The Colorado Avalanche used to be known for a lot of things. Championship caliber hockey, fierce competition and, of course, a front office that could pull off some of the best and most unlikely trades possible. Acquiring the likes of Patrick Roy, Claude Lemieux, Rob Blake, Ray Bourque and others to help the Avalanche win their two Stanley Cups gave the Avalanche front office an aura of infallibility.
While it is true they did pull off some outstanding trades, they have also been responsible for some real stinkers. Here are the worst trades in the history of the Colorado Avalanche, in no particular order.
Sandis Ozolinsh to Carolina
Ozolinsh was easily the best offensive defenseman in the history of the Avalanche — there is little debate about that. He was an exceptional skater with great size and reach, had a huge shot, would join the rush and also be the first one back to defend. His presence always added an extra element opposing teams had to respect.
During the 1998-99 season, Ozolinsh held out for a bigger contract from the Avalanche. The holdout would last until January of that season when he and the Avs finally came to terms on a contract during a period where they were struggling. He stayed with them through the rest of that season and even through the 1999-00 season before Pierre Lacroix dealt him to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The trade sent Ozolinsh and Colorado’s second round pick in the 2000 draft to Carolina in exchange for Nolan Pratt, Carolina’s first-round pick (which became Vaclav Nederost), and two second round picks in 2000 (which became Jared Aulin and Agris Saviels). Nolan Pratt played 46 games for the Avalanche in the 2000-01 season and was traded from Colorado after that year. Vaclav Nederost did play in an Avs uniform for a brief time — 67 games with a total of six goals and 13 points. He was later traded to Florida.
Jared Aulin never saw time in the NHL with the Avalanche, as he was sent to Los Angeles to complete the deal that brought Blake to Colorado. He only played a total of 17 NHL games with the Kings with four points. Agris Saviels never played in the NHL in any capacity.
This was an utter and complete disaster of a trade. Ozolinsh was a dynamic defenseman that could change the game. He was a huge part of the 1996 Stanley Cup Championship team and was essentially punished by Lacroix for holding out, something that became a bit of a theme under Lacroix. You simply don’t trade top-end talent like that for what turned out to be pretty much nothing.
Brad Stuart Acquired from San Jose
This trade has become a bit of a wash, but it definitely is not one that has panned out. The Avalanche acquired Stuart during free agent frenzy day 2014. This could have been an okay trade if the Avalanche had used Stuart in the correct capacity, but they were determined to force him into the top pairing.
This did not create very good results. Stuart and Erik Johnson simply didn’t fit together in any capacity and it didn’t take long for Stuart to be removed from Johnson’s pair in favor of EJ’s previous defensive partner, Jan Hejda. Since this time, Stuart has battled injury and has been unable to stay in the Avalanche lineup. At this point, it seems the Avs will be forced to buy him out, depending on his injury status, at the end of this season.
The Avalanche sent a 2016 second round pick and a 2017 sixth-round pick to San Jose in exchange for Stuart. The Avalanche ended up getting these two picks back from San Jose at the 2015 draft, plus San Jose’s second round pick at the 2015 draft in exchange for the pick the Avalanche acquired from Buffalo in the Ryan O’Reilly trade.
Acquiring Brad Stuart was not a terrible move by the Avalanche, but re-signing him before they had seen him play a game and forcing him into a role he was definitely no longer equipped to play made it a bad trade. Luckily, Colorado did a good job redeeming themselves from this trade.
Avalanche Send Alex Tanguay to Calgary
This was another trade in the set of deals where the Avalanche attempted to find a defenseman that could replace Ozolinsh after Bourque had come and gone. The Avalanche tried multiple times to acquire a defenseman that could add a dynamic offensive ability to the team, but this one might have been the biggest reach.
The Avalanche sent Alex Tanguay to division rival Calgary in exchange for Jordan Leopold, a 2006 second round pick (that became Codey Burki) and a conditional 2007 pick (that became Trevor Cann). This was the second trade they made with Calgary that sent a top-end offensive player to their division rival in exchange a defenseman that might be able to give the same offensive spark. We’ll get to the other one later.
Tanguay had become an essential part of the Avalanche offense and was a big part of the 2001 Stanley Cup Championship team. He was really entering the prime of his career at the time of this trade and spent most of his best years in Calgary.
What the Avalanche got back for Tanguay was, again, incredibly disappointing. Leopold played 122 games with the Avs, scoring 13 goals and totaling 38 points. He was then sent back to Calgary a few years later. Burki never played in the NHL, nor did Trevor Cann.
Another wasted trade made to try and undo the foolishness that sent Ozolinsh packing.
Avalanche Acquire Peter Worrell
In an effort to get bigger and tougher, the Colorado Avalanche acquired Peter Worrell and a second round pick (which became Jeff Shantz) from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Eric Messier and Nederost. I never understood this trade — ever. Worrell served pretty much one purpose and one purpose only throughout his career; beating people up. In his 49 games with the Avalanche, he had four points and 179 penalty minutes, he just never made sense on a team that had so much skill they should have been competing for a Stanley Cup.
Nederost was a young player that hadn’t seen a lot of ice time with the Avalanche, but he had shown some promise. He was likely never going to be a top-six forward, but he certainly had the ability to log minutes on a third line and be a two-way player.
Messier is one of the most underrated players in the history of the Avalanche. A lot of people forget about him, but he was part of the Avalanche roster for seven years. He was capable of playing forward and defense and was a very good defensive player. Losing these two players for a fighter who could not keep up with a great skating team like the Avalanche was, for lack of a better word, stupid.
Chris Drury Traded to Calgary
I saved this one for last because this is the worst trade in the history of the Avalanche. Chris Drury was nothing but brilliant for the team when he came into the league. He won the Calder Trophy and continued to put up fantastic numbers while providing excellent two-way play, as well.
He scored 11 playoff goals during the 2001 run to the Stanley Cup Championship and was one of those players that just had something special about him. When Drury was on the ice, you were watching a guy who was giving every fiber of his being on every single shift. He would just keep working and working and, more often than not, he would be rewarded.
Then, just before the start of the 2002 NHL season, the Avalanche traded him. It was a blockbuster trade that sent Drury and Stephane Yelle to Calgary in exchange for Derek Morris, Dean McAmmond and Shantz. Yes, this is that other trade, within the division, that centered around a defenseman that was supposed to be able to provide the offensive spark that was no longer there because Ozolinsh was traded.
It included one of the most underrated two-way players in Avalanche history (Yelle) and a guy who was a dynamic player that could have spent the whole of his career playing alongside Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Just close your eyes and imagine that for a second, Avalanche fans. Yeah, it hurts me too.
Morris fizzled quickly in Colorado and was traded at the deadline in 2004 to Phoenix. McAmmond played 41 games for the Avalanche before being traded back to Calgary in the same season, in March of 2003. Shantz played 79 games for the Avalanche in 2002-03, and it was the only season he played with Avalanche. After the 2002-03 season, he signed in Europe.
Drury, on the other hand, played only one season in Calgary but ended up being a huge part of some very good Buffalo Sabres teams — teams that were on the cusp of winning championships. He twice topped 30 goals with the Sabres, something he never did with the Avalanche and showed that he truly was among the league’s elite.
There was never a reason to trade Drury. To this day I can only look back on it and think, “What in the world was Lacroix thinking trading Drury?” Adrian Dater penned it the best several years after the trade when he asked the same question.
Drury was a special player that could have been a huge part of multiple more championships in Denver. Yes, I absolutely believe that trading Drury cost the Avalanche a chance for multiple more Stanley Cup Championships. There is no question in my mind. Lacroix believed too much of his own hype when it came to his abilities to make trades and set the franchise back in a big way.