With the Colorado Avalanche's 17th loss in their last 20 games, they are firmly dead last in the NHL standings and there's little reason for hope on the immediate horizon. There's been significant smoke around the idea of the Avs moving a core player, primarily Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog.
For the purpose of this piece, it's only focusing on those two as it the team doesn't have any apparent interest in moving Erik Johnson or Nathan MacKinnon and any deal involving Semyon Varlamov or Tyson Barrie makes the most sense in the summer.
It's important to make the disclaimer this is not me saying these are trade rumors I've heard. I'm also not advocating for the Avalanche to trade either Duchene or Landeskog. This is simply an exercise to try to build a reasonable trade offer from both sides of the trading table that can maybe end in both teams being happy in the long run. Let's get to it.
To: Matt Duchene, Fedor Tyutin
From: Matthias Ekholm, Kevin Fiala, 2017 1st round pick
Why it works:
For the Predators, they once again dip into their wealth of defensemen to improve an offense that could be looking to replace Mike Ribeiro this summer. While still in the upper half of scoring, the addition of Duchene as either the second center with Ryan Johansen or as a winger next to him adds a significant boost to their even strength potency. He's signed for another two seasons after this one at a very reasonable $6M per season.
They still have to sign Johansen to an extension this summer and Duchene gives them a little security in case of any issues there as well as softens the blow in the event Ribeiro does not return. It also allows the Predators to shift their expansion draft plans from protecting eight skaters to protecting three defensemen and seven forwards, ensuring they keep as much of their talented roster intact as possible.
Nashville has underwhelmed as a team this season and the addition of Duchene makes them more dynamic all-around while adding Tyutin allows them to replace Ekholm in the lineup with a reliable albeit less talented veteran who can contribute should they go on to make the playoffs.
From Colorado's side, there's a ton to like. Ekholm, 26, is a left-handed defenseman in his prime who has proven he is a legitimate top-four caliber defender and is signed for another five seasons at just $3.75M per season. That contract alone makes him extremely valuable but with the continued development of Nikita Zadorov this season, Colorado could finally have a formidable left side to their defense to go along with Johnson and Barrie on the right.
The addition of Fiala is an expensive one for Nashville as he was their first round pick, 11th overall, in the 2014 draft but there's no way the Avalanche are giving up Duchene without getting a high-value of some sort in return. Fiala is just 20-years-old and while he has struggled in his first NHL season, scoring just eight points in 27 games so far, the future is very bright for Fiala after he has consistently posted strong numbers in the AHL the past two seasons.
Tossing in the first-round pick this year can be lottery protected if that's what needs to happen in order to secure the selection either this year or in 2018 when P.K. Subban returns to health and they make their expected run back to the playoffs. It's simply the cherry on top and will add more prospect ammo for the Avalanche down the road.
Why it doesn't work:
There's always going to be a stigma about trading one of the face's of your franchise to an opponent in the division, especially to the one city he may love more than the one he currently lives in and is likeliest to sign long-term and spend the rest of his career destroying your team. It's an extremely risky proposition to send Duchene to another team in the Central Division where you have to compete with him directly over the long haul.
There's also the part where it may simply be too much from Nashville's side. When was the last time Predators General Manager David Poile got taken for a ride in a trade? Some of his deadline moves have been weak in the past (trading a 1st round pick for Paul Gaustad, for example) but this trade is way more than just another deadline deal. It's a long-term earthquake and if Ekholm shores up Colorado's defense and Fiala turns into a 50-point player, Nashville might have created a problem they then have to turn around and annually slay.
From Colorado's perspective, Fiala may not even be the best young forward on Nashville's roster as Viktor Arvidsson has exploded onto the scene this year and they may prefer him. Nashville may also value the Ekholm contract too much and try to talk the Avalanche into Ryan Ellis, who makes sense to a certain degree but is in need of a long-term contract and plays the right side.
To: Matt Duchene
From: Colin White, Thomas Chabot, Ryan Dzingel
Why it works:
In a way, this is the nuclear option for the Avalanche. Trading away a face of their franchise for two prospects and a guy who projects as a third liner doesn't jump off the page right away. For Ottawa, this makes plenty of sense because Duchene becomes the number one center they hope Colin White develops into someday and he immediately injects a spark into the 20th-ranked Senators offense. The Sens find themselves second in the Atlantic Division right now
The Sens find themselves second in the Atlantic Division right now and the only change for their NHL roster is removing Dzingel and adding Duchene, which is a massive leap in talent. So why would the Avalanche even consider this? Because Colin White and Thomas Chabot are bonafide blue-chip prospects.
White, a center, tore apart college hockey in his freshman season last year and is having a strong sophomore campaign at Boston College. He's an exciting center prospect who plays a very strong 200-foot game and already possesses a very mature approach to the game. Realistically, this should be his final year in college hockey and he could jump to the NHL next year and join an Avs team that would need to replace Duchene. He's a natural fit as a complement to Nathan MacKinnon versus the arguably redundant style Duchene presents.
With any of these deals, the focus would obviously be on improving Colorado's defense and Thomas Chabot could certainly help in that regard. He's more of an offensive defenseman with question marks in his own end but we've seen the NHL swinging more towards defensive groups that skate and move pucks quickly out of their own zone, even if it means occasionally giving up chances the other way. Chabot is a brilliant offensive playmaker and as a left-handed player fits neatly into a future plan for the Avalanche.
Like White, he should be joining professional hockey next season and he stuck with the Sens for the team's first nine games before being sent back down to his junior club. The idea of dropping Chabot into a defense that includes Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, and Chris Bigras is certainly tantalizing as that would be among the best skating defensive groups the Avalanche will have ever iced.
Dzingel isn't a sexy option as he's a player who profiles as a bottom-six forward but he's extremely versatile, capable of playing all three forward positions, and has displayed a strong enough scoring touch to be an occasional top-six fill-in when injuries inevitably strike. He's also a very strong skater who fits the profile of what the Avalanche have been targeting in their forwards to play the kind of fast, up-tempo hockey head coach Jared Bednar is looking to play.
Why it doesn't work:
For Colorado, this is almost entirely a futures deal. Plenty of prospects have shown promise and failed to live up to it and Matt Duchene is a legitimate top-flight caliber offensive player who changes an offense. They're taking a massive leap of faith here that White turns into the high-level two-way center he appears to be and Chabot figures out the defensive game well enough to allow him to play all the offense he wants. Dzingel simply adds to Colorado's arsenal of fast-skating, hard-working depth forwards who will fit in perfectly when A.J. Greer and J.T. Compher become NHL regulars.
From the Senators' side, they're giving up their clear-cut top two prospects and both of their first round selections from the 2015 draft. While they have the cap space to immediately slot Duchene into their plans, simply absorbing $6M a year while not sending out any significant cash the other way may be a real problem for a team with budget constraints.
While they get a dynamic center in Duchene, they lose by far their best blueline prospect and their current defensive group certainly isn't anything special beyond the brilliance of Erik Karlsson. That's a big loss to swallow as Chabot projects as a big part of their future.
If both White and Chabot pan out as stars in the NHL, the Senators could end up looking back on this deal with regret if those two become part of the foundation for a successful string of Avalanche teams. If Colorado needed to offer a lesser defensive prospect in exchange, there are some that would make some sense for the Sens.
To: Gabriel Landeskog
From: Chris Tanev, Brock Boeser, Guillaume Brisebois
Why it works:
The Canucks get another talented forward already in the NHL to contribute to them making the most of the end of the Sedins' illustrious careers. With the twins, Loui Eriksson, Bo Horvat, and the addition of Landeskog, the Canucks would suddenly have a formidable front line offense that could slide into a playoff spot in the weak Pacific Division. Landeskog is also signed long-term and can be one of the faces of the transition from the Sedins to the next era of Canucks hockey. They also cash in on Chris Tanev, whose reputation may have surpassed his actual ability at this point.
For Colorado, they hope Tanev is as solid as his reputation would indicate as he would immediately boost their struggling blueline. Contract wise, the 27-year old Tanev is signed for a very reasonable $4.45M per season for the next three years and gives them further stability to a group that has been a rotating cast of characters for a number of years now.
Boeser, Vancouver's first-round selection in the 2015 draft, is an obvious fit for Colorado because he replaces Landeskog on the wing in Colorado as soon as next year. Currently at the University of North Dakota playing alongside Avalanche prospect Tyson Jost, the idea of bringing both Boeser and Jost to the as soon as next season is clearly a tempting proposition. Having that chemistry from ND's top line carry over to the Avalanche gives them a head start on the kind of dynamic line the Avs have struggled to construct since the departures of Paul Stastny and Ryan O'Reilly.
While Brisebois might not be the sexiest of prospect names, the same kind of familiarity between Boeser and Jost applies as Brisebois is currently playing on a pairing with Avalanche prospect Nicolas Meloche in Charlottetown of the QMJHL. The pairing can finish off their junior careers this year and make the leap to San Antonio together next season. Long-term, Brisebois is a defensive defenseman but one who has attributes you look for in the modern day defender - he's a good skater, makes smart decisions with the puck, and uses his stick well.
It's not quite the high-end packages for Duchene, but it could work, especially if Boeser continues to be the goal-scoring machine he was in the USHL and NCAA into the NHL.
Why it doesn't work:
What, that's it? Aren't the Canucks getting any kind of defensive help to replace the NHL defenseman and blueline prospect the Avalanche acquired? I'd be open to including one but I'm not sure tossing in Chris Bigras or Meloche actually helps the Avalanche move forward in any way. I understand you have to give to get but the Canucks are already getting the clear-cut best player in this deal.
That's also the problem from Colorado's side. The Boeser-Jost and Brisebois-Meloche connections are great but there's a very good chance the best player in the deal ends up being Landeskog, which represents a significant step back for an Avs team that doesn't have any physical two-way wingers immediately ready to step into Landeskog's role. While A.J. Greer is off to a great start, it's a big leap to assume he can adequately fulfill Landeskog's role on the ice.
In order for this to work for the Avalanche, Tanev, who is right-handed, needs to fit in with fellow righties Johnson and Barrie and prove the reputation he's developed is well-earned. Boeser needs to develop into a 30-goal scorer and bring the same kind of dynamite alongside Jost for this to pay off. Brisebois has limited overall upside and the team is probably better off going after much-maligned Jake Virtanen as a sort of reclamation project.
The other issue with this deal is Vancouver seems to be embracing a sort of "competitive rebuild" like the Avalanche tried. They don't seem interested in tanking during the Sedins twilight years, as their free agency forays would indicate, but they also aren't going all-in. General Manage Jim Benning has been unpredictable, to say the least, but this kind of aggressive move doesn't make a ton of sense for a team in their position.
To: Gabriel Landeskog
From: Brandon Carlo, Jake DeBrusk, 2017 1st round pick
Why it works:
The way Brad Marchand is the peanut butter to Patrice Bergeron's jelly, Gabriel Landeskog is tailor-made to be Robin to David Krejci's Batman. He fits the Boston Bruin prototype perfectly and his reasonable long-term contract makes him an excellent fit for the Bruins moving forward. Simply put, this is the kind of natural fit that usually makes too much sense so it never gets done because the real life "Be A GM" Mode is always on the highest difficulty and real jobs are on the line, creating a risk-averse community of show runners.
Just like in the Nashville deal, Colorado gets the kind of young defenseman they are constantly seeking. Carlo is a local boy who was drafted at the top of the second round in 2015 by the Bruins and made the roster this year as a 20-year old. He's been thrown into the fire in Boston as he leads the entire team in ice time this season and is considered a long-term replacement when Zdeno Chara finally hangs up the skates in the near future. He's the real deal along the blue line and he would be a huge boost for the Avalanche.
The addition of DeBrusk, one of Boston's three first-round selections in 2015, is an intriguing one because he's a two-way forward cut from a similar cloth as Landeskog. His upside has always been considered massive but there have long been questions about whether or not he will be able to consistently play the way he needs to in order to reach his lofty potential. He's off to a strong start with 18 points in 33 games as a 20-year old in the AHL, strong point totals for someone his age and he would instantly fit in with A.J. Greer and J.T. Compher down in San Antonio as they work their way towards NHL opportunities.
The addition of the first-round pick, of course, is simply the sweetener any of these deals will have to include when playoff-bound teams are involved.
Why it doesn't work:
Boston doesn't want to give up Brandon Carlo. Why would they? Carlo, along with Torey Krug and last year's first-round selection, Charlie McAvoy, are the foundation of their next great defense set to carry them to lofty heights. Naturally, they'd much rather give up first-round bust Joe Morrow, Colin Miller, or Kevan Miller as the defensive linchpin to the deal. Of course. But you have to give to get and in order to get a bonafide top-six forward who is still in the heart of his prime and signed to a long-term contract under $6M per season, you're not giving up your third-pairing defensemen who you won't miss and can easily replace down the road.
Of course, Don Sweeney doesn't want to start a conversation with McAvoy or Carlo but if he truly wants Landeskog, he need only look at what Tim Murray gave up for Ryan O'Reilly in more uncertain contract circumstances and realize you have to take your potential lumps in a trade for a legit NHL forward. If the Bruins aren't interested in including McAvoy or Carlo, the Avalanche should simply hang up the phone and not revisit the conversation with them. That's THE starting point for Colorado and Boston.
If the Bruins need a decent defensive prospect in return, Colorado has a number of them to pick from and I'd honestly be fine with just about any of them being included. Bigras is the only one that would give me hesitation but I'm pretty open to seeing where things could go.
All in all, it's clear trading a star player in today's NHL is a very difficult and tricky proposition, especially with the expansion draft always looking large at the end of this season. The Avalanche may very well be best served simply riding out this lost season, taking a player at the top of the 2017 draft and allowing the talented prospects currently in the AHL to continue their development in the NHL next season.
If they do decide to move on from one of their franchise stalwarts, though, there are some solid deals to be put into place. Will the Avalanche take that plunge?
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