nothing in sports should ever be set in stone, Colorado boasts the best odds of at least reaching the Stanley Cup Final this season. They sit first in the overall NHL standings and are the lone Western Conference club within the top seven by points percentage. The league’s balance of power has shifted to the Eastern Conference, and the Avalanche are looking to capitalize on that wide discrepancy in direct competition.
So, what does Giroux offer the Avalanche, and is it worth the price of acquisition? On top of still being a reliable point producer (42 in 56 games this season), his 55 percent career faceoff rate would be a significant upgrade on what Colorado has rolled out this season. In winning 61 percent of all draws in 2021-22, he would immediately become the team’s most proficient pivot in the dot. The veteran forward has gradually transitioned to the wing, but he still possesses the capability to play down the middle which would give head coach Jared Bednar greater flexibility in deploying his most optimal lineup.
According to Corey Sznajder’s tracking data, Giroux remains an above-average playmaker, generating high rates of shot (passes leading to a shot) and high-danger assists (those leading to a high-danger chance) per-60-minutes. On a team boasting a plethora of skilled shooters, his skill set fits seamlessly within Colorado’s framework.
Related: 7 Flyers That Need to Be Traded
Colorado parted ways with defensive prospect Drew Helleson in the trade which fetched blueliner Josh Manson from the Anaheim Ducks, but the franchise should still be able to submit an appetizing trade package. They still own their 2023 first-round pick and could offer one or more of Oskar Olausson, Justin Barron, and Alex Beaucage as add-ons. Landeskog’s injury and LTIR assignment render cap considerations moot, but 50 percent salary retention on Philadelphia’s part (and/or another 50 percent via a third team) helps the Avalanche add more depth if so desired.
Giroux’s no-move clause (NMC) gives him complete control over his destination, but it’s difficult to envision him rejecting a move to a bonafide contender given the Stanley Cup is missing from his illustrious resume. Ray Bourque round two anyone?
Artturi Lehkonen, Montreal Canadiens
Although much of the hockey world has been alerted to Artturi Lehkonen‘s underrated contributions, it’s possible that his on-ice impacts remain criminally understated given his subdued box score numbers. His rate of 0.5 points-per-game (P/G) this season is a career-high, but that’s not the only reason why the Avalanche should pursue the 26-year-old pending restricted free agent (RFA).
Related: 2022 Trade Deadline Landing Spot Predictor: Giordano, Chiarot, de Haan
The Montreal Canadiens control 53.6 percent of shots (SF%) and 55.5 percent of scoring chances with Lehkonen on the ice at 5-on-5, driven by his tenacious forechecking which causes havoc for opposing defences. He’s among the NHL’s best at creating chances off the cycle and generating tricky tips and deflections in front of the net. While not the strongest at carrying the puck from zone to zone, those responsibilities are already assigned in Colorado. Whether he lines up in front of any number of the Avalanche’s talented puck-moving defensemen or swift forwards, he can leverage his hockey sense to take advantage of their prowess in transition.
At over two minutes per game, Lehkonen is the Canadiens’ most commonly used penalty-killing forward, and there’s a reason that he’s tied for sixth in short-handed points (six) since 2019-20. Like the other names on this list, he provides something that the Avalanche lack and trading for him could leave them with no discernible weaknesses come playoff time.
Newly appointed general manager Kent Hughes has set a high price for the adaptable Finnish winger and given the success of similar deadline adds in Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, it’s for good reason. Lehkonen’s agent is slated to be a busy man come the offseason, but the Avalanche are one of the few teams best positioned to offer him the opportunity to play within a loaded forward group. With a number of unrestricted free agents (UFAs) of their own, prying Lehkonen from the Canadiens’ clutches could kill two birds with one stone.
Andrew Copp, Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg Jets utility forward Andrew Copp represents another versatile trade option for the Avalanche given his multi-positional flexibility. Yet, his inclusion on this list is dependent on his health given that he was knocked out of Monday’s game against the St. Louis Blues after a high hit, and has a history of concussions. Any interested suitors should be cognizant of the circumstances, but I am proceeding under the assumption he will be fit and ready to return in time for the postseason.
Related: Colorado Avalanche Trade Deadline History
Copp’s presence has been a boon for Winnipeg’s third line (51.3 percent expected goals share at 5-on-5) and his excellence on the penalty kill makes him the perfect salve for what ails the Avalanche. At over two-and-a-half minutes a game, the 27-year-old is the Jets’ most trusted penalty-killer. Among forwards who have played at least 20 minutes while shorthanded this season, Copp ranks ninth in individual expected goals per-60 (ixG/60), meaning that he is a threat to score even while down a man. For an Avalanche team that relies on a power-kill approach, his aggressiveness would be a strong match for their philosophy.
Copp also excels at creating offence off of the rush through efficient zone entries and being able to recognize the opportunities that arise as a result. He can also grind in the corners and come out with the puck in his own zone, relieving pressure off of his defensemen. When it comes to what he offers, the Jets’ most attractive trade asset ticks off all of the necessary boxes for the Avalanche.
The Jets are in danger of falling out of a competitive race for the final Western Conference wild card spot, and Copp could command a significant raise (he earned $3.64 million this season) as a pending free agent. Over the past two seasons, he’s produced at an 82-game clip of 53 points and at 27 years of age, isn’t in immediate danger of falling victim to the aging curve. In the event that Nazem Kadri signs elsewhere in free agency, Copp represents a cheaper and younger replacement, although it’s unlikely that he ever approaches Kadri’s level of offensive production. If his health holds, he could be one of the best additions at the deadline.
Calle Jarnkrok, Seattle Kraken
Of the four options listed, Calle Jarnkrok of the Seattle Kraken is the most affordable option available by both acquisition cost and cap hit. The 30-year-old forward needs a new deal after this season, but currently accounts for a manageable $2 million against the cap. His 26 points in 49 games isn’t an eye-popping total, but he would still be a welcome addition to any contending squad with legitimate title aspirations.
Related: Which Kraken Players Should Be Moved Before the 2022 Trade Deadline?
Jarnkrok has operated in a top-nine role for the Kraken and is one of their most utilized forwards on the penalty kill, playing over a minute of shorthanded time per game. He’s won around 48 percent of his career faceoffs, is extremely disciplined (only two penalty minutes this season), and can shift anywhere across the forward line if needed. On top of his versatility, Jarnkrok is a strong forechecker and has a nose for the net in terms of creating deflections and tips in and around the crease. The Avalanche struggled to adapt to the Vegas Golden Knights’ aggressive style in last season’s playoffs, so fashioning a more diverse postseason lineup should be one of general manager (GM) Joe Sakic’s key imperatives.
Unless his price gets ramped up due to the hype inherent to deadline day, Jarnkrok could be had for one of Colorado’s upcoming third-round draft picks. He might not immediately displace any of the team’s preexisting options, but having competent depth pieces is a prerequisite for any deep playoff run.
The Kraken have a dire need to fill a sparse prospect pool, and the Avalanche are one of a number of clubs able to help them accomplish that goal. The expansion franchise is in the unique position of having almost half of their regular lineup set to hit free agency this summer and figure to be prominent deadline players as a result. If GM Ron Francis plays his cards right, the Kraken could be set up for contention towards the back-half of the 2020s.
Avalanche Have Numerous Forward Trade Options
No matter which direction the Avalanche navigate towards in the aftermath of Landeskog’s surgery, they can count on a number of viable options to pursue in his stead. Some, like Giroux, should cost a pretty penny but the other names on this list represent more cost-effective alternatives. With less than a week to go before deadline day, trade talks are heating up and Colorado is among the most significant players in this season’s arms race. Stay tuned for what is sure to be a hectic week defined by eager franchises jostling for the top spot in the NHL’s hierarchy.
Honourable Mentions: Rickard Rakell (Anaheim Ducks), Brandon Hagel (Chicago Blackhawks), Vladislav Namestnikov (Detroit Red Wings)
Data courtesy of All Three Zones, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference, and Natural Stat Trick.