EDMONTON — File this under hoping for the best, while preparing for the unknown.
When Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic laid out his shopping list ahead of the NHL trade deadline on March 21, he did so with a long playoff streak in mind.
It wasn’t about adding high-priced talent or the biggest names since his hockey club already had plenty of firepower, especially up front.
These were strategic moves, the ones that don’t necessarily make waves on the deal wire but are appreciated by the scouting staff and the players in the locker room.
The first was defenseman Josh Manson, picked up from the Anaheim Ducks for the rights to defensive prospect Drew Helleson and a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.
A day later, Sakic traded 2016 first-rounder Tyson Jost to the Minnesota Wild for forward Nico Sturm.
Then, on deadline day, the Avalanche acquired versatile winger Artturi Lehkonen from the Montreal Canadiens for defensive prospect Justin Barron and a second-rounder in 2024.
A final deal brought veteran forward Andrew Cogliano from the San Jose Sharks for a 2025 fifth-round pick.
“We think we’ve met the needs that we had to meet,” Sakic said ahead of the Western Conference Finals with the Edmonton Oilers, which resume Monday with Colorado holding a 3-0 series lead. “You can never have enough depth. Everyone contributes. Some guys are in and out of the lineup at the moment, so we have competition here and you need every player. If you’re going to pass (by ) two months of hockey, which is ultimately our goal, you need that depth.
“You look at any Championship team, they have depth on all lines and they all have to participate a bit. Your best players always have to be at your best if you’re going to have a chance at winning the Stanley Cup, that’s for sure. But you also need those (others) to contribute and take some of the pressure off them.
Manson is averaging more than 17½ minutes per game, anchoring second pair, playing shorthanded and providing the overtime winner in Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues in the final round.
Sturm is a reliable defensive forward who can play center or wing and adds some size up front, while Cogliano is a fourth-row stalwart who is a solid penalty killer and has already provided two game-winning goals in 10 playoff games.
As for Lehkonen, he’s basically a coach’s dream, a guy who’s been used extensively on the first two lines and does so many things well – whether it’s winning puck battles, showing willingness to block shots or step in offensively as he has with five goals and eight points in 13 playoff games. He’s smart enough and has enough skill to play attacking players, while also providing defensive awareness and playing in both special teams units.
The experience Lehkonen gained helping the Montreal Canadiens reach the Stanley Cup Finals last June has also given a boost to a franchise trying to overcome the hurdle.
“A very good complementary player. He brings a real work ethic and a relentless pursuit of the puck. He wins a lot of battles,” head coach Jared Bednar said. “I described him the other day as fearless. He puts in a lot of big effort for his teammates and he’s able to play with these talented players to help them produce.
These four on-time acquisitions are low-maintenance players who fit perfectly into the Avalanche.
Given the injury struggles the Avalanche endured during the playoffs, it’s fair to wonder if they’d be one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals and a date with the New York Rangers. or the Tampa Bay Lightning if Sakic hadn’t pulled the trigger. the aforementioned offers.
“We have significant depth that we probably didn’t have in previous years,” Bednar said, noting that they also played without key plays for long stretches of the regular season. “More than we’ve done in years past, we’ve found a way to get the job done without them. (We’ve had) different guys raising their game.
“Joe and his team targeted guys who met specific needs for our team. And those guys all came in and met those needs and in many cases exceeded expectations in my opinion. all played very well for us in their specific role within our team and made us a much deeper, much more complete and well-balanced team.That is extremely important.
That depth will be tested once again on Monday as the Avalanche are forced to play without center Nazem Kadri, who was hit from behind by Evander Kane just 66 seconds into Game 3.
Kane received a five-minute major for boarding but was not ejected, although he received a one-game suspension Sunday from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
Kadri was seen with a soft cast on his right hand/arm and is believed to be dealing with a broken thumb, although Bednar neither confirmed nor denied when asked specifically on Sunday afternoon.
“He’s out for the show. Maybe longer,” Bednar said. “We should find out in the next few days.”
The Avalanche are also without goaltender Darcy Kuemper (who left Game 2 with an undisclosed upper body injury) and defenseman Sam Girard (who was eliminated from Game 3 of the second round against the Blues with a fractured chest. sternum after being hit by Ivan Barbashev).
Forwards Andre Burakovsky and Nicolas Aube-Kubel also blocked shots in the series and were forced to sit out, although Burakovsky appeared to skate well in Sunday’s optional skate and could be an option to return for Game 4 .
Speaking of options, one of the things Bednar will consider is moving Mikko Rantanen from wing to center with Kadri unavailable – something he did earlier this season when Nathan MacKinnon and Kadri missed time with injuries.
“I think I can do it. Obviously it’s a bit different, so make some adjustments,” said Rantanen, who has three goals and five points in the series. “But the coach makes the decisions and I’m just waiting to see what the decision will be.
“I am ready to play in any position. Maybe not D or goalie. But otherwise, I’m ready.
Staying ready has been a common theme for Avalanche players on the roster periphery during the stretch run and postseason and that healthy competition has seemed to keep the guys on their respective toes, bringing out the best. individuals and the group.
When past injuries have created opportunities, the Avalanche have the option of bringing in players with pedigree (like Alex Newhook, 2019 first-rounder) or established NHL players (like Jack Johnson and Ryan Murray, who is the next D-man) in the lineup. rather than relying solely on orders from the American Hockey League.
“I believe all of our players’ hearts are in the right place and they’re going to go out and play to the best of their abilities,” Bednar said. “When you have players that have been successful for you at different times in the season and in the playoffs, and they’re out, and those are tough decisions for a coach to make, you know they’re watching. and learn and that they are prepared to come and help you when they receive the call.
“You get a really hungry player. We saw it for us all through the playoffs. It’s a luxury we probably didn’t have like we have now.