It seems like just yesterday that the hockey world was calling for Joe Sakic’s head.
After months of trade rumors and drama, Sakic traded former third overall pick Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators in a three-team trade on Nov. 5, 2017. The deal had plenty of moving parts, but it seemed as a noble venture for all three teams involved.
Colorado was on the brink of a rebuild following a historically poor record. At the end of the 2016-17 season, the Avalanche had only 22 wins and 48 points.
The two other teams in the trade, Ottawa and Nashville, received multiple pieces in return as well. Nashville’s big piece was Kyle Turris, and Ottawa of course got Duchene. Ottawa, however, had to sacrifice plenty to get Duchene. On top of Turris, Ottawa also moved Shane Bowers, the 28th overall pick in 2018, and a first round draft pick in either 2018 or 2019.
Trading Duchene was a huge part in Sakic’s plan to revitalize the Avalanche. He was able to re-tool his entire roster in basically one move, and he and his club are still reaping the benefits.
Ottawa elected to keep its 2018 first round draft pick and selected Brady Tkachuk at fourth overall. Following a near Stanley Cup Final run in 2016, the Senators clearly thought that they could rebound and become a competitive team once again.
Since then, though, general manager Pierre Dorion has dealt a number of his star players. Erik Karlsson was dealt to San Jose for a lackluster package. Mike Hoffman was sent to San Jose as well, but was ultimately flipped to Florida. Mark Stone is still with the team, but he signed a one-year deal in the offseason that will leave him as an unrestricted free agent on this upcoming July 1.
The Senators have not started off the 2018-19 season too badly, going 4-3-1 with an even goal differential. It is easy to speculate on how long that will last, though. The team is simply not set up for long-term success.
As for Joe Sakic and the Avalanche, they can only hope that the Senators continue the free-fall. The 2019 NHL Draft is loaded with talent, most notably United States center Jack Hughes. Even if Ottawa’s pick slips, Colorado could still wind up with a dynamic talent such as Kaapo Kakko or Kirby Dach.
It would be hard for the Senators to recover from such a blow. It would set the franchise’s rebuild back by multiple years.
As for Colorado, the team, much like off-ice, is equally thriving on the ice.
The trio of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen has quietly turned into one of the best in the league. After a few sub-par seasons, MacKinnon has rifled back into the “Elite” category of the league. Last season, he put up 97 points and was a finalist for the Hart Trophy. So far in 2018-19, he has 15 points in nine games.
Captain Gabriel Landeskog has also found success thus far. In nine games, he has eight goals and 12 points. He was able to bring his team back from the depths of the NHL to the playoffs in just one year.
The most curious part of that line is Mikko Rantanen. The 10th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft put up 84 points last season and is on pace for 145 this season. Rantanen’s campaign last season may have been one of the underappreciated of all time for a 21-year-old.
The average line of the line is 23.3. The trio still has its prime ahead of it, which is a scary thought for the Central Division and the rest of the NHL.
On top of that dominant, young core, the Avalanche were able to add goaltender Philipp Grubauer out of Washington for cheap this offseason. He appears to be a formidable long-term option after Semyon Varlamov departs, as Grubauer has put up a .925 save-percentage in three games this season.
The team is lead by third-year head coach Jared Bednar. After Patrick Roy departed mere weeks before the 2016-17 season, Bendar received a bad reputation, but it was largely in part due to not having time to implement his system.
With Bednar at the helm and a young core in place, with more to come from the Ottawa pick, the Avalanche are set to reach historic heights this season. Making the playoffs and coming away with a lottery win in April would be a historic victory for the organization.
After all the drama from two years ago, Colorado looks to be in as good of hands as ever. The team still has a lot of work to do to surpass the Predators and Jets in the division, but it is certainly on the right track.