Two years ago the perception of the Colorado Avalanche was very, very, very different than it is today.
At the start of the 2017-18 season they had missed the playoffs three years in a row and six of the past seven, while one of their best returning players, Matt Duchene, wanted out.
It was a wish that the Avalanche management eventually granted him early in the season.
It has turned out to be one of the franchise-altering moments over the past two years that has seen the Avalanche become one of the best young teams in the league, one that looks to be on the verge of becoming a fearsome Stanley Cup contender.
Nothing has played a bigger role in that rapid improvement Nathan MacKinnon turning into a top-5 player in the league and Mikko Rantanen becoming a star right alongside him. But do not overlook the importance of the Duchene trade given how much value they were able to squeeze out of that deal.
Just for a refresher on how it looked at the time, it was a three-team trade that saw Duchene to go to the Ottawa Senators, Kyle Turris go to the Nashville Predators from the Senators, and a collection of young players and draft picks from both teams going to the Avalanche.
That return for the Avalanche included.
Samuel Girard, at the time a 19-year-old defender and a top prospect in the Predators’ organization
Shane Bowers, the Ottawa Senators’ first-round pick (No. 28 overall) in the 2017 NHL draft
Vladislav Kamenev, at the time a 20-year-old forward and No. 42 overall pick from 2014
Goalie Andrew Hammond
Two draft picks that turned out to be Ottawa’s first-round pick (No. 4 overall) in 2019 and Ottawa’s third-round pick in 2019
With the 2019 NHL draft having taken place this weekend, the return on that trade continued to grow as the Avalanche used both selections on Friday and Saturday.
They used the first-round pick to select defender Bowen Byram from the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, and the third-round pick (the first pick in that round) to select center Matthew Stienburg.
The number of young, premium assets alone makes it an incredible haul for an excellent, but not quite great, player that clearly wanted out of Colorado.
It is also a return that should have a substantial impact on the future of the Avalanche blue line for the next decade.
First you have Girard, who just turned 21 back in May, that took a pretty big leap forward this past season for the Avalanche, playing close to 20 minutes per night and demonstrating some of the offensive flare that made him such a key piece of the trade. When the playoffs rolled around the Avalanche had no reservations about throwing him on the ice with Cale Makar, another of their top prospects and the Avalanche’s own No. 4 overall pick in 2018. When that duo was on the ice together they looked like they had the potential to take over games.
Because the Senators immediately went in the tank after acquiring Duchene and eventually began a two-year fire sale, the Avalanche were in a position to pick Byram at the top of the 2019 draft and add yet another dynamic, offensive blue-liner to their roster.
Between him, Makar, and Girard the Avalanche will have three potential (potential being the key word) top-pairing defenders in their organization that are all age 21 or younger.
This also plays a role in allowing the Avalanche to have more salary cap flexibility than almost any other team in the league, and especially among potential Stanley Cup contenders. When combined with the fact that MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog are playing on long-term contracts that are laughably below market value, getting three talented defenders on entry-level contracts is a huge advantage for them.
This is an admittedly rosy outlook that assumes everything works out exactly as planned. It does not always work out the way when talking about 18 or 19 year old players. But based on what we have seen from Girard and Makar in their brief samplings, and the potential that Byram brings to the organization, there is every reason to believe the Avalanche have the chance to build a dangerous blue line over the next decade. They have the Duchene trade to thank for two of those three key pieces.
It is, at this point, abundantly clear that the Avalanche worked this situation as perfectly as they could have and no doubt came out ahead among the three teams in that trade.
The Senators did not even get two full seasons out of Duchene before trading him for less than they gave up to get him.
Turris has been a massive disappointment so far in Nashville and carries a substantial contract over the next few seasons.
The Avalanche, meanwhile, have several young, talented assets that could be the foundation of a powerhouse team in the NHL, especially with the salary cap space they still have to use this summer and in future seasons.
It is usually difficult to get fair value in a trade of that magnitude, and often times when you give up what is, at the time, the best player in the trade you often times come out on the losing end of it. The theory in these situations is that the trading team can get a kings ransom of players and picks that will one day re-shape the look of the franchise. It almost never works out that way.
The Avalanche made it work.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.
Winners and losers of the 2019 NHL Draft
VANCOUVER — The 2019 NHL Draft is complete. Jack Hughes went first and Jeremy Michel was chosen with the 217th and final pick. A quiet first day was followed by a loud second day that saw a handful of big trades and a number of teams swapping draft picks.
A lot happened, so let’s take a look at some winners and losers from draft weekend.
WINNER: USA Hockey
There were 59 Americans were selected in Vancouver this weekend, led by Hughes, who went first overall to the New Jersey Devils. Hughes is the eighth American to be chosen with the first pick and only the second since 2007. For the first time in draft history, seven of the first 15 picks were from the U.S., with a record eight coming directly from the United States National Team Development Program. (Hughes, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, Matthew Boldy, Spencer Knight, Cameron York, Cole Caufield, who makes the Canadiens a winner, and John Beecher.)
LOSER: Ontario Hockey League
For the first time in 33 years no players from the OHL went in the top 10 picks. They ended up with 25 players going in the seven rounds, down from 35 a year ago.
WINNER: Colorado Avalanche
A team that is on the rise had two first-round picks and are positioning themselves as big players over the next few seasons. Thanks to the Senators, the Avalanche had the No. 4 pick and used that on defenseman Bowen Byram. With Cale Makar and Sam Girard excelling already, Byram, a quality puck mover, will only strengthen the blue line.
At No. 16 they picked center Alex Newhook, who became the sixth Newfoundland native to be a first-round selection.
WINNER: Yukon hockey
Yukon-born Dylan Cozens became the first player selected in the first round when was picked by the Buffalo Sabres seventh overall. He’s the third Whitehorse native to be drafted following Peter Sturgeon (1974, Boston) and Bobby House (1991, Chicago).
LOSER: Day 1 trades
Usually the lead up to the draft and then Round 1 gives us some interesting trades. This year? Nope. There was no fun to be had Friday night as teams continued discussing moves, but there was no player moves consummated.
WINNER: Day 2 trades
Before Round 2 even began we had news that Patrick Marleau and P.K. Subban had been traded, along with the initial details of J.T. Miller being sent to the Canucks. There was talk of there being a ton of chatter among general managers this week compared to previous off-season. Maybe now that we know the salary cap range for next season the deals will continue into the week leading into free agency?
LOSER: The J.T. Miller price
The Canucks were part of that active Saturday morning adding Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning for a conditional 2020 or 2021 first-round pick, a 2019 third-round selection, and goaltender Marek Mazanec. The versatile 26-year-old forward still has four years left on his deal that carries a $5.25M cap hit. Tampa gets cap relief while the Canucks gets a top-six forward coming off a year where he shot four percent. GM Jim Benning gave up a bit of the future — a potential lottery pick — in an attempt to fix problems now.
WINNER: Walk-up songs
The 31 first round draft picks were able to choose their own walk-up song this year as they made their way to the stage at Rogers Arena. Sadly, Arthur Kaliyev went early in Round 2, robbing us of hearing “Old Town Road.”
While countries like the U.S. (57) and Finland (22) saw increases in the number of players drafted from last year, Slovakia saw a drop from five in 2018 to one in 2019. Meanwhile, Belarus had three players drafted this year, tying the record from 2004.
WINNER: The Foote family
Two year after the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Cal Foote with the 14th pick in 2017, Julien BriseBois added another member of the Foote family to the franchise by choosing Nolan 27th overall. The Footes are now the fourth set of brothers to be drafted by the same team, joining Dave and Mark Hunter (Montreal), Daniel and Henrik Sedin (Vancouver), and Duane and Brent Sutter (New York Islanders).
WINNER: Ray Shero
In the span of about 16 hours, the New Jersey Devils Jack Hughes first overall and then acquired Subban. He had the salary cap space to work with and took full advantage of it, knowing some teams may have shied away until they learned what the 2019-20 cap range would look like..
So if you’re keeping track, Shero has acquired Subban and Taylor Hall — how will this affect his extension talks? — for a package of Adam Larsson, Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, and two second-round picks. Pretty, pretty good.
LOSER: The return for Subban
While moving Subban’s contract and not retaining any salary in the deal will help in his pursuit of an impact forward (Matt Duchene, hello!) this summer, the return for the defenseman was underwhelming.
“We had to make a business decision,” Poile said in a statement. “With an aim at strengthening our forward corps this offseason, and the continued strength of our defensive group, we felt it was necessary to clear up salary cap space this way.”
It was a straight salary dump and now freeing up the cap space ups the pressure to land a big fish in free agency, especially if Duchene is the No. 1 target.
WINNER: Devils-Rangers rivalry
P.K. Subban. Jacob Trouba (if he signs!). Jack Hughes. Kaapo Kakko. There was an injection of juice into the Metropolitan Division rivalry this weekend. Both teams are in the midst of changing their futures, and the additions on draft weekend will certainly go a long way to doing that. Add in the New York Islanders to the mix and the Metropolitan Division and hockey in the New York metropolitan area just got more interesting.