Trade with the Avalanche at your own risk

Colorado Avalanche Trades
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Since being hired as general manager of the Colorado Avalanche prior to the 2013-14 season Joe Sakic has steadily put together one of the NHL’s best and most talented teams. On Monday, they completed a four-game sweep of the Edmonton Oilers to punch their ticket to the organization’s first Stanley Cup Final since the 2000-01 season. It has them just four wins away from the championship that will validate all of the hype that has been built over the past five years around this core group of players.

The foundation of that core has mostly been built through the drafts, with superstars like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar being selected with top-10 picks, and emerging stars like Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook coming in recent years.

That has been the foundation of the team.

But no contender and no Stanley Cup team is built on just three or four players. You have to complement those stars through development, free agency, and trades. It is the latter category where Sakic and the Avalanche have really dominated the NHL in recent years. They not only find good players in their deals, they make deals where they turn out to be clear winners.

[Related: Avalanche sweep Oilers to reach Stanley Cup Final]

The first three or four years of Sakic’s tenure as general manager brought a lot of mixed results on the ice and in their roster transactions. There were a lot of inconsequential trades, and one major trade (Ryan O'Reilly to Buffalo) that did not really bring much or make much of a difference. J.T. Compher is still a good player from that O’Reilly deal, but the overall return was mostly underwhelming.

Things started to rapidly change on Nov. 5, 2017. At that point the Avalanche had a promising young core led by MacKinnon, but had missed the playoffs three years in a row, in six of the past seven seasons, and were dealing with a disgruntled Matt Duchene, who wanted out. They not only accommodated his request, they made a trade that completely changed the direction of the Avalanche franchise.

In that three-team deal, which also involved Ottawa, Nashville, and Kyle Turris, the Avalanche only gave up Duchene and in return received a package of players that included Samuel Girard, Shane Bowers, Vladislav Kamenev, Andrew Hammond, and three draft picks that included the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 draft. The Avalanche eventually used that pick on Byram. Along with Girard, he and Byram are going to be a foundation of the Avalanche defense for the foreseeable future. Girard is already a top-pairing player, and Byram looks to be well on his way to being a potential star.

Ever since then nearly every major trade that the Avalanche have completed has been a decisive win in their favor.

Just a few months after the Duchene deal, they sent Chris Bigras to New York for Ryan Graves. At the time, it was a deal that flew under the radar, but Graves went on to play three very solid years as a regular on the Avalanche defense before being dealt for a second-round draft pick this past offseason. Bigras has not played a game in the NHL since.

[NHL Power Rankings: Most intriguing restricted free agent situations]

In June of 2018 they sent a second-round pick to Washington for goalie Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik (who was bought out). Grubauer went on to be the Avalanche’s starting goalie for three years and earned a top-three finish in the Vezina Trophy voting before leaving as an unrestricted free agent this past offseasaon.

A year later, they made another deal with the Capitals to acquire restricted free agent Andre Burakovsky in exchange for second-and-third round picks. Burakovsky has blossomed in Colorado, scoring at a 26-goal, 65-point pace per 82 games with the Avalanche in his first three seasons with the team. Prior to joining the team, he averaged only a 15-goal, 36-point pace in five seasons with the Capitals.

Just a couple of days later Sakic made one of his most significant trades, sending Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot to Toronto for Nazem Kadri. Barrie played one unspectacular year in Toronto before signing in Edmonton, while Kerfoot has been a solid secondary player for the Maple Leafs. But Kadri has been outstanding in Colorado, consistently outperforming Kerfoot and then put together a career-year during the 2021-22 season with 87 points and strong two-way play. He was having an outstanding postseason until he was injured by Evander Kane in the Western Conference Final. Barrie was more than expendable to Colorado, while Kadri added another impact forward to an already deep group.

The 2020 offseason also proved to be a huge win. It was there that Colorado traded Nikita Zadorov (another very expendable defenseman) to the Chicago Blackhawks for Brandon Saad, a trade that seemed laughably lopsided in the Avalanche’s favor the second it was completed. It played out that way on the ice as well, even if Saad only played one year with the team before leaving in free agency.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

Just two days after the Saad deal, Sakic completed his biggest steal to date when he acquired Devon Toews from the New York Islanders for the low price of two second-round draft picks and then signed him to a four-year contract. Toews, who seemed like an ideal fit for Colorado’s style of play, has been one of the best defensemen in the league since the trade and along with Makar, Girard, Byram, and Erik Johnson has helped form one of the best defense groups in the NHL.

This year’s deals have also been hits. They again tapped into their defense depth by trading Connor Timmins and a first-round pick to Arizona for Darcy Kuemper to help replace Grubauer. While Kuemper has been hit and miss in the playoffs, he had a very strong season and more than replaced Grubauer.

Prior to the trade deadline, Colorado also acquired Josh Manson and Arturri Lehkonen for the combined cost of Drew Helleson, Justin Barron, and a couple of mid-round picks. Given the impact Manson and Lehkonen have made so far in the playoffs, it was well worth the cost.

Those are significant deals that resulted in the Avalanche acquiring some game-changing talents and impact players, while only mostly giving up players they either did not need or that did not want to be there, or draft picks that are not likely to result in players as good or useful as they acquired.

Combined with the core that is already in place from the draft, and you have one of the best teams in the league, a Stanley Cup Finalist, and a potential champion.

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    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

    Andrei Kuzmenko
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

    Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

    Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

    Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

    Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

    The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

    Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

    Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

    Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

    Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

    In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

    Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

    Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

    Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

    Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

    Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

    Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

    The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

    The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

    Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

    He found a little of both.

    The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

    “I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

    Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

    His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

    The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

    “It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

    The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

    Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

    Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

    “That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

    Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

    Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

    “We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

    Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

    Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

    “It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”

    UP NEXT

    Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

    Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.