How the Western Conference champion Avalanche were built

Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images / Denver Post / Getty

Now that the Colorado Avalanche have overcome their string of early exits and reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since winning it in 2001, it's worth examining how they put this team together.

Colorado's rise truly began when the club promoted Joe Sakic to executive vice president of hockey operations in May 2013. The move gave the legendary former Avalanche forward final say on all hockey personnel decisions over then-general manager Greg Sherman, who Colorado demoted to assistant GM while adding GM to Sakic's responsibilities in September 2014.

Here's how Sakic and the Avalanche assembled the deep squad that finally broke through after four years of disappointment.

Note: This is based on Colorado's roster during the Western Conference Final unless otherwise indicated

Method Players
Homegrown 6
Trade 12
Free agency 5
Waivers 1

Homegrown

Bill Wippert / National Hockey League / Getty

Gabriel Landeskog (June 24, 2011): The Avalanche secured their first major building block with the second overall pick more than a decade ago, nearly two years before Sakic took the reins. Landeskog claimed the Calder Trophy and has worn the "C" for the Avalanche ever since they made him the youngest captain in NHL history at the time in September 2012. The versatile 29-year-old had his best season in terms of goal-scoring and point production on a per-game basis in 2021-22.

Nathan MacKinnon (June 30, 2013): A true franchise cornerstone, MacKinnon is the centerpiece of this Avalanche juggernaut and one of the most irreplaceable superstars of his era. Sakic was fortunate to select MacKinnon first overall with the very first pick of his tenure. The supremely skilled center's consistently superb output is the biggest reason Colorado transformed from the NHL's second-worst squad in 2012-13 to a perennial contender.

Mikko Rantanen (June 26, 2015): The Avalanche landed another key piece when they chose Rantanen 10th overall. It didn't take long for the Finnish winger to click on the top line, and he's since proven to be far more than just a beneficiary of MacKinnon's greatness. Rantanen can create offense even when head coach Jared Bednar separates him from the two other homegrown game-changers up front.

Cale Makar (June 23, 2017): Colorado lost the 2017 draft lottery but certainly made the most of its spot. Makar has lifted the Avalanche to a whole new level since they snagged him with the fourth overall pick. The dynamic defenseman is a Calder Trophy winner and a two-time Norris Trophy finalist who has a chance to win the latter this season.

Bowen Byram (June 21, 2019): Two years after taking Makar, Colorado chose Byram with the same draft slot thanks to a conditional first-rounder it got from the Ottawa Senators for Matt Duchene. The promising defenseman, who turned 21 on Monday, missed nearly three months this season due to a concussion after dealing with two concussions and COVID-19 in his rookie year. He's played well since returning in April.

Alex Newhook (June 21, 2019): Colorado drafted Newhook 12 picks after Byram. The Newfoundland-born forward played parts of two solid seasons at Boston College before the Avalanche summoned him for six games in 2021. Newhook played most of the current campaign in the NHL and is still developing, but he's shown flashes of his potential and is still only 21 years old.

Trade

Scott Rovak / National Hockey League / Getty

Erik Johnson (Feb. 19, 2011): Johnson predates Landeskog as the longest-tenured player on this roster. The St. Louis Blues sent the defenseman to the Avalanche to complete a trade made one day earlier, and there's a reason Colorado has kept him around. Johnson's contributions have been instrumental to his current squad's success.

J.T. Compher (June 26, 2015): Compher, acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in the first Ryan O'Reilly trade, has given Colorado underrated value over six seasons. He's played on both the power play and penalty kill while providing depth as a third-line center.

Samuel Girard (Nov. 5, 2017): Remember how Sakic got the first-rounder in the Duchene trade that he used to take Byram? The shrewd exec snared another key member of his supporting cast in that deal, taking Girard from the Nashville Predators. The 24-year-old is done for these playoffs due to a broken sternum sustained in Round 2, but when healthy, he's a great skater and a vital piece of the puzzle for the Avalanche.

Andre Burakovsky (June 28, 2019): Colorado landed Burakovsky from the Washington Capitals in exchange for a second-round pick, a third-rounder, and Scott Kosmachuk - a now-28-year-old journeyman playing overseas. The Avalanche clearly won that swap, at least for the time being. Burakovsky set career highs with 22 goals and 39 assists over 80 regular-season games in 2021-22.

Nazem Kadri (July 1, 2019): The Toronto Maple Leafs surely regret shipping Kadri to Denver for a package including Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot. Kadri is reportedly unlikely to play in the championship round after undergoing thumb surgery, though Bednar still hopes he can suit up. Regardless, the 31-year-old is one of the biggest reasons the Avalanche are playing in the Cup Final. Kadri also racked up career-highs in assists and points this season.

Devon Toews (Oct. 12, 2020): Colorado somehow got Toews from the New York Islanders for two second-rounders a couple of years ago, and even back then, that seemed like a steal. The 28-year-old was rock-solid for the Islanders and has been even better for the Avalanche, serving as the perfect partner for Makar and as one of the most underrated players in the league.

Kurtis MacDermid (July 27, 2021): MacDermid definitely isn't one of Colorado's most important players, but he took an interesting route to the Mile High City. The imposing defenseman spent four seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, who then exposed him in the expansion draft. The Seattle Kraken selected MacDermid but dealt him to the Avalanche for a fourth-rounder six days later.

Darcy Kuemper (July 28, 2021): The Avalanche let Philipp Grubauer walk last summer and immediately acquired Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for defenseman Conor Timmins, plus a first-rounder in this year's draft and a third-rounder in 2024. Despite how difficult this postseason has been for Kuemper, these moves still look brilliant in hindsight.

Josh Manson (March 14, 2022): Colorado gave up a 2023 second-round pick and defensive prospect Drew Helleson to secure Manson's services from the Anaheim Ducks. It'll be a while before we can truly judge the trade, but Manson's grinding style and penalty-killing prowess have undoubtedly helped his new team.

Nico Sturm (March 15, 2022): Colorado traded Tyson Jost to the Minnesota Wild for Sturm in a cost-cutting move to facilitate other deadline deals. The undrafted German doesn't have much upside as a 27-year-old with a history of modest production, but he played seven playoff games this spring.

Artturi Lehkonen (March 21, 2022): Getting Manson was important, but acquiring Lehkonen from the Montreal Canadiens one week later was a terrific move that paid immediate dividends. The Finnish forward, who'll turn 27 in July, is known for his strong two-way game and has thrived in Colorado's top six.

Andrew Cogliano (March 21, 2022): The Avalanche picked up Cogliano, who turned 35 on Tuesday, from the San Jose Sharks for a 2024 fifth-rounder. It's unclear whether the veteran forward will play in the final because, like Kadri, he recently underwent surgery. When healthy, Cogliano typically plays on the fourth line and the first penalty-killing unit.

Free agency

Michael Martin / National Hockey League / Getty

Pavel Francouz (May 2, 2018): Sakic signed Francouz out of the KHL after the Czech goaltender reeled off two straight stellar seasons with Traktor Chelyabinsk. Francouz started his North American tenure in the AHL and made his NHL debut in December 2018. The 32-year-old has been one of the best backups in the NHL over the past two campaigns.

Logan O'Connor (July 23, 2018): The Avalanche inked the undrafted O'Connor out of the University of Denver, where he helped the Pioneers win a national title in his sophomore year. The Texas-born winger, who'll turn 26 in August, gives Colorado some grit and defense up front.

Valeri Nichushkin (Aug. 19, 2019): Nichushkin underachieved with the Dallas Stars, who selected him 10th overall in 2013. But the Avalanche took a chance on him after the Stars let him walk, and the 27-year-old is now a key secondary scorer in his prime.

Darren Helm (July 29, 2021): Helm joined Colorado after 14 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. The longtime depth forward still plays that role, but he has a flair for the dramatic. Helm scored in the final seconds of Game 6 against the Blues, eliminating them 13 years to the day after his overtime winner sent the Wings to the Cup Final.

Jack Johnson (Oct. 10, 2021): The Avalanche took a flier on Johnson after signing him to a tryout deal in September. The 35-year-old is the oldest player on the team by eight days over Helm. Johnson didn't play this postseason until after Girard got hurt, but the veteran has suited up for all seven games since.

Waivers

John Russell / National Hockey League / Getty

Nicolas Aube-Kubel (Nov. 13, 2021): Colorado nabbed Aube-Kubel from the Philadelphia Flyers, and the 26-year-old has fit in just fine in its bottom six. His offensive numbers have never been eye-popping, but the Alberta-born winger provides some sandpaper on a team oozing skill.

Comments
How the Western Conference champion Avalanche were built
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox