The Colorado Avalanche approached this season’s trade deadline clearly stating they were not going to be big players. They were true to their word. However, the minimal player movement was as much a product of circumstances as any plan.
Players on the Trade Block
As the Avalanche entered February, they were facing the deadline in the role of sellers. After a dismal run in December and January where the team combined for a 7-14-2 record, the Avalanche were sitting squarely outside the playoff picture. Rumors swirled about who would be on the trading block as the Avalanche would be looking to sell off some assets to stock up for draft picks and prospects.
Tyson Barrie entered the season as the blueliner most likely to be traded. This was his second to last season under contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent. Barrie’s previous contract negotiations went all the way through the arbitration process before a compromise was reached minutes before the arbiter’s ruling was to be made public.
Barrie is expected to want more money than the Avalanche will be willing to pay. The trade deadline presented a good opportunity to get something back for him, and the Avalanche have promising offensively-minded defensemen in their pipeline. Unfortunately for the Avalanche, the market for blueliners centered more on responsible, physically dominating defensemen. The 5-foot-10 scoring threat didn’t really fit the bill.
Patrik Nemeth also became a primary defensive trade contender. Some speculated the Avalanche front office was open to taking calls on Nikita Zadorov, as well. As the days ticked down, Nemeth moved to the top of the list. The Avalanche also had a fair number of forwards who could have been trade bait. Colin Wilson, Sven Andrighetto, Matt Nieto and Gabriel Bourque were considered options if the offers were right.
But whatever the Avalanche trade plans were entering February changed quickly due to two unexpected factors – injuries and winning.
Injuries Derail Avalanche Trade Plans
Top three defenseman Ian Cole earned a spot anchoring the blue line, but he ended up sidelined after Washington Capitals bad guy Tom Wilson landed over 15 punches to Cole’s head in the Feb. 7 overtime loss. Cole was diagnosed with an orbital bone fracture and was put on Injured Reserve (IR).
Cole’s injury dramatically impacted the Avalanche’s ability to trade a blueliner. Rookie Ryan Graves filled in admirably in Cole’s absence, but with Cole’s recovery timeline in question, the team had to re-consider whether they could afford to lose another veteran defenseman.
To make matters worse, Colin Wilson also ended up on IR after suffering an upper-body injury in the Avalanche’s overtime loss to the Boston Bruins on Feb. 10. Other forwards were rumored to be playing through injuries.
The final nail in the coffin to the Avalanche’s forward trade plans came when news broke that Nieto was injured in the Feb. 22 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. He was considered week-to-week. The Avalanche now had two substantial injuries to their forward corps. The injuries were piling up. But that wasn’t the only factor causing the Avalanche to re-think their trade deadline plans.
The Avalanche Rediscover How to Win
The team started slowly clawing back into the playoff picture. After finding a way to tie three straight games, the Avalanche went on a 5-2-1 streak, climbing into a battle for a wild card spot. They were not only winning, but winning against teams like the Central Division leading Winnipeg Jets. In three weeks, the Avalanche moved from a solid bottom-10 team to contending for a wild card position. Such is the chaos in the Central Division this season.
But winning comes with its own challenges. The Avalanche were missing two reliable two-way forwards. Graves was proving to be an effective blue line contributor and Cole was working his way back in a cage helmet. The morning of the trade deadline, news broke that Nieto was no longer week-to-week but more like six-to-eight-weeks.
While the defense looked to be improving, the losses on offense were problematic for a team now considering a playoff push.
Avalanche Acquire Forward Derick Brassard
The Avalanche elected to add forward Derick Brassard to shore up the injured offense. It wasn’t a splashy move but a serviceable one. Being the second youngest team in the NHL (prior to picking up Brassard), the Avalanche aren’t expected to go deep in the playoffs, should they qualify.
General manager Joe Sakic said in his post trade deadline press conference:
They deserved a chance for us to keep this thing going and try and make the playoffs.
The Avalanche traded a 2020 third-round pick to the Florida Panthers for the 31-year-old forward with 90 postseason appearances plus a conditional sixth-round pick to the Avalanche (should they fail to extend him in the offseason).
Sakic shored up an area of weakness to help give his players a shot at the postseason without sacrificing any of the organization’s tightly held first and second-round picks in the upcoming draft.
Avalanche Show Faith in Players
Some fans may be disappointed the front office didn’t go after Mark Stone or Wayne Simmonds. However, after the Avalanche struggled so badly in December and January, it would be hard to consider them serious contenders for the Stanley Cup this season.
The team earned the right to contend for a playoff berth, though, and the front office rewarded their resurgence with an extra piece to help them compete. The front office showed faith in the players by adding Brassard.
It may not be as thrilling as landing a big name player, but it’s a whole lot better than signing aging stars past their primes in order to get fans in the seats. The Avalanche can battle for a playoff spot without jeopardizing their future. And, with the Ottawa Senators fire sale, their chances for a top first-round pick grow rosier each day. Look out, Jack Hughes, the Avalanche are gunning for you!
J.D. has followed the Colorado Avalanche since the days of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Blessed to cover the team for nearly 5 seasons, 3 of those at other venues, J.D. enjoys working with the Hockey Writers. Proud parent of three humans and two dogs, you can follow all the escapades @JDKpirate.