There’s no getting around it – this has been an abysmal season for the Colorado Avalanche. While the problems (admittedly) start from the top down, general manager Joe Sakic has recently started taking steps to right the ship by quietly making some keen additions to the Avalanche roster without surrendering any assets in return.
The common theme in these moves is a deliberate attempt by the front office to become a faster team that better fits head coach Jared Bednar’s system. This marks a change in the strategy coming from the front office, which previously focused more on adding size and grit to their roster in an attempt to compliment their talented, young core.
Sakic took advantage of his club’s position on the waiver wire twice to acquire players who have proven to be valuable roster pieces in left-winger Matt Nieto and defensemen Mark Barberio. The Avalanche, of course, “earned” the right of first refusal for players placed on waivers by sitting dead last in the NHL for the majority of the season.
Nonetheless, both Nieto, 24, and Barberio, 27, managed to impress in their auditions and are better depth options than coach Bednar had to work with before the Avs plucked them off the proverbial trash heap.
5280 Sports Net’s J.J. Jerez went in depth on how Barberio has seamlessly ascended to the Avs’ top defensive pair alongside Erik Johnson in just two months. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound defensemen is very effective moving the puck up the ice, moving it through the neutral zone, and at feeding his forwards in good positions to succeed. Thanks to his offensive awareness and talent, he has earned a role on the club’s struggling power play and chipped in four points with the man advantage.
Barberio has also displayed surprising defensive ability, despite being tasked with skating against the other team’s top lines on a nightly basis. The former Montreal Canadien will never be a shutdown defender, but his offensive skillset will make him an asset to this team moving forward if he can continue to play effectively in his own end. His current contract extends through next season.
Nieto, who the Avs picked up off of waivers from the San Jose Sharks, is a positionally sound, two-way left-winger. Colorado wasn’t the only team to put in a waiver claim for he fourth year player as he clearly still has potential. He had a promising start to his career – registering 27 points in his second season – before losing his way over his last season and a half in San Jose.
Nieto also has valuable Stanley Cup experience after making the run to the Finals with the Sharks last season. The Avs’ bottom six has fallen apart this year, but Nieto has the potential to be a rock on the third line with his speed, high-energy play, and defensive prowess. Sakic would be wise to make an offer to keep the restricted free agent in Denver this offseason.
The Avalanche made another under-the-radar move in a deadline deal with Montreal for Sven Adrighetto, a (potential) diamond in the rough. Although it’s still a small sample size, the speedy right-winger has quickly accumulated five goals and 12 points in 15 games in an Avs’ sweater. The 24-year-old scored just 28 points while skating limited ice time during his three seasons in Montreal.
The move to Colorado gave Andrighetto the opportunity to skate on a top line with like-minded, skilled players such as Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen and he has rewarded the club for putting him in this position. He was nearly a point-per-game player in the AHL when skating on top lines as well, but he wasn’t given that opportunity with the Canadiens. The 5-foot-10, 188-pound winger has clearly passed his audition and needs to be locked up as a restricted free agent this offseason.
The impending expansion draft will force every NHL GM to make tough roster decisions and will likely make it difficult to retain all three of these promising mid-season acquisitions beyond this year. Sakic has taken his first step in the right direction in the repair process; it will be vital not to take two steps back again this offseason.