Since their arrival in Denver, the Colorado Avalanche have known where to find talent. They’ve got the hardware to prove it.
This season marks the team’s 25th anniversary in Colorado, and a look back shows that they have been among the best at finding immediate impact players. Defenseman Cale Makar won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie last season. That gives the organization three Calder winners on their roster, along with forwards Gabriel Landeskog (2011-12) and Nathan MacKinnon (2013-14).
Having three Calder winners on the same roster has happened before in NHL history, but usually, the winners are in the latter part of their career and have moved on to different teams. This marks the first time since the league expanded to 14 teams in 1970 that a team has three Calder winners who are all still with the team they won the award with.
The Avalanche have an impressive history with four Calder Trophy winners in the last 25 years. No other team has more than two in that span.
The other winner was Chris Drury in 1998-99, and the franchise also had two other winners of the award as Quebec Nordiques. Peter Stastny won in 1980-81, and Peter Forsberg took the honor in 1994-95 – the year before the team left Quebec.
Forsberg was on both of Colorado’s Stanley Cup-winning teams. In the 1980s, Stastny scored more goals than any player not named Wayne Gretzky. Stastny was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998, and Forsberg was inducted in 2014.
Winning the Calder isn’t a guarantee of NHL success, but in Colorado’s case, their winners have delivered more than one good season.
Colorado’s History With Top Rookies
Only four teams – the Toronto Maple Leafs (10 winners), Chicago Blackhawks (9), New York Rangers (8) and Boston Bruins (8) – have more Calder winners than Colorado/Quebec. Makar’s win gave the franchise six total, tying them with the Montreal Canadiens for fifth all-time.
However, the numbers are tilted in favor of Original Six teams, considering they had a 30-year or more head start on the rest of the league. The Maple Leafs may have won the most with 10 – but Auston Matthews in 2016-17 is the Leafs’ only winner since 1965-66.
To put it in perspective, since the Nordiques entered the NHL in 1979-80, Original Six teams have only won the award nine times combined – and four of those belong to the Blackhawks. The six wins by Avs/Nords are the most over that same period, with Chicago’s four in second place.
Drury’s Calder-winning season could be considered a team effort. Three years after the Avalanche’s first Stanley Cup, the organization loaded up on depth for their second title run. While Drury won the award in 1998-99, teammate Milan Hejduk was third in Calder voting; he led all rookies in points that year.
Drury and Hejduk played an integral role in the Avs’ 2001 Cup run. Drury’s 11 goals in the postseason were second to Joe Sakic’s 13, and Hejduk’s 16 postseason assists led the NHL.
Hejduk became one of the most prolific scorers in Avalanche history, playing his entire 14-year career in Colorado. His 375 goals are fourth in franchise history, but only Sakic scored more goals with the team, scoring 391 of his 625 career goals after the team moved to Denver.
Drury played a dozen years in the NHL, scoring at least 20 goals nine times and finishing with 255 career goals. But his time in Colorado was limited to just four seasons. Before the 2002-03 campaign, he was dealt to the Calgary Flames in a blockbuster trade. It a head-scratching move at the time and history has proven it to be one of the worst trades in team history.
Drury was dealt with Stephane Yelle for Derek Morris, Jeff Shantz and Dean McAmmond. By the start of the 2004-05 season, none of those players were still with Colorado. In those two seasons, the trio of Morris, Shantz and McAmmond combined for 30 goals and 103 points.
Over those same two seasons, one with Calgary and his first with the Buffalo Sabres, Drury beat that production by himself with 41 goals and 106 points. If Drury had stayed in Colorado, his jersey might now be hanging from the rafters at Ball Arena next to Hejduk’s.
New Calder Winners Hope to Make Their Own History
Expectations are high this season, and the Avalanche players have said that anything short of the Stanley Cup will be a disappointment. While no other team has had more than two Calder winners in the last 25 years, the Avalanche have three on their power play this season.
Makar was in the midst of a historic rookie season before a hit from Boston’s Brad Marchand shelved the rookie for 20 days in December 2019. Add that to the shortened season due to the pandemic, and Makar finished with 12 goals and 38 assists. COVID-19 and his injury stalled his threat to break Larry Murphy’s rookie points record among defensemen of 76.
Makar also joined Drury in some rare air with the win. They are the only two players in history to win the Calder and the Hobey Baker Award – given annually to the top hockey player in the NCAA. Drury won with Boston University in 1995, and Makar won with Massachusetts in 2019.
While Makar played a couple of seasons in college before his breakout rookie season, Landeskog and MacKinnon pretty much took over right after they were drafted. Landeskog was the second-overall pick in 2011 and played all 82 games the following season. His 52 points tied Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers (the first-overall pick that year) for the rookie points lead. Landeskog edged out Nugent-Hopkins for the award.
Two years later, MacKinnon was taken first overall – Sakic’s first draft pick running the front office for the team he starred for – and the Nova Scotia native racked up 24 goals and 39 assists. He received 130 of the 137 first-place votes for the Calder that season and became the youngest player ever to win the award.
Landeskog, MacKinnon and Makar are looking for a different kind of hardware, but they’re hoping the club’s history with the Calder results in a Stanley Cup in their future.
When Colorado won its first title in that inaugural 1995-96 season, it was also the first Stanley Cup for Calder-winner Forsberg. When the Avalanche won it a second time, they had two more Calder winners celebrating their first NHL title with Drury and (famously) Ray Bourque – who was named the top rookie in 1979-80, which was, coincidentally, the Quebec/Colorado franchise’s first season in the NHL.
Can that trend continue? Can three Calder winners enjoy their first title when Colorado raises its third Stanley Cup? This trio hopes so, and all three will have to play a large role in order for Colorado’s 25th anniversary season to end the same way as their first campaign.