Between now and the March 2 NHL trade deadline, the Avalanche could solidify themselves as comfortable contenders or remain in mild peril of missing the playoffs.
Which makes the following exercise more tenuous than expected, but nonetheless relevant. The second-line center position is still the root of Colorado’s roster holes. The Avs never replaced Nazem Kadri.
Will they at the deadline? Here’s a preliminary ranking of eight trade options who could help solve the 2C opening. The top five are centermen, but there’s more to it than that.
1. Bo Horvat
Cap hit: Vancouver Canucks, $5.5 million
Does it make sense? Absolutely, if the rental is worth it. Horvat is the best goal-scoring center on the market, he’s in a contract year, and he reportedly turned down Vancouver’s extension offer. However, without a no-trade clause in his current contract, the Canucks can exhaust a league-wide market. That could make the asking price more competitive, and if the Avs are still limping in late February, they won’t be keen on getting into a bidding war. Still … 29 goals and 16 assists. That 56.6% faceoff percentage isn’t bad either.
2. Ryan O’Reilly
Cap hit: St. Louis Blues, $7.5 million
Does it make sense? Only if a few things come together. First, O’Reilly’s health. He was placed on injured reserve Jan. 2 with a broken foot and a six-week timeline before reevaluation. That’s a small window for him to return and prove he’s both healthy and productive before the deadline. Second, the Avalanche’s record. Like with Horvat and the next name, they need to be safe from the playoff ledge. Third, organizational willingness to initiate a reunion. O’Reilly spent six years in Colorado before the 2015 trade that brought J.T. Compher from Buffalo.
3. Jonathan Toews
Cap hit: Chicago Blackhawks, $10.5 million
Does it make sense? Maybe. A third-party broker team would probably be needed to split the remainder of Toews’ hefty cap hit. In his age-34 season, the lifelong Blackhawk is still churning with 11 goals and 10 assists. Those numbers would theoretically improve when surrounded by better players. He’s also 64% on the draw, and the Avs need a center who can take big faceoffs.
4. Max Domi
Cap hit: Chicago Blackhawks, $3 million.
Does it make sense? Maybe even more than No. 3. Toews and fellow franchise cornerstone Patrick Kane are demanding the most attention as Chicago’s premier trade chips, but Domi is also a pending unrestricted free agent on the tanking Blackhawks. He has 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists), a marginal edge on Toews in xGF% and SCF% (according to Natural Stat Trick). He’s more of a middle-six forward, but so is Toews at this point in his career. Trading for Domi wouldn’t require the same salary cap gymnastics.
5. Sean Monahan
Cap hit: Montreal Canadiens, $6.375 million
Does it make sense? If he can stay healthy. Those already seem to be the famous last words of the 2022-23 Avalanche. Monahan is a proven middle-six scorer. He has also missed more than 15 games with a lower-body injury. In Calgary last season, he had season-ending hip surgery right before the playoffs. Anyone with recent injury history should raise some alarms with Colorado right now, but before Monahan went on IR, he had 17 points (six goals) in 25 games.
6. Andrei Kuzmenko
Cap hit: Vancouver Canucks, $950,000
Does it make sense? Depends: How much do the Avs like Evan Rodrigues as a center? With the next three players, we explore the other option available to Colorado considering the top-heavy center market: trading for a wing and rolling with Rodrigues at 2C, Compher at 3C. Kuzmenko is a pending UFA producing at a high level (17 goals, 18 assists) for a deadline seller, and he has a cheap cap hit. The ex-KHL player is a good right-handed shooter who could fit on a line with Compher and Alex Newhook.
7. Anthony Duclair
Cap hit: Florida Panthers, $3 million (through 2023-24)
Does it make sense? Surprisingly, yes. The Panthers were supposed to be buyers after their offseason trade for Matthew Tkachuk. And Duclair hasn’t played a game this season (Achilles). Not exactly an enticing setup. But the underperforming Panthers are in a major cap conundrum and might have to offload forward talent. (Fellow wing Patric Hornqvist — a pending UFA, by the way — had to be placed on LTIR just for a concussion.) Duclair scored 31 goals last season and has the speed to fit in Colorado’s system. He’s still on a team-friendly deal for one more season, so he would be a lower-risk trade despite the injury.
8. James van Riemsdyk
Cap hit: Philadelphia Flyers, $7 million
Does it make sense? Again, the wing market is deeper than the center market this season, so if the Avs want to make a move that benefits them without committing resources to one of the premier centers, van Riemsdyk is another example. The Flyers are stuck in purgatory and could eat half his cap hit.