The Colorado Avalanche are aggressively attempting to improve as a team on the rise. The Washington Capitals are trying to stay at a high level while navigating salary cap challenges. If that strikes you as a perfect combination for a trade, then you’re right.
The two teams made an interesting splash on Friday, as the Capitals sent the rights of intriguing forward Andre Burakovsky to the Avalanche for what amounts to a couple picks.
Here’s the exchange, confirmed by the Capitals:
Avalanche receive: Burakovsky, 24, who is an RFA. The Capitals extended a $3.25 million qualifying offer to Burakovsky earlier this week, so we’ll see where a final deal might land once Colorado gets cracking.
Capitals receive: 2020 second-round pick (Colorado’s pick), 2020 third-round pick (Arizona’s pick, which was part of the Carl Soderberg trade), and unsigned free agent forward Scott Kosmachuk.
Frustrations, and limitations, for Capitals
A bit more than a week ago, Capitals GM Brian McClellan discussed Burakovsky’s struggles in 2018-19, while also saying he’s a good player, as NBC Sports’ Brian McNally reported.
“Andre had a frustrating year this year, but I think he finished it up well,” MacLellan said. “I think from the trade deadline on, I thought he had a good playoffs. We like the player. There’s been some inconsistencies there, but when he’s on his game, he’s a good player.”
One could see where Washington was getting a little frustrated with Burakovsky.
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After generating 22 points in just 53 games as a teenage rookie in 2014-15, Burakovsky enjoyed his peak years in 2015-16 and 2016-17, scoring 38 and 35 points respectively.
Injuries have been an issue at times, making 2017-18’s 25 points easier to stomach, as Burakovsky was limited to 56 games played.
It must have been irritating to see his stats stagnate at 25 points in 76 games this past season, though. Most obviously, you could see the lost patience in Burakovsky in his ice time, as it slipped all the way down to just 11:08 per game in 2018-19 after he was a pretty steady 13+ minute per night guy before.
With the Capitals in a tight cap situation (Cap Friendly estimates $9.235M of room with 17 roster spots covered), and some big expenditures looming with Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom about to enter contract years, this ultimately might have been necessary surgery for Washington. Especially if, frankly, Burakovsky was never really going to get out of the doghouse.
Still, Caps fans have room to wonder: could they have gotten more for Burakovsky if they acknowledged the inevitable and moved him during the trade deadline? This is … not exactly the strongest return for a player with such potential and pedigree (23rd overall in 2013). Especially if you compare that to, um, other not-so-great trades.
Is it too simplistic to say that Burakovsky ultimately “lost out” to Jakub Vrana, another fine first-round find the Capitals managed despite being a regular contender? To some extent, it will feel that way, as there were only so many prominent spots to earn on a Capitals club with entrenched forwards like Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie already (justifiably) claiming big minutes.
Avalanche are rising, but will have a busy summer
In case it wasn’t clear, I love this trade for the Avalanche.
It reminds me of the New Jersey Devils exploiting the Capitals’ previous cap troubles to land Marcus Johansson, so here’s hoping that Burakovsky — someone who’s dealt with injury challenges — will enjoy better health luck than Johansson had in New Jersey.
One can picture Burakovsky really taking off if given the minutes and opportunities he struggled to gain with Washington.
Again, aside from 2018-19, Burakovsky generated strong possession numbers, and his scoring totals are quite good when you realize that his ice time was usually pretty modest. Could he take off if the Avalanche use him as a much-needed supporting scorer behind the mega-line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog? Perhaps Burakovsky could even ascend to the top line so the Avalanche can enjoy better lineup balance? The possibilities are pretty dazzling.
One way or another, the Avalanche aren’t done yet.
For one thing, they figure to have the cap space to land a much bigger fish. In a lot of ways, they’re the snazziest landing spot for superstar Artemi Panarin, although we’ll have to see if the stars align (particularly, if Panarin prefers skiing to suntanning in, say, Florida?).
Beyond that, the Avalanche have some contracts to hash out. Burakovsky is an RFA with arbitration rights, while Rantanen could cost Colorado eight figures, depending upon how his negotiations play out.
Getting those contracts right won’t be simple, yet it’s still easy to see the Avalanche making big strides this offseason. Considering how they dominated the West’s top seed in the Flames in Round 1, and pushed the Sharks to the limit in Round 2 even before making upgrades — and considering how they were one of the biggest winners of the 2019 NHL Draft — the sky seems to be the limit for this Avs team.
Consider smart deals like this one for Burakovsky as jet fuel for such a rise, then.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.