With the NHL trade deadline now officially in the past, the Colorado Avalanche took their metaphorical ball and went home. Having built a roster mired deep in last place and having been irrelevant since early December, general manager Joe Sakic failed to act like a guy who knows he’s in the midst of a rebuild.
Given his Hall of Fame playing career, including the NHL record for overtime goals in the postseason that built his reputation as a master of the clutch situation, watching the great Joe Sakic morph into “No Show Joe” at the season’s biggest moment was nothing short of startling.
While there’s certainly a reasonable argument to be made that no NHL team saw the need to give up assets for the likes of John Mitchell, Rene Bourque, or Fedor Tyutin, when one surveys the NHL landscape after the chaos of the deadline, you’ll find plenty of players with similar production and red flags were moved for primary pieces.
To recap, the Avalanche made a grand total of two moves today: Jarome Iginla was traded to Los Angeles for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 and Andreas Martinsen went to Montreal in return for Sven Andrighetto.
On the surface, the Iginla deal opened the roster spot the Avalanche would immediately fill by calling up forward J.T. Compher from San Antonio and Andrighetto would appear to be quite an offensive upgrade over the burly Martinsen so what’s the problem?
Lesser players than Iginla fetched some lofty returns at the deadline, such as Jannik Hansen returning a potential first round selection and a top prospect from the San Jose Sharks while Vernon Fiddler, who at the time of his trade had registered just three points, netted a 2017 fourth round pick. How in the world do you manage to give away a player who has recorded more than 600 career goals for not much more than a song?
Further, if the Avalanche were such believers in Andrighetto’s talent, why didn’t they simply claim him when he was on waivers earlier this season? They’ve experienced success with waiver claims Matt Nieto and Mark Barberio but for some reason, they felt the need to give up a player the Montreal Canadiens actually valued for a player they literally tried to give away via the waiver process earlier this year.
While there’s no guarantee an earlier claim on Andrighetto would have resulted in a significantly improved compensation in return for Martinsen, the simple fact of the matter is Sakic and the Avalanche paid a price to acquire a player who they could have easily had for free earlier in the season.
On the other side of the management table, you have the GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning and longtime Sakic foil Steve Yzerman, who deftly manipulated the trade scene to rid himself of Valtteri Filpulla’s troublesome contract for what basically amounted to a seventh round pick, opening the salary cap space he’s going to desperately need with a number of key restricted free agents needing raises this summer.
Sticking with Yzerman’s deadline work, he also navigated the murky terrain of an upcoming free agent situation when he dealt goaltender Ben Bishop to the same Kings team Iginla joined today. What’s remarkable is Yzerman managed to get significantly more in return for what is essentially a backup goaltender versus Iginla, who is expected to slot into LA’s top line next to franchise cornerstone Anze Kopitar.
Granted, Bishop is in his prime and has been one of the NHL’s better goaltenders in recent years but if the Kings make a deep playoff run this year and Jonathan Quick remains healthy, which player is likely to help Los Angeles more – Bishop, who may not even play, or Iginla, the top line right wing? This was a clear case of Sakic doing right by a player at the cost of doing right by the organization he’s running, a common theme seen in previous years with players such as Jan Hejda.
While Yzerman once again demonstrated his ability to handle the problems facing him before they became untenable, Sakic steadfastly held firm on his reportedly astronomical asking prices for faces of the franchise Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. Sakic’s reasoning for not parting with the big guns was simply because he didn’t have to as each player is signed for at least two more seasons.
The lack of blockbuster trades involving Colorado’s best players was easily the best part of Sakic’s day. The rest is an embarrassment. Teams in this situation understand how to cut their losses and look towards the future. The only thing the Avalanche looked on Wednesday afternoon was lost. Lost in the arrogance of their former glory, delusional about the current state of the franchise and seemingly oblivious to the reality that they’re on the verge of the worst 82-game season in recent history.
One could reasonably argue the current state of the team is not entirely Sakic’s fault. The influence of Patrick Roy over personnel decisions was vast, especially early when the partnership began in 2013, and the disagreements on those decisions last summer seemed to be a major reason for Roy’s abrupt departure over the summer. Nonetheless, this is now Sakic’s mess to clean up and with six impending unrestricted free agents on the NHL’s worst roster, today was the day to tell the world he understood how to approach a legitimate rebuild.
While Yzerman danced his way between the upcoming free agent rain drops, Sakic’s failures in the July hockey version of Black Friday only stick out even more. Failing to generate any trade interest were high-profile free agent signings Francois Beauchemin, whose overall game has fallen off a cliff this season and is the proud owner of a no-movement clause that will force him to be protected in the upcoming expansion draft, and Carl Soderberg, who has a limited no-trade clause of his own kicking in this summer for the remaining three years of his contract at just under $5 million per season. That’s the same Soderberg who has been a healthy scratch recently and has scored just 11 points in 59 games.
The final results have tallied zero additional 2017 draft picks, meaning the Avalanche will have just two of the top 92 selections in this summer’s NHL Draft after the failed Eric Gelinas trade at least year’s trade deadline cost them their third round selection this year. Meanwhile, fellow bottom-feeders Arizona, Detroit, and Carolina will have five, five, and seven selections, respectively, in the first three rounds of this year’s draft.
All of this just goes to show how lost this franchise really is. Today was an opportunity to prove this front office wasn’t overwhelmed by the task at hand and they failed miserably. They are not only the worst team in the NHL by a country mile, their farm system is among the 10 worst in the NHL and they have failed to stock up on draft selections in upcoming drafts to remedy the situation.
The situation has reached such a critical mass of failure, there’s little reason for Avalanche fans to place faith in Sakic to handle the delicate situations he now faces with Duchene and Landeskog this summer. The draft floor has become the NHL’s primary trading grounds and the spotlight will only be bigger and brighter.
Does anybody really believe Sakic won’t shrink from that moment, too?