Reassessing The NHL Trade Deadline Moves From The Avalanche
Back in March, we went ahead and graded the moves the Colorado Avalanche made at the NHL Trade Deadline.
Well, a few months have passed, and so has the season for the Avalanche. Knowing what we know now, do the trades look better or worse than we originally thought? Coming off a Stanley Cup championship, I think the Avalanche still expected to be playing today. They aren’t, and that’s partly because some of these guys didn’t produce when they really needed it. We could take a look at the moves the Avalanche DIDN’T make, but we don’t know what was on the table, so it’s all hypothetical.
Instead, we’ll focus on the trades they did make, and how they look today.
Avalanche Acquire F Denis Malgin for F Dryden Hunt
Deadline Grade: B
Right after the trade deadline, Malgin caught fire. With endless injuries and a lot of players struggling in the Avalanche lineup to produce, Malgin saw his ice-time rise. And he saw that ice-time rise because he was scoring. Immediately following the deadline, he had a 7 point in 9 game stretch. That same stretch saw him briefly get promoted to the top line, as the Avalanche lost Artturi Lehkonen to injury.
Malgin finished the season with 8 goals after the deadline. That’s significant because of how little the Avalanche were getting from the rest of their lineup.
In the playoffs, Malgin really fell off, to the point where Jared Bednar really didn’t give him a ton of ice-time. However, when you consider what the Avalanche gave up to get Malgin, this is a big win. Malgin is a restricted free agent, so if the Avalanche choose to, they can bring him back. He was making league minimum and will get a raise, but Colorado will be in need of cheaper talent like this next season.
Trade Grade Today: B+
Avalanche Acquire F Matt Nieto and D Ryan Merkley for D Jacob MacDonald and F Martin Kaut
Deadline Grade: A
The Avalanche really didn’t have much use for MacDonald or Kaut down the stretch. Kaut actually went to the Sharks and had a decent run, but still spent a fair amount of time in the AHL. That doesn’t matter from Colorado’s point of view, because they were done with him.
I have tape ready to go on Ryan Merkley for a future film room, and it’s very up and down. “Frustrating” is the word I would use to describe him. He has talent, but you’re left wanting a lot more. Down the stretch and in the playoffs, he was a healthy scratch for the Eagles. Sam Malinski signed with Colorado and immediately took his job. It may be a question whether or not Markley gets a qualifying offer from the Avalanche. Still, Colorado was done with Kaut and MacDonald, so his play doesn’t change the grade too much.
What does change the grade is Matt Nieto’s play. His play seemed to get worse as the season went on. The coaching staff got someone that they trust to play a little bit more than Kaut, but Nieto really didn’t give the Avalanche much down the stretch. He scored just one goal in the final 26 regular season games, and didn’t score in the playoffs. Even on the penalty kill, an area where he should be trusted, he struggled a bit. While the staff trusted him more than they did Kaut, it wasn’t that big of a difference. In three of the seven playoff games, he didn’t even hit 10 minutes of ice-time.
I still don’t have a huge issue with the trade, because Colorado gave up nothing of real value, but Nieto’s play was disappointing. I don’t see any reason why they would need to bring him back.
Trade Grade Today: C
Colorado acquires D Jack Johnson for D Andreas Englund
Deadline Grade: C
Jack Johnson came in and provided exactly what the Avalanche hoped he would. He was steady, physical, and ate up ice-time that they didn’t trust some of their other depth defensemen with. Unfortunately, he hurt his leg in the final game of the regular season and wasn’t available until the end of the series against Seattle. By then, he wasn’t 100%.
Englund, on the other hand, got injured pretty quickly with the Blackhawks and never really hit his stride. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it’ll be interesting to see if he hits the market. Teams might covet a big, stay-at-home defenseman who is still in his 20’s, or they might think he’s someone who was propped up by Colorado’s system.
This grade gets bumped up a bit because Johnson was better than I anticipated. It didn’t solve the bigger issue, which was Colorado’s need for another depth defenseman, but Johnson did his job. If he decides to continue his career, I could see the Avalanche bringing him back, but they can’t bring back both of the elder Johnson’s.
Trade Grade Today: C+
Colorado acquires C Lars Eller for a 2025 Second Round Pick
Deadline Grade: C
Eller came in and did exactly what I expected him to do, so I can’t really change my grade. He was strong in the face-off circle (dominant in the playoffs), heavy defensively, and good on the cycle. He also brought very little offensively, which is what I expected. In 31 total games with the Avalanche, he picked up just 7 points. None of those came in the playoffs. The team had hoped to get a third line center, but Eller is a heck of a lot closer to a fourth line player at this point in his career. The unfortunate part is that he finished the playoffs centering the second line for Colorado. That gives you an idea of how little they were getting from their depth in the postseason.
I would have no issue bringing Eller back as a fourth line center, but he’d have to be paid like one. In free agency, players tend to get overpaid, so I don’t expect that to be the case. I just don’t believe they can sign him and expect him to be a third line center, unless they really go out and make a big improvement at the second line center position.
Trade Grade Today: C
Overall, not the best deadline moves. The three veterans provided some value that doesn’t show up on the scoresheet, but nothing that really moved the needle that much. With Malgin, they have a potentially intriguing player for next season, but the rest are unrestricted free agents. It’s entirely possible none of them are back. The real kicker is that the Avalanche got zero production at all from any of their trade pickups in the postseason.
The silver lining to it all is that the Avalanche didn’t give up much value on their end. That’s why the moves they made aren’t exactly going to set the franchise back. The 2025 second round pick stings a little bit, but it’s also a pick years away from making any sort of potential impact. We’ll see if any of the assets they held onto in March will be used this summer to improve the team.