How Joe Sakic built the Stanley Cup Final-bound Colorado Avalanche

Avalanche GM Joe Sakic reminisces back to the 2001 Cup Champion team that he played on, to discuss what similarities he sees with that team and this group, 21 years later.

Joe Sakic helped lead the Colorado Avalanche to Stanley Cup championships in both 1996 and 2001.

The Hall of Fame centre is on the verge of doing it again more than two decades later – this time as the franchise’s general manager.

The Colorado front office has hit a home run or grand slam on several of their first-round picks and the numerous trades Sakic has made in recent years have mostly all worked out in his team’s favour.

Can this well-rounded roster chock full of speed, puck skill and creativity put an end to the current Tampa Bay Lightning dynasty?

Here's a look at how this Avalanche roster came together ahead of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.


These are the only players who were around before Sakic was officially named GM in 2014.

2011 | Erik Johnson, D
Acquired via trade with St. Louis

The 2006 first-overall pick is the longest-tenured member of the Avalanche. He has signed two contracts with Colorado – a four-year deal worth $15 million and a seven-year, $42-million extension that is set to expire at the end of next season – since the team sent Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to the Blues to acquire him. Adam Foote is the only defenceman to suit up for more games in an Avalanche uniform than Johnson.

2011 | Gabriel Landeskog, F
Selected with No. 2 pick in NHL Draft

The Colorado captain was taken after the Oilers chose Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall. No player from that draft class has played more games or scored more goals than Landeskog. The Swede made an impact from the moment he debuted at the NHL level, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 2012 – the first Avalanche player to win the award since Chris Drury.

Landeskog was the youngest captain in NHL history at the time the ‘C’ was placed on his sweater at age 19. The consistent 20-goal scorer has since developed into a top-flight 200-foot winger who has even evolved into a reliable faceoff artist when called upon.

2013 | Nathan MacKinnon, F
Selected with No. 1 pick in NHL Draft

MacKinnon was the consensus top choice in a stacked draft class and while the franchise had plenty to think about, they made the right choice in taking the Halifax Mooseheads standout over the likes of Aleksander Barkov, Seth Jones and his junior teammate Jonathan Drouin.

MacKinnon followed in Landeskog’s footsteps by winning the Calder for the 2013-14 campaign but over the next three seasons the team’s success and MacKinnon’s output sputtered. Thankfully for Avs supporters, the 2017-18 season marked a turning pointing for both player and team (more on that below). MacKinnon ranks third in points behind Edmonton’s dynamic duo, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, since the start of 2017-18.

Colorado’s catalyst up front added a Lady Byng to his trophy case in 2020 and has been a Hart Trophy finalist thrice in the past five seasons.


Sakic joined the Colorado front office as a senior advisor in 2011 two years after his Hall of Fame playing career ended. In 2013 he was promoted to the franchise’s executive vice president. The team fired Joe Sacco and hired Patrick Roy as head coach ahead of the 2013-14 season but Roy resigned in 2016 just prior to the opening of training camp after the team’s record regressed year-over-year during his three-season tenure.

Jared Bednar was hired prior to 2016-17 after leading the AHL Cleveland Monsters to a Calder Cup championship.

The Avalanche finished an NHL-worst 22-56-4 in Bednar’s first year as bench boss in Colorado and it resulted in the team holding the best odds to land the top pick heading into the NHL Draft Lottery in 2017.

Ironically, their unlucky results at the lottery ended up working out in their favour as the Devils, Flyers and Stars all passed on a future superstar. This player would undoubtedly be the top pick in a redraft yet the game changing blueliner fell into the Avalanche’s lap at No. 4.

Bednar is a combined 218-112-42 since his inaugural season at the NHL level.


If you look at the total number of players Sakic has drafted that have panned out as everyday NHLers you may be underwhelmed. However, what matters most is he has made good on his team’s various drafting positions in the opening rounds.

Mikko Rantanen, RW
Selected in first round, 10th overall (2015)

The Finnish winger was Sakic’s first official draft selection as Colorado GM and Rantanen has proven to be worthy top-10 pick. He’s a point-per-game player who ranks third in points and fourth in goals from his draft class and has led the Avs in scoring in each of the past two seasons.

Cale Makar, D
Selected in first round, fourth overall (2017)

Of course, Maker is the aforementioned superstar who fell three spots to the Avalanche five summers ago. Sometimes referred to as “the McDavid of defencemen,” the elite right-shot blueliner and driver of offence was the Norris Trophy runner-up last year and is a finalist again this year.

Makar is the odds-on favourite to win the 2022 Conn Smythe Trophy heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final with a whopping 22 points in 14 games throughout the first three rounds.

Are the comparisons to Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey justified or hyperbolic? Sportsnet’s Justin Bourne recently took a deep dive into what separates Makar from other elite defenders.

Bowen Byram, D
Selected in first round, fourth overall (2019)

The Avs made good on another fourth-overall selection just two years after landing Makar. This pick initially belonged to Ottawa (more on that below) and represents yet another stroke of good luck for the Avalanche. Byram, who turned 21 on Monday, has averaged more than 17 minutes per night in the playoffs playing beside Erik Johnson on the team’s third D pairing.

Alex Newhook, C
Selected in first round, 16th overall (2019)

The forward finished ranked 13th among rookies this past season with 13 goals and 33 points in 71 games despite averaging just 13:34 in a bottom-six role.


This is where the Colorado brass has put in arguably its best work with the team reaping the rewards this post-season.

Samuel Girard has been ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs after sustaining an injury against St. Louis but this trade signified a massive turning point for the franchise. The team traded previous franchise centrepiece Matt Duchene early in the 2017-18 season in a three-way deal with the Senators and Predators. Colorado also made away with Ottawa’s 2019 first-round pick which Sakic later used to select Byram. This was Sakic’s most significant trade since he dealt Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo in 2015.

Speaking of that deal, J.T. Compher is the lone holdover on the Avalanche side from the swap with the Sabres. The forward has been a reliable middle-six winger who set career highs with 18 goals and 33 points and he has chipped in with five playoff tallies this year.

Andre Burakovsky was added during the 2019 off-season when Sakic sent 2020 second- and third-round picks, plus the rights to Scott Kosmachuk, to Washington. The 27-year-old is having a career year and the pending UFA is likely to earn a nice contract this summer.

Lou Lamoriello probably doesn’t regret too many trades he has made throughout his illustrious NHL front office career but the Isles GM accepting a pair of second-round selections for Devon Toews in 2020 might be one of them. Toews has provided outstanding value for Colorado. He finished 11th in Norris voting last year and had a more productive campaign in 2021-22.

No trade acquisition has made a bigger impact for the Avs this season than centre Nazem Kadri, who was traded by the Maple Leafs along with Calle Rosen and a 2020 third-round pick used to select Jean-Luc Foudy. All Colorado needed to do was retain some of Tyson Barrie’s salary and toss in Alexander Kerfoot and a sixth-round pick and Kadri was theirs.

Kadri had a career high 87 points this season and was even mentioned in the Hart Trophy conversation early in the year.

“He's a big-time player, steps up in big moments, and he likes that,” Landeskog said of Kadri’s impact on the Avs at the beginning of June. “He likes the pressure on him, and he likes stepping up in these situations. So he's been awesome for us.”

Darcy Kuemper went 37-12-4 in his first season with the Avalanche after being acquired from the Coyotes in the summer of 2021. Colorado sent Conor Timmins, their 2022 first-round pick plus a conditional 2024 third-rounder to acquire the Canadian puck stopper who finished top-seven in Vezina voting in 2019 and 2020.


As you can see from the list of players below, Sakic’s most impactful moves, like many GMs, come via the draft and through trades, but free agency is where he has made low-cost additions to support the core group.

Logan O’Connor, added in 2018, $1.05M current AAV (signed through 2025)

Valeri Nichushkin, added in 2019, $2.5M current AAV (pending UFA)

Pavel Francouz, added in 2018, $2M current AAV (signed through 2024)

Darren Helm, added in 2021, $1M current AAV (pending UFA)

Ryan Murray, added in 2021, $2M current AAV (pending UFA)

Jack Johnson, added in 2021, $750,000 current AAV (pending UFA)

O’Connor was an undrafted free agent who caught Colorado’s attention at the nearby University of Denver. He parlayed a 2018 training camp invite into an entry-level contract and after paying his dues with Colorado’s AHL affiliate he finally carved out a full-time gig at the NHL level this season.

Nichushkin went goalless in 57 games with Dallas in 2018-19 before joining the Avs on the open market. He had a career high 25 goals and 52 points this season but more importantly he is a quality defender finishing top-20 in Selke voting in each of his first two seasons in Colorado.

Francouz has been a steady backup netminder since coming over to North America following an impressive stint with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL. He’s had his number called in the playoffs and has responded by going 6-0, while Helm, Murray and Johnson were all low-risk, short-term additions. Helm’s lone goal in the first three rounds ended St. Louis’s season with six seconds remaining in Game 6 of Colorado’s second-round series.


Sakic and the Colorado front office weren’t complacent during the regular season despite maintaining a stranglehold on the Central Division standings following a pedestrian 4-5-1 start to the season.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel was selected off waivers from the Flyers in mid-November and his 11 goals in 67 games were more than the 10 goals he scored in 102 games during his time in Philadelphia. The depth forward has seen action in 12 of Colorado’s 14 post-season outings heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Josh Manson was the first move Sakic made ahead of this year’s trade deadline in an effort to fortify the back end. The team sent Drew Helleson and a 2023 second-round pick to the Ducks and Manson hopes to hoist the Cup before potentially hitting the open market this summer.

A corresponding move saw the team send 2016 first-round pick Tyson Jost and his $2 million cap hit to Minnesota for Nico Sturm, a pending UFA who has chipped in sparingly in his limited action.

Andrew Cogliano has added a veteran presence to the fourth line after a trade with the San Jose Sharks. He has more than 100 games of Stanley Cup Playoffs experience and faced Tampa in the Cup Final two years ago with Dallas.

“We feel that we addressed the needs that we needed to address,” Sakic said during the Western Conference final of his deadline moves. “You can never have enough depth. Everybody's contributing. Some guys are in and out of the lineup right now, so we have competition here and you need every single player. If you're going to go (through) two months of hockey, which ultimately is our goal, you need that depth.”

The Avs also added Artturi Lehkonen ahead of the deadline but this wasn’t the standard rental player move. Lehkonen is a pending restricted free agent, not a UFA, so Colorado sending their 2020 first-round selection Justin Barron and a 2024 second-round pick was both an immediate upgrade to the forward group as well as a possible long-term investment depending on what type of contract he gets and assuming the team wants him back.

Lehkonen’s biggest impact so far this post-season was scoring the Game 4 overtime winner and series clincher in Colorado’s sweep of Edmonton in the Western Conference Final.

“You look at any championship team, they have depth on all lines and they all have to chip in somewhat,” Sakic added. “Your best players still have to be your best if you want a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup, that's for sure. But you also need those (depth role players) contributing and taking some of the pressure off of them.”

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