These were the nine crucial decisions that made Colorado Avalanche a juggernaut

DENVER — Colorado Avalanche You are not guaranteed to be a overnight success. Joe Sakic That is what she knows best.

He was Colorado's captain in 2001 when the team won the Stanley Cup. Sakic is now the architect behind the Avalanche’s return into a Final 21 years later. It opens Wednesday against Colorado. Tampa Bay Lightning (8 ET, ABC, and ESPN+).

After serving as an advisor since 2011, Sakic assumed the role of Colorado's executive vice-president of hockey operations in 2013. Although he has made the Avalanche a formidable team, it was not an easy task. It was a difficult journey that included losing seasons, coaching changes and heartbreaking loss. There were also debilitating disappointments along the way.

The Avalanche are just four wins away at that pinnacle.

In 2016-17, Colorado was the worst team in league. Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog His team wouldn't be able to reach the top of hockey's most prestigious stage. Colorado showed the talent and won the NHL's Presidents Trophy last season. However, they fell in the second round. They did the same as they did last year. The year before.

Sakic continued to tweak the recipe. Colorado came out of its second-round slump. Today, he sees the 2022 Avalanche. There are obvious parallels with the championship team he coached over twenty years ago.

“[We had] Sakic spoke of the importance of depth. “We had a lot star players, a depth lineup, guys that performed their role, who knew what their role was, and who accepted it.” Sakic said. This year's D Corps is my favorite since the beginning. [2001] D corps. There are many similarities. It's just how we play. We were focused after losing two Game 7 conference finals and knew that we needed to win the home-ice advantage. This group is similar to last year.”

Is Sakic able to find another champion? We'll soon discover. Here's a look at Colorado on its way to the Final. It was punctuated with many right decisions Sakic made along that journey.

These were the nine crucial decisions that made Colorado Avalanche a juggernaut

June 2013: Nate, the Great

General managers love to claim that each draft is deeply researched, at least publicly. The 2013 edition was actually quite deep.

Aleksander Barkov And Jonathan Drouin They were also available. So were Seth Jones, Darnell Nurse, Elias Lindholm And Sean Monahan. However, Colorado had only one No. 1 choice: Nathan MacKinnon.

Sakic chose to have the Halifax Mooseheads' center as his franchise-defining move over the rest.

MacKinnon, who was just 18 years old when he made his NHL debut, was the youngest Avalanche skater. Since then, he has been Colorado's most prolific player with 638 regular-season games and 242 goals. He also scored 648 points. In 64 playoff games, he scored another 39 goals and 87 point.

It didn't take a hockey genius to see that MacKinnon was special. Sakic is still credited with making the call and negotiating MacKinnon’s first big contract. This was extremely team-friendly.

In 2016, MacKinnon was made a restricted-free agent and Sakic signed him to an eight-year, $44.1million pact. This is $6.3 million per year for a player who scored 20+ goals in his first three NHL seasons, and won the Calder Trophy 2013-14 as the league’s top rookie. MacKinnon's future was clear. He was going to outgrow this contract quickly.

And MacKinnon did. MacKinnon is the league's fifth highest scorer, with 183 goals & 495 points in 42 games. Jeff Petry.

MacKinnon, who will become an unrestricted agent free after next season's, will be on the market for a raise. However, Colorado had the opportunity to add to its roster by signing its best player to a seven year deal at this price.

Sakic was a good man for the Avalanche by choosing a talent like MacKinnon, who will essentially be the face of the franchise. He also showed his skills as GM at negotiations.

August 2016: Replacing Roy

Sakic did not see it coming. It was mid-August 2016, and Sakic was the coach. Patrick Roy The abrupt resignation was sudden. He said he did not have enough power in personnel decisions and felt that his vision was not aligned with the management's. Sakic said that he wanted Roy to think more about the matter. Roy was happy to part ways.

Within a matter of days, Colorado was without a coach a month after training camp. Sakic had to make a quick decision.

Sakic appointed Jared Bednar as Roy's replacement two weeks later. Bednar hadn't been a head coach in the NHL. Bednar was unable to hire his own staff due to Roy's sudden departure. He didn't even know the Avalanche players. The system was not in place. It's no surprise that Colorado came in last during Bednar's 2016-17 campaign.

Sakic was confident in Bednar’s potential long-term. The Avalanche's performance in the 2017-18 season was 47 points better. They reached the playoffs, for the first time since 2004. Bednar also made it to the finals of the Jack Adams.

Colorado was back in the playoffs in 2018-19 when Bednar led it. This marked the first consecutive back-to back playoff draws for the organization since 2005-06.

Bednar could have been intimidated by the thought of taking over from Roy, a franchise legend. Sakic felt comfortable in Bednar’s manner to manage it. Sakic described a “connection” with Bednar right away and believed that Bednar was a Colorado resident. He did.

June 2017: Makar falls

Colorado was led to believe that the season's low point would be finishing last in 2016-17. It had 48 points. It wasn’t.

The Avalanche were subject to the 22-56-4 campaign, which saw them not only lose the NHL Draft lottery but also land in the worst pick position possible at No. 4.

You might be able to choose for the rest of your life. Miro Heiskanen Oder Nico Hischier Oder Nolan Patrick. Sakic & Co. would miss out on the real top-tier talent. Right?

Wrong. We can now say five years later that the Avs were indeed the fortunate ones.

Sakic made the No. 4: Cale MakarBrooks Bandits' defenseman in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, is. Sakic had changed Colorado's future.

Makar did not immediately join the Avalanche. He stuck by previous collegiate hockey commitments by playing two seasons at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and won the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA's top player in 2019.

Makar signed his NHL Entry-Level Deal in April 2019, and scored his NHL debut shot against the Edmonton Oilers. Calgary Flames.

Makar has proven to be a dominant force on Colorado’s blue line since he entered the league. Makar, 23, is an elite defender who has a dangerous offensive flair. He scored 48 goals and 180 points in just 178 games. This ranks fifth among NHL defensemen since 2019-20. He has a unique ability to create and excels at special teams and even strength.

Makar was a Norris Trophy finalists in 2021. He is currently the front-runner for that award. Without him, Colorado would be on the brink of winning the Stanley Cup.

Sakic's draft failure was the catalyst for one of his most crucial decisions.

November 2017: Moving forward from Matt

Matt Duchene Wanted out of Colorado Sakic worked slowly to make that happen. Duchene approached Sakic to request to trade Colorado as it was struggling through the 2016-17 abyss.

In 2009, Colorado drafted Duchene third overall. He was also one of their most productive forwards. Sakic, then 26 years old, had a high asking cost and would not budge.

November 2017 was the day that the trade went through. It was a deal between the three teams. Ottawa Senators And Nashville Predators: Duchene was invited to the Senators. Andrew Hammond, a first round pick in 2018 or 2019, and a third round pick in 2019, plus forward Shane Bowers. Kyle Turris I went from Ottawa, to Nashville, and the Predators shipped Samuel Girard, a 2018 second-round selection and forward Vladislav Kamenev to Colorado.

Let's just assume Sakic won that one.

Ottawa could have chosen either 2018 or 2019 as their first round pick. They chose the latter. They drafted Brady Tkachuk 7th overall in 2018, they also rolled the dice and gave their 2019 pick to the Avs.

Ottawa made a trade for its top defenseman right before the regular season began. Erik Karlsson San Jose Ouch.

In 2018-19, the Senators were bankrupt and finished 29-47-6. They decided not to resign Duchene, and they traded him to Columbus in advance of the deadline. Colorado was the fourth overall pick for 2019. Hello, Bowen Byram.

Sakic was a fan of Byram both before and after he was selected as the defender. Although Byram suffered some serious concussions early in his career, he is now 21 and will continue to contribute to Colorado's blue line for many years. Advantage: Sakic.

Then, there's Girard. The Avalanche suffered a major blow when Girard broke his sternum in Game 3 against St. Louis, which forced him to miss the rest of the Cup run. Girard was an integral part of getting Colorado to this stage. Since the trade, he has played in 335 games and scored 21 goals and totaled 141 points. He also averaged 20:34 of ice-time per game.

Sakic was also able to transform one of Colorado's second-round picks into Justus AnnunenWho could be the goaltender of tomorrow in the company?

July 2019: A unpopular choice

Ball Arena is often full Tyson Barrie Even if he isn't often on the ice, sweaters are a good choice.

Barrie was a loved member of the Avalanche. He was an offensive defenseman who led all Colorado blueliners with 75 goals, 307 points and 484 games. Barrie was the Avalanche’s power-play quarterback. He was a dynamic contributor and all around talent. Sakic called.

Barrie and he were traded on July 1, 2019 Alexander Kerfoot The Toronto Maple Leafs For Nazem Kadri And Calle Rosen. Barrie still had one year on his contract. Sakic knew Makar was coming to Colorado, which would have a dramatic impact on Colorado's defense. Kadri would be a second-line centre for the Avalanche and was signed through 2021-22 at an affordable $4.1 million per season.

It made a lot of business sense. The trade didn't immediately go well in Colorado.

Kadri was coming off a second postseason suspension, his third in as many years. He was also a Toronto center third-line who, despite his recent 30-goal seasons of success, wasn't exactly the best addition. He also had an unremarkable first season with the Avalanche (11 goals, 32 points in 56 games).

The 2020 playoffs were also announced. Kadri was again in trouble. For a head hit on St. Louis, he quickly got an eight-game ban Justin Faulk During Colorado's series opener. It could have been a moment of “I told You So” for Colorado fans. They didn't have Barrie to watch and instead watched Kadri struggle his way through yet another postseason.

It only takes one year to make a difference.

This season was a great one for Kadri, who scored a career-high 28 goals and 87 points in just 71 games. For the injured Avs, he has been a beacon for consistency. Kadri was having a fantastic playoff run too, scoring 14 points in 13 games before breaking his thumb in Game 3 in the Western Conference finals.

Kadri's loss and the outcry that followed only shows how far he has come. Although it may not have been a popular choice two years ago. Sakic seemed to realize that this was exactly what Colorado needed to achieve its long-term goals.

October 2020: Long Island hustle

Colorado was able to acquire one of its top-pairing defensemen, without having to give up a first round pick.

In this case, the GM traded at Devon Toews From the New York Islanders October 2020 to be eligible for the second round of 2021 or 2022 picks. Sakic made a smart move, taking advantage of the Islanders' salary cap constraints during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Toews, who was (and still is) a highly skilled defender, was an Islanders blue line staple. Toews was also scheduled to become a restricted-free agent. New York may not want to retain him. Sakic orchestrated this trade a week later, and Toews was signed to a $16.4 million four-year contract.

After an extremely sensible swap for the Avalanche, it was a fair deal. Toews was a great addition to Colorado's backend, playing with Makar for over 25 minutes per match and scoring 22 goals and 88 point in 119 games.

Toews, like Makar is versatile enough that he can contribute to both special teams units. He is a perfect complement to Makar’s more aggressive offensive side.

Toews' Cup Final run saw him surpass Makar in ice-time for the team (25.50 per game) as well as scoring 13 points in 14 matches. Although Toews doesn't get as much attention as Makar for his contributions, they are vital to the Avalanche.

July 2021: The (not so certain) return of Captain

It looked for a moment that Colorado might need a new captain last summer. But Sakic saved the day.

There was a window of opportunity for him to sign a free agent Landeskog, but only for a maximum of eight years. Or, he could be restricted to a seven year pact. Landeskog wanted full freight, but could negotiate a higher wage elsewhere if necessary.

Sakic signed Landeskog to an 8-year contract, worth $7 million annually, with only one hour left before the deadline. This was less than Landeskog could have received from a different team and Sakic had to pay the additional year to a 28-year-old skater. It was ultimately the best thing that Colorado could have done.

Landeskog wore the Avalanche's C for nine seasons. He was a strong, heartfelt guy who never gave up even when Colorado was in trouble. Landeskog was a great player this season, scoring 30 goals and 59 point in 51 games, while also dealing with injury.

He has had a brilliant postseason so far, with eight goals and 17 point in 14 games.

Colorado could have survived without Landeskog. However, it may not have been able to thrive to this extent. Sakic could see this potential. Sakic's negotiation skills and Landeskog’s loyalty are testament to Sakic’s ability to meet in the middle while keeping the Avalanche core intact.

July 2021: Securing a crease

The Avalanche was at a crossroads this summer. Sakic had a choice to make.

Colorado's incumbent starter Philipp Grubauer He was an unrestricted, free agent. Grubauer was coming off an excellent season. He was 30-9-1, with a.922 save rate and 1.95 goals against average. This made him a finalist to the Vezina Trophy. Grubauer was not signed by the Avalanche. The expansion offered him a $65.4 million, six-year deal. Seattle Kraken.

Sakic traded with them in the interim. Arizona Coyotes For Darcy Kuemper, in exchange for Conor Timmins, a 2022 second-round selection and a conditional in 2024 third-rounder.

The seamless transition from Grubauer and Kuemper was seamless. Kuemper began slow, but he quickly became one of the NHL’s most successful goaltenders. In 2021-22, Kuemper went 37-12-4 and had a.921SV%.

Grubauer was 18-31-5 in Seattle with a.889 SV%, and 3.16 GAA.

Although Seattle is better overall, Colorado is still a superior team. Kuemper was a major part of their success, and he has also been an integral part of the Cup run.

Sakic had good reasons not to join Grubauer. Kuemper found an excellent goaltender, who checked all boxes for the Avalanche in a crucial position. The tender who backed the Avs to three out of four wins in their sweep over the Oilers? Sakic was signed Pavel Francouz In February 2020, a four-year, $4 million deal was made.

March 2022: Adding Artturi

Sakic was a deep thinker at the trade deadline this year. Colorado needed some help in the beginning. Although not a household name, it was an influential one. Their GM was impressed. Artturi Lehkonen.

Colorado sent prospect Justin Barron Lehkonen will be a second round pick in 2024. The move was not a big one at the time. After this season, Lehkonen will become an unrestricted agent free of charge. The Avalanche aren't sure if he'll be interested in resigning. It doesn't matter much now. Lehkonen provides everything Colorado needs for the future.

Lehkonen currently has six goals and 11 point in 14 postseason games. He is the Avalanche's leader in postseason game-winning goals. His overtime score against Edmonton was the one that got Colorado to the Cup Final.

His defensive play has earned Lehkonen a reputation. He has also shown his versatility offensively in the playoffs. Lehkonen was named to the Avalanche power play for Game 4, after Kadri was injured. The team went 2-for-2. He is a spark plug and can jump in almost anywhere.

Sakic refers to the depth of his team when it comes down to Colorado's current success. Lehkonen's example is an excellent example of why it is so important. It will take stars to get past Tampa Bay and players like Lehkonen that can play with versatility on the ice. Lehkonen, regardless of whether or not he chooses to stay in Colorado after this run will play an important role in the Avalanche raising another banner.

They will, if they do, thanks to a series wise decisions made by the GM as well as his front-office staff.

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