Blizzard of brilliance: How Colorado Avalanche were built

It’s settled: the Tampa Bay Lightning will face the Colorado Avalanche in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. So, how did each team get here? Let’s look at how each Stanley Cup finalist was built, starting with the West’s top team, the Avalanche.

If the NHL is a “copycat league,” then rival general managers probably want to know how the Avalanche built such a juggernaut of a team. Is there a blueprint that could be snatched?

Maybe you can swipe some overarching principles. Unfortunately, with the Avalanche (and Lightning), there isn’t really a “gimmick.” Generally speaking, the Avalanche are exploiting a blizzard of brilliant moves — and, sure, at least a flurry of luck.

Let’s break down how the Avalanche built a juggernaut team that kicked down the door to a Stanley Cup Final after knocking on it for years.

Like other powerhouse teams, Avalanche were bad enough to stock up on high draft picks

Yes, the NHL features a select few contenders built in unusual ways. The Blues and Wild have been competitive without landing many top-five first-rounders. The Golden Knights struck gold in ways that approach the zany.

Generally speaking, though, contenders stock up on “blue chip” prospects in the draft. The Penguins did so with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews powered the Blackhawks. Alex Ovechkin himself announced the Capitals’ pick of Nicklas Backstrom.

All of those teams made smart moves to supplement that good fortune, but to an extent, it’s about being at the right place, at the right time.

[Stunning Numbers from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs]

With the Avalanche, that meant losing … a lot.

From 2010-11 to 2016-17, the Avalanche missed the playoffs in six of seven seasons. Their lone postseason appearance rode the back of a fluke Patrick Roy run that ended in the First Round.

Now, not every first-rounder from that era worked out.

Concussions derailed the career of Joey Hishon (17th overall in 2010). Connor Bleackley (23rd, 2014) hasn’t played an NHL game. The Avalanche traded Tyson Jost (10th in 2016) for depth forward Nico Sturm around deadline time.

[Looking at Avalanche stars beyond Makar and MacKinnon]

Yet, the Avalanche were bad enough long enough to knock a few way out of the park.

Again, there’s some luck involved here. Things have to fall nicely for you to get the first pick in a draft with a superstar like Nathan MacKinnon available.

But, here’s a thought for fans, and maybe also the Philadelphia Flyers trying to throw Ron Hextall under the bus. There’s no guarantee that a different team would give Cale Makar the freedom he needs to be, basically, the defenseman of the future. More than a few NHL head coaches would fixate on the natural risks that come with “roving,” missing the big picture of the good massively outweighing the bad.

So, give the Avalanche credit with developing stars, not just drafting them. Sure, there’s a heavy element of luck. To get to another level, you have to “make your own luck,” too.

Acing trades essentially since turning lemons into lemonade with Matt Duchene

Truly, the Matt Duchene trade (and Patrick Roy’s bizarre exodus) marked a true turning point for the Colorado Avalanche.

This was a situation people were mocking enough to score Matt Duchene’s glum faces to the memorable lyrics “Hello darkness, my old friend …”

With their backs against the wall, the Avalanche pulled off a brilliant Matt Duchene trade. Honestly, from that point, other GMs probably should have just ignored all incoming calls from Joe Sakic.

[For a deep dive on a remarkable run of trades, check out this breakdown from PHT’s Adam Gretz.]

In short:

  • The Duchene trade netted the Avalanche a package highlighted by Samuel Girard, and the pick they used to land Bowen Byram.
  • Exploiting a cap-strapped Islanders team, the Avs traded for Devon Toews for pennies on the dollar. Toews doesn’t generate the highlight-reel hype of Cale Makar, but he’s absolutely a big-time blueliner.
  • Sensing that the Maple Leafs kinda had to trade Nazem Kadri after consecutive playoff suspensions, the Avalanche pounced. They sold high on Tyson Barrie, and Kadri’s been a revelation.
  • Sprinkle in plenty of other smart and solid trades, including value-driven finds in Artturi Lehkonen.

Impressive patience sometimes means not buying high or selling low

Sometimes, it’s also about the trade or signing you don’t make.

  • The Avalanche could’ve overreacted to another Nazem Kadri playoff suspension. Instead, cooler heads prevailed, and he’s delivered a career-best masterpiece of a season.
  • Maybe the Avalanche would’ve paid a first-rounder to trade for Claude Giroux if he wasn’t so Florida-focused. They didn’t, though, and my end up glad they haven’t chased too many splashy rentals.
  • Sure, it cost quite a bit to trade for Darcy Kuemper. Yet, credit the Avalanche for not boxing themselves into a corner, goaltending-wise. There are only a few goalies anywhere near Andrei Vasilevskiy, and you can tie yourself in knots trying to chase false hope. If nothing else, the Avs have remained flexible regarding goalies. (Hot take: Kraken probably wish Philipp Grubauer was still with Colorado.)

Speaking of flexibility, the Avalanche aren’t particularly heavy on no-trade or no-movement clauses. It all speaks to a franchise that is cool, calm, and collected while others are prone to overreactions.

Fancy stats, free agents, and an underrated coach

Early in Joe Sakic’s run, the Avalanche were banking on Patrick Roy’s system, one that almost seemed to spit in the face of “analytics.” Contrary to Pierre McGuire’s belief, the Avalanche eventually made a heavy emphasis on analytics, “fancy stats,” or whatever you’d like to call a focus on information beyond one’s gut.

The team’s analytics department includes director Arik Parnass, an early pioneer of sorts, as well as Dawson “DTM About Heart” Sprigings.

How much did that staff figure into analytics-leaning moves, such as trading for Devon Toews? That’s a matter of speculation. Credit whomever you want, but this overall approach has paid off handsomely for the Avs.

[Back in 2018, Sean Leahy interviewed Avalanche coach Jared Bednar]

Again, the sheer volume of competent choices really separates the Avalanche.

After a bumpy start, Jared Bednar now ranks among the NHL’s most underrated coaches. While he’s been blessed with incredible talent, Bednar’s shown skill in navigating annual injury headaches.

Generally, the Avalanche have relied as much on free agents as they have built on drafting and trades. That said, they’ve found gems here and there.

One free-agent highlight was the low-risk, high-reward signing of Valeri Nichushkin. Chances are, even a savvy front office like Colorado’s probably didn’t expect the supposed Stars bust to be this much of a find. Again, though, sometimes you “make your own luck.”

More Goals Above Replacement than MacKinnon and Landeskog this season. Impressive. (Via Evolving Hockey)

In building this team, the Avalanche consistently made smart moves — selling high, and buying low. Whatever role analytics, “the eye test,” and other factors played, the bottom line is that other franchises face a tall task in keeping up with the Avalanche.

Both on the ice and off the ice.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Rangers sign Filip Chytil to 4-year extension

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    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

    NEW YORK — The New York Rangers have signed forward Filip Chytil to a four-year contract extension worth $17.75 million, locking up another member of their core long term.

    The team announced the deal Wednesday night. Chytil will count just under $4.44 million annually against the salary cap through the 2026-27 season.

    Chytil, 23, is in the midst of a career year. He has set career highs with 22 goals, 20 assists and 42 points in 66 games for the playoff-bound Rangers.

    The Czech native is the team’s sixth-leading scorer and ranks fourth on the roster in goals. The 2017 first-round pick has 144 points in 342 NHL regular-season and playoff games. He was set to be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer.

    New York already had top center Mika Zibanejad signed through 2030, No. 1 defenseman Adam Fox through 2029, veteran Chris Kreider through 2027, winger Artemi Panarin through 2026 and reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin through 2025.

    General manager Chris Drury’s next order of business is an extension for 2020 top pick Alexis Lafrenière, who is only signed through the remainder of this season and can be a restricted free agent.

    Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

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    CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

    Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

    He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

    In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

    Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

    “Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

    “When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

    Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

    In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

    Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

    He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

    Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

    Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

    Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

    “We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

    Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

    But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

    “It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

    Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

    Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

    “Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

    This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

    “Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

    The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

    “I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

    The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

    “You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

    The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

    With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

    Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

    “He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

    Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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    Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

    Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

    “It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

    The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

    “I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

    Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

    Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

    The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

    “Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

    Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

    Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

    “I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


    The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

    During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


    Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

    Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.