Sakic’s run as general manager officially started in 2014, but he was named executive vice president of hockey operations back in May of 2013, and had final say on everything. Things got off to a rocky start, but he started to hit his stride around 2017, with MacFarland by his side.
With the anniversary coming up, and things being a little quiet right now, we felt it was a good time to take a look back at the moves Sakic made as general manager of the Avalanche, and pick out his best. Let me just say, limiting the list to just his five best trades was very difficult, because he made some fantastic moves. There will be a few honorable mentions, and then we’ll get right to it. A quick peek at the list shows just how high he set the bar for MacFarland to hit.
Honorable Mention – Two 3rd Round Picks and a 5th Round Pick for Goalie Alexandar Georgiev
A year ago, I wasn’t sure if this one would ever make the list, but Sakic’s final official trade as general manager was a smashing success in year one. He went out and found the Avalanche a starting goaltender for the next few years, and all it cost was some mid-round picks. Those picks typically have a low chance of hitting, so this was a big win for Colorado.
Honorable Mention – Defenseman Chris Bigras for Defenseman Ryan Graves
What looked to be a relatively inconsequential trade at the time turned out to pay some pretty big dividends for the Avalanche. Graves started in the AHL, but worked his way up to being a regular with Colorado for two seasons. He played so well that he found himself paired with Cale Makar often. Colorado eventually had to move Graves prior to the expansion draft in 2021, and were able to get some important cap space, as well as a second round pick. That second round pick turned into Sean Behrens.
#5 – Scott Kosmachuk, a 2020 2nd Round Pick, a 2020 3rd Round Pick For Winger Andre Burakovsky
The enigmatic Burakovsky fell out of favor in Washington, as his ice-time dropped year after year. Colorado took a chance, trusting their analytics department, and acquired him for two draft picks and a throw-in. It worked out in a big way.
Burakovsky was drafted in the first round for a reason, and it all came together in Colorado. Not only did he score some important goals for the Avalanche, but he did most of it at even-strength. He was a massive difference maker behind the likes of Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Rantanen, as his elite shot created goals seemingly out of thin air. In three seasons with Colorado, he scored 61 goals in 191 games, which averages out to around 26 goals a year. Health and the COVID shortened year never allowed him to hit that mark, but he was a weapon for Colorado. His biggest goal came in Game One of the Stanley Cup final, as he beat Andrei Vasilevsky in overtime to give the Avalanche the early series lead.
#4 – Justin Barron and a 2024 2nd Round Pick For Artturi Lehkonen
You have to give to get, and the Avalanche gave up their top defensive prospect (and a 2nd rounder) at the trade deadline last year for a player they felt fit perfectly in their lineup.
They were right.
Lehkonen dropped into the lineup and looked right at home from the start. By the time the playoffs rolled around, he was alternating between the first and the second line, and spending time on the top powerplay unit. He, of course, scored the series clinching goals in both the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final. And to top it all off, Sakic got him locked in for five more years at $4.5 million. The first year of the deal, Lehkonen showed he was worth it, and I don’t think that will change. A big win, and not your typical deadline deal, as the Avalanche knew they were acquiring someone who could be under team control for a while.
#3 – Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot, and a 2019 6th Round Pick For Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen, and a 2019 2nd Round Pick
The Avalanche were never going to win a Stanley Cup without a legitimate second line center, something they found out the hard way in 2022-23. And Sakic went out on a limb when he traded for Kadri, who was coming off another season ending suspension in the playoffs. It was especially risky because to get Kadri, he gave up Tyson Barrie, a very popular player in the Avalanche locker room. Everything worked out, though.
Kadri had a great first year with the team, an inconsistent second year (that ended in another playoff suspension), and the best year of his career in the final year of his contract. He returned from a thumb injury in the playoffs to score the game-winning goal of Game Four against Tampa Bay, proving that yes, this team was not going to win a Cup without a second line center.
Because of how good he was in his final year in Colorado, the Avalanche could not afford to re-sign Kadri, but the mission was accomplished. He helped bring a title to Colorado, which is why they went out and got him. Kadri will forever have a place in the hearts of Avalanche fans because of that run.
#2 – A 2021 2nd Round Pick and a 2022 2nd Round Pick For Devon Toews
Two second round picks to acquire a player that has been arguably a top 10 defenseman in the league the past three seasons. Not only that, but immediately after the trade, they locked Toews up on a ridiculously good contract, a contract that helped them build an even better team. Toews has been a perfect fit next to Cale Makar, forming arguably the best defensive pair in the league. A great example of the pro scouting staff identifying a player that they think fits how the team wants to play, and it working out to perfection.
#1 – Matt Duchene For Andrew Hammond, Shane Bowers, a 2019 1st Rounder (Bowen Byram), a 2019 3rd Round Pick (Matt Steinburg), Vladislav Kamenev, Samuel Girard, and a 2018 2nd Round Pick
What else could it be? This trade reshaped the Avalanche franchise as we know it. Duchene wanted out, and everyone knew it, but Sakic was patient and waited for the right deal. It’s safe to say he made the right call.
Sam Girard immediately came in and made an impact as a teenager on the Avalanche defense. His addition really was the start of the organization rebuilding their blueline around puck movement and skating. Sure, Kamenev didn’t pan out, and neither did Shane Bowers, but Bowen Byram has. While he’s obviously had trouble staying on the ice consistently, he’s been real good when in the lineup, and was massive during the Cup run. In one move, Sakic got rid of a guy who couldn’t wait to leave town, and rebuilt the defense.
Duchene’s absence also made Nathan MacKinnon “the guy” up front. As soon as Duchene was traded, MacKinnon took off, and has never looked back. It’s easily the best trade Sakic ever made, and it’s made even better by the fact that he took a lot of heat for holding on to Duchene as long as he did.
Sometimes, patience pays off.