All eyes were on the Colorado Avalanche. They figured to be the most interesting player before the NHL Trade Deadline, with major pieces to deal and a general manager willing to deal them. But, by the end of what turned out to be a particularly subdued deadline day, the Avalanche were just as quiet, keeping forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, while shipping out only forwards Jarome Iginla (to the Los Angeles Kings) and Andreas Martinsen (to the Montreal Canadiens).
"I don't have to make any major moves," general manager Joe Sakic said on a conference call Wednesday. "That's the big thing. I like my players. If you're looking for anything big, I've always stated that if there's something that's going to help our organization long term, that's something we'll look to do."
Speculation had run rampant about Duchene and Landeskog for weeks, enabling teams and general managers and fans to dream on them, imagining just how much better things would be with such dynamic players added. But there was apparently nothing out there that Sakic believed would help the Avalanche enough to move his two prized players.
Duchene and Landeskog, too, had been prepared for anything, knowing that their futures were on hold until the 3 p.m. ET deadline passed. It passed, and each was right where he had said in recent days he wanted to be: still in Colorado.
"It's been weird," Landeskog said in Ottawa, where the Avalanche practiced Wednesday. "Basically everybody's name in this room has been tossed around in one rumor or the other."
Video: TBL@COL: Duchene ties the game late with pinball goal
So is there a sense of relief?
"I think so," he said. "I want to be here. I want to remain an Avalanche for a long time, so I'm happy to be here on this day and for 3 o'clock to be over with. Now we can just focus on trying to be better as a team and preparing for next year."
Still, it was a strange day. Iginla was missing from the bus to practice. And while the Avalanche were playing soccer, waiting for practice to begin, Martinsen got a phone call and then he, too, was missing, traded for forward Sven Andrighetto.
"I'm glad it's over," said Duchene, who said he had heard in the past couple of days that a deal might not happen for him. "It's nice to just be able to move on. I'm not sure what will happen this summer, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
"I tried to just approach it one day at a time. I owe it to this team to be present every day, mind and body. That's what I tried to do. There were times, days off, where you're at home, sitting around, you see a tweet or something on the TV and your mind wanders maybe a little bit. But as soon as I come to the rink and I'm around the guys, I love being around my teammates here."
Video: BUF@COL: Landeskog pots deflection to open scoring
Though Sakic said he had conversations with other general managers, he was not willing to supply details about talks regarding either player, nor about how close he had come to making a trade.
At this point in the season, Colorado is not playing for now, given that it has the fewest points in the NHL by far, with 37 in 61 games. The next closest team is the Arizona Coyotes, with 51 in 62 games. The Avalanche are, instead, playing and building for the future. So far, Duchene and Landeskog are still part of that future, or at least part of the present.
Because, for the Avalanche, the future is still a bit of an unknown.
Both Duchene and Landeskog would have been options for teams looking for players with term at the deadline, and could still be options for teams looking to make trades this summer, after the expansion draft. According to CapFriendly.com, Landeskog, the Avalanche captain, is signed for four more seasons with a salary-cap charge of $5,571,429 per season, and Duchene is signed for two more seasons with a salary-cap charge of $6 million per season.
So Sakic, who was seemingly willing to listen on any of his players, continues to want to improve the Avalanche after a lost season in 2016-2017. And though that didn't involve major moves at the trade deadline, there's still a long summer ahead.
"We're going to do what's best for our organization long term," Sakic said, "We want to get younger. That's what we're looking to do this offseason. We've freed up some cap space and we're going to try and keep getting young, younger and faster. That's what we're going to do."