AVALANCHE

Avalanche make two big trades, finally get a second-line center

Mar 6, 2024, 12:23 PM | Updated: 12:25 pm

The NHL trade deadline is about 48 hours away, and the Colorado Avalanche have made two big moves.

The first one is an area they’ve been trying to solve since Nazem Kadri left town after winning the Stanley Cup in 2022. And that’s the issue of second-line center.

The Avs are acquiring Casey Mittelstadt from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for defenseman Bowen Byram. Multiple reports say the trade is player for player, with no picks involved. This is a significant one.

In 62 games with the Sabres this season, Mittelstadt has 14 goals and 33 assists, good for 47 points. That leads Buffalo in scoring. He’s been in the NHL for parts of seven seasons, all with the Sabres, and is just 25-years-old.

It’s an all-in type move from Avalanche GM Chris MacFarland and team president Joe Sakic, trying to capture their second championship in three years. Losing Byram really hurts — there’s no other way to slice it.

He was a key member of the Cup team in 2022, and is just 22-years-old. But he’s also battled some health problems, specifically concussions, and hasn’t looked like the same player this season. It’s a risk Colorado’s front office is willing to take, and it makes sense. You don’t acquire top talent without giving it up.

Meanwhile, the Avs have also unloaded disappointing center Ryan Johansen and a 2025 first-round pick in exchange for Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Sean Walker. Walker, who’s in his sixth year in the NHL, has six goals and 16 assists for Philly this season. He’s averaging nearly 20 minutes per game of ice-time.

For Johansen, it simply never worked with the Avalanche. MacFarland and Sakic had high hopes when they brought him over from Nashville to be the second-line center, but the 31-year-old might be out of gas. In 63 games with Colorado he had just 13 goals and 10 assists. He was demoted to the third-line and taken off the power play for the most part.

Philadelphia immediately put Johansen on waivers, showing they didn’t want him either.

With the Avs acquiring Walker, they felt comfortable using Byram as a chip in the bigger deal. Walker will fill the void left by Byram on the second-line defensive pairing.

Colorado is slated to play Detroit later tonight at Ball Arena and Minnesota on Friday. How different the roster looks between now and then remains to be seen, but clearly MacFarland and Sakic thought some significant moves were necessary.

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