EDMONTON– Joe Sakic’s wheeling and dealing prior to the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline on March 21 has played a significant role in the Colorado Avalanche reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 21 years.
Just ask Nathan MacKinnon.
The Avalanche center was practically giddy after forward Artturi Lehkonen‘s overtime goal gave Colorado a 6-5 series-clinching victory at the Edmonton Oilers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final on Monday. Lehkonen was one of a handful of in-season acquisitions orchestrated by the Avalanche general manager that are paying dividends.
“That’s why you trade for a guy like that at the deadline,” MacKinnon said. “I’d trade 10 first-rounders for him right now. We’ll all be gone when those guys come into the League anyways.”
Video: COL@EDM, Gm4: Lehkonen sends Avalanche to cup final
For the record, the price for Lehkonen, who can become a restricted free agent July 13, wasn’t anywhere near as steep as MacKinnon was jokingly willing to cough up. Colorado smells defenseman prospect Justin Barron and a second-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft to the Montreal Canadiens for Lehkonen on March 21. The trade is proving to be a shrewd decision.
The 26-year-old, known for his solid two-way play, has shown a penchant for scoring key goals in big games. The 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs have proven to be no exception.
A year ago, Lehkonen’s overtime goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals against the Vegas Golden Knights propelled the Canadiens to their first appearance in the Cup Final since 1993. His goal on Monday has the Avalanche in the Final for the first time since 2001 .
“You look at any championship team, they have depth on all lines and they all have to chip in somewhat,” Sakic said prior to the Western Conference Final. “Your best players still have to be your best if you want a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup, that’s for sure, But you also need those [others] contributing and taking some of the pressure off of them.”
[RELATED: Complete Avalanche vs. Oilers series coverage]
Put Lehkonen at the top of that list.
After helping the Canadiens reach the final 11 months ago, he found himself part of a Montreal team at or near the bottom of the NHL standings for a significant chunk of the 2021-22 regular season. The move to Colorado has given him a new lease on his hockey life and he has taken full advantage, scoring six times in the postseason to tie center Nazem Kadri for third-most on the Avalanche behind MacKinnon (11) and forward Gabriel Landeskog (eight).
“It’s certainly been a little bit like a roller coaster,” said Lehkonen, who has 11 points (five assists) in Colorado’s 14-game march to the Final. “The chance to play for the Stanley Cup doesn’t come very often. You’ve got to make the most of it.
“This year is an opportunity for us. You’ve got to go out there and take it.”
He’s not the only acquisition doing just that.
Josh Manson has brought stability to the Colorado blue line and scored in overtime in Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round against the St. Louis Blues. Manson, who has six points (two goals, four assists) this postseason, was acquired March 14 in a trade with the the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman prospect Drew Helleson and a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.
Forward Andrew Cogliano, acquired March 21 in a trade with the San Jose Sharks for a fifth-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft, scored the game-winning goal in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round against the Nashville Predators and Game 1 against the Oilers. His availability for the Final is uncertain, however; he was seen leaving Rogers Place after Game 4 with his right hand heavily wrapped, and coach Jared Bednar said Tuesday there is no timetable for his return.
Video: EDM@COL, Gm1: Cogliano fires home a pass on the rush
Forward Nico Sturm was acquired March 15 in a trade with the Minnesota Wild for forward Tyson Jost. The lone point he has in seven playoff games this season was big; he assisted on the overtime goal by defenseman Hold Makar in a 2-1 victory against the Predators in Game 2 of the first round.
Lehkonen. Manson. Cogliano. Sturm. All in-season additions orchestrated by Sakic. All contributors to the Avalanche being four wins away from the Stanley Cup.
“We felt that we addressed the needs that needed to be addressed,” Sakic said. “You can never have enough depth.
“Everybody’s contributing. Some guys are in and out of the lineup, so we have competition here and you need every single player. If you’re going to go [through] two months of hockey, which ultimately is our goal, you need that depth.”