Two years ago the perception of the Colorado Avalanche was very, very, very different than it is today.
At the start of the 2017-18 season they had missed the playoffs three years in a row and six of the past seven, while one of their best returning players, Matt Duchene, wanted out.
It was a wish that the Avalanche management eventually granted him early in the season.
It has turned out to be one of the franchise-altering moments over the past two years that has seen the Avalanche become one of the best young teams in the league, one that looks to be on the verge of becoming a fearsome Stanley Cup contender.
Nothing has played a bigger role in that rapid improvement Nathan MacKinnon turning into a top-5 player in the league and Mikko Rantanen becoming a star right alongside him. But do not overlook the importance of the Duchene trade given how much value they were able to squeeze out of that deal.
Just for a refresher on how it looked at the time, it was a three-team trade that saw Duchene to go to the Ottawa Senators, Kyle Turris go to the Nashville Predators from the Senators, and a collection of young players and draft picks from both teams going to the Avalanche.
That return for the Avalanche included.
- Samuel Girard, at the time a 19-year-old defender and a top prospect in the Predators’ organization
- Shane Bowers, the Ottawa Senators’ first-round pick (No. 28 overall) in the 2017 NHL draft
- Vladislav Kamenev, at the time a 20-year-old forward and No. 42 overall pick from 2014
- Goalie Andrew Hammond
- Two draft picks that turned out to be Ottawa’s first-round pick (No. 4 overall) in 2019 and Ottawa’s third-round pick in 2019
With the 2019 NHL draft having taken place this weekend, the return on that trade continued to grow as the Avalanche used both selections on Friday and Saturday.
They used the first-round pick to select defender Bowen Byram from the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, and the third-round pick (the first pick in that round) to select center Matthew Stienburg.
The number of young, premium assets alone makes it an incredible haul for an excellent, but not quite great, player that clearly wanted out of Colorado.
It is also a return that should have a substantial impact on the future of the Avalanche blue line for the next decade.
First you have Girard, who just turned 21 back in May, that took a pretty big leap forward this past season for the Avalanche, playing close to 20 minutes per night and demonstrating some of the offensive flare that made him such a key piece of the trade. When the playoffs rolled around the Avalanche had no reservations about throwing him on the ice with Cale Makar, another of their top prospects and the Avalanche’s own No. 4 overall pick in 2018. When that duo was on the ice together they looked like they had the potential to take over games.
Because the Senators immediately went in the tank after acquiring Duchene and eventually began a two-year fire sale, the Avalanche were in a position to pick Byram at the top of the 2019 draft and add yet another dynamic, offensive blue-liner to their roster.
Between him, Makar, and Girard the Avalanche will have three potential (potential being the key word) top-pairing defenders in their organization that are all age 21 or younger.
This also plays a role in allowing the Avalanche to have more salary cap flexibility than almost any other team in the league, and especially among potential Stanley Cup contenders. When combined with the fact that MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog are playing on long-term contracts that are laughably below market value, getting three talented defenders on entry-level contracts is a huge advantage for them.
This is an admittedly rosy outlook that assumes everything works out exactly as planned. It does not always work out the way when talking about 18 or 19 year old players. But based on what we have seen from Girard and Makar in their brief samplings, and the potential that Byram brings to the organization, there is every reason to believe the Avalanche have the chance to build a dangerous blue line over the next decade. They have the Duchene trade to thank for two of those three key pieces.
It is, at this point, abundantly clear that the Avalanche worked this situation as perfectly as they could have and no doubt came out ahead among the three teams in that trade.
The Senators did not even get two full seasons out of Duchene before trading him for less than they gave up to get him.
Turris has been a massive disappointment so far in Nashville and carries a substantial contract over the next few seasons.
The Avalanche, meanwhile, have several young, talented assets that could be the foundation of a powerhouse team in the NHL, especially with the salary cap space they still have to use this summer and in future seasons.
It is usually difficult to get fair value in a trade of that magnitude, and often times when you give up what is, at the time, the best player in the trade you often times come out on the losing end of it. The theory in these situations is that the trading team can get a kings ransom of players and picks that will one day re-shape the look of the franchise. It almost never works out that way.
The Avalanche made it work.