The Colorado Avalanche made major moves on the first day of NHL Free Agency, and its 2019-20 roster is a little more balanced then when the frenzy began.
Colorado began Monday's proceedings by signing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Joonas Donskoi, forwards that will provide key depth in the lineup as the Avs aim to build a squad that is tough to play against in all three zones. The Avalanche also re-upped two-way forward Colin Wilson, who, like Bellemare and Donskoi, was also an unrestricted free agent but ultimately decided to return to the squad that he spent the past two seasons with.
"We decided to add as much depth as we could to our group," said Colorado executive vice president/general manager Joe Sakic in an early afternoon conference call. "We like the depth that we have right now. Now we are at a next phase where we sit back and maybe there's a trade we could do or explore."
The biggest transaction of the day for Sakic was indeed in the form of a trade and came just before 5 p.m. MT. The Avalanche sent defenseman Tyson Barrie, forward Alexander Kerfoot and a sixth-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for forward Nazem Kadri, defenseman Calle Rosen and a third-round selection in the 2020 draft.
Kadri, 28, has played for the Maple Leafs for the past nine season and has proved to be a key contributor at the both ends of the ice. He has scored at least 30 goals twice in the past three seasons and plays with an edge in his game.
"He will be great in the locker room, he's a great person," said Sakic on Monday evening of the London, Ontario, native. "Teammates really like him, and he's a fierce competitor. Sometimes he gets in trouble with that, but if there's one thing he does, he competes. He wants to win, he battles and will do anything for the team. With him and the way he plays, we feel we've added a lot of grittiness to our team as well."
Sakic envisions Kadri playing a second-line center role alongside third-year forward Tyson Jost or possibly skate on the wing while Jost pivots the unit. Both players could play in either spot, according to Sakic.
Rosen will add more defensive depth at the NHL and American Hockey League levels after he finished tied for seventh in scoring by an AHL defenseman last season. He produced 46 points (seven goals and 39 assists) in 54 games for the Toronto Marlies.
Bolstering secondary scoring has been an emphasis of Sakic's over the past several years, and the addition of Kadri and the continued growth of Jost and J.T. Compher should solidify that need for the 2019-20 campaign. The Avalanche also traded for Andre Burakovsky on Friday, a move that is designed to allow the 24-year-old to take the next step in his development by getting more opportunity in Colorado.
"By making this trade, we added a lot of depth to our forward group to match up with the other forward groups around the league," Sakic said of the Kadri and Rosen acquisition.
Departing from Barrie and Kerfoot was tough for Sakic, but his team's present trajectory and current personnel on the backend helped him pull the trigger on the deal.
Kerfoot recorded at least 42 points in each of his first two NHL seasons since signing with the Avs as a college free agent on Aug. 24, 2017, totaling 85 points (34 goals, 51 assists) in 157 games.
Barrie had been with the Avs organization since being selected in the third round (No. 64 overall) in the 2009 NHL Draft and had put his name in the franchise's record books in the 484 games he played with Colorado. This past season, he set new scoring records for goals (75), assists (232) and points (307) in a career by an Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques defensemen.
The offensive rear guard recorded at least 50 points in a season three times in his tenure with the Avs, including in each of the past two years.
"He is a great person, and we are going to miss him," Sakic said of the longtime Avalanche defender. "But with what we've got coming, we feel we really needed to expand our forward group. We really wanted to get that second-line center. We didn't think that financially it was going to work down the line. Down the line if anybody is trying to sign Tyson to an [extension], it's going to cost a lot of money. We felt that it was one of those trades for both teams, they were looking for a right-handed defenseman and we were looking for the second-line center. That's where this deal made sense for both teams."
Helping ease the loss of Barrie's offensive production is the fact that Colorado has young, puck-moving blueliners already in its lineup in Samuel Girard and Cale Makar. Girard, 21, has recorded 20-plus points in his first two NHL seasons, and the 20-year-old Makar registered six points (one goal, five assists) in 10 postseason contests after joining the Avalanche for its run in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Girard and Makar help make up a defensives corps that also includes Ian Cole, Erik Johnson, Mark Barberio, Ryan Graves, Nikita Zadorov and Kevin Connauton--who the Avs acquired in a trade last Tuesday with the Arizona Coyotes. That group also doesn't include Rosen or the possibility of adding "new-age defenseman" Bowen Byram, who Colorado picked at No. 4 overall in the 2019 draft but still has junior eligibility, or Conor Timmins, who is looking to play his first pro season in 2019-20 after missing all of last year while recovering from post-concussion symptoms.
Despite Cole and Johnson both recovering from offseason surgery--Johnson could be back for the start of the season while Cole will likely be out until December--the Avs' depth at defense is likely the best it's been in recent years.
"We think we will be ok with that, with Makar taking more minutes. Tyson Barrie is a great player, so for the committee point of view, we expect Girard to help out with power plays and add some points there," said Sakic. "That's the one thing we were looking for in the offseason, more depth and scoring up front. We believe we accomplished that."
Adding Kadri might have been the biggest puzzle piece to the Avs' free agent frenzy, but the earlier signings will also play pivotal roles in the team's quest to get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a third straight year and ultimately have the chance to win the silver chalice next June.
Bellemare will likely play a bottom-six role and will be counted on to help gain possession and defend during the penalty kill. He has appeared in 385 career NHL games and won 54.7 percent of the 720 faceoffs he took in 2018-19 for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Wilson is a familiar face for the Avs and will provide reliable two-way play. He scored eight points (four goals, four assists) in the 2018 playoffs and has been tasked with tough defensive assignments at even strength and on special teams during his time in burgundy and blue.
Donskoi has likely been a player the Avalanche has been courting all week, and it's not just because the former San Jose Shark scored the game-winning goal against Colorado in Game 7 of the clubs' second-round playoff series in May.
The Finland native has decent size at 6-foot and 190 pounds, 50 games of playoff experience the past four seasons and set career highs in games played (80), points (37), goals (14-tied), game-winning goals (four) and plus/minus rating (10-tied) last year.
"He's a 200-foot player that you can put in different spots in your lineup," Sakic said of Donskoi. "He competes, and coaches are going to love the type of game he is going to bring. We feel, with that group and trying to add more depth to our lineup and improve our fourth line, that that should help."
Each of the four transactions on Monday, and the ones in the past week as well, were far from easy to make but were necessary to shore up the Avalanche's roster and compliment the trio of Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon. The team is now more well-rounded because of it, with each forward line and defensive pairing being a tough matchup for the opposition next year.
"We really added depth to our forward group here in the last few days," Sakic said. "We are happy and think this group of forwards can compete with any group of forwards in the league. Obviously, for us, we know we had the best line in the league. Now we are adding scoring depth to that group. The coaches have a lot of options to mix and match with line combinations."