DENVER — Deep down, this is precisely the sort of depth Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic always pictured.
Two goaltenders to back up one of the best in the league. Three balanced lines to complement a top one that's anchored by Nathan MacKinnon. A blue line filled with the perfect mix of young and veteran defencemen .
Only one thing may stop the Avalanche going forward: the salary cap.
Not this season, of course, but next. That's why Sakic chose to make a strong push at the trade deadline with several deals to bolster his NHL-leading team.
“This is as deep of team as we’re going to have here,” Sakic said. “We’re going to have to get cheaper starting next year at some of those positions.”
That's due to looming contract decisions with three big pieces of the team: goaltender Philipp Grubauer and captain Gabriel Landeskog, who are both free agents after this season, along with defenceman Cale Makar, a restricted free agent.
At the moment, Sakic is locked in on the playoffs, not contract talks. The last Avalanche team to hoist the Cup was the 2000-01 version that included a forward named Sakic.
“Everybody is focused on trying to win a Stanley Cup here,” Sakic said. “We’ll get to all those guys when we get to them. I don’t really have any information on that. I think we’re just focused on hockey right now.”
In order to boost his team, Sakic surrendered some draft picks and young players in trade swaps. Because as they've learned through past experiences with injuries, there's no such thing as too much depth.
To acquire veteran defenceman Patrik Nemeth from Detroit, Sakic sent a 2022 fourth-round pick to the Red Wings.
To pick up backup goaltender Devan Dubnyk from San Jose, Sakic included a 2021 fifth-round pick in addition to defenceman Greg Pateryn.
And to get veteran forward Carl Soderberg from Chicago, Sakic packaged a pair of young forwards in Ryder Rolston and Josh Dickinson.
“We’ve got a lot of prospects we feel,” Sakic said. “We feel this is the right time to do that.”
One thing Sakic didn't want to do was disrupt team chemistry. So he picked up Nemeth and Soderberg, who both have been around the organization.
Nemeth was actually one of Makar's first defensive partners. The 29-year-old Nemeth spent two seasons in Colorado from 2017-19. Nemeth is also an insurance policy for Erik Johnson, who won't return for the regular season due to an undisclosed injury but could possibly be available if the Avs make a deep playoff run.
Soderberg was with the Avalanche from 2015-19, collecting 57 goals and 94 assists.
Both know the Avalanche way — and style.
“I know how excited they are to come back," Sakic said. "Our dressing room is excited, the guys are excited to have them back. They both fill the needs that we wanted to get accomplished.”
Colorado won’t have goaltender Pavel Francouz this season after he had an undisclosed surgery. That led Sakic to acquire Jonas Johansson from Buffalo — for a sixth-round selection — and later Dubnyk. The Avalanche ran into key injuries at goalie during the post-season last year.
Grubauer has been on his game this season. His 25 wins entered the day tied for most in the league. He also had a stretch from March 10 to April 5 where he went 12-0-1, which was a franchise record for consecutive games with a point.
The 29-year-old Grubauer was sharp in a 4-2 win over Arizona on Monday with 35 saves. This after getting a two-game break to recharge.
“He looked rested,” forward Mikko Rantanen said. “He looked sharp. It was fun to watch.”
The same can be said of Colorado's four stacked lines, which are led by the top group of Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen. They've combined for 58 goals and 85 assists.
“We believe in the players we have,” Sakic said. "Their expectations are to win and our one goal is to win the Stanley Cup. I know we’re not the only team with that same goal. A lot of quality teams here, and a lot of teams think they’re in a good position to make a run at this thing. We’re the same.”
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Pat Graham, The Associated Press