Of Joe Sakic’s trade deadline moves for the Avalanche, which one has turned out to be the biggest during Colorado’s Stanley Cup run: Josh Manson? Artturi Lehkonen? Andrew Cogliano, Nico Sturm?
Keeler: Dude, I want to be Joe Sakic when I grow up. With limited cap space and Stanley-Cup-or-bust expectations hanging over Chopper Circle, the Avs general manager had to be creative and selective to try and add the finishing pieces to a championship roster. This was about adding guys to supplement a long postseason run, filling in cracks to complement that superstar core of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar. Colorado needed to get bigger, more physical and better on faceoffs, right? Artturi Lehkonen, Nico Sturm, Andrew Cogliano and Josh Manson have managed to tick off every one of those boxes since they’ve hopped onto the Stanley Cup party bus. But if you had to pick which one of those additions has been the most valuable during the Avs’ postseason run to date, who would it be?
Chambers: Lehkonen, with Manson a close second. Both excellent additions — but Lehkonen more so because he’ll be back next season. Lehkonen, 26, is a pending restricted free agent and the Avs will tender him a qualifying offer. He’ll be back playing in the top-six next season when Colorado won’t be able to afford pending unrestricted free agents Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky. Maybe the Avs bring back one of those guys, but Lehkonen will get big money and continue to play a big top-six role.
Keeler: For a while, I was torn. I’ve loved Lehkonen’s game over the last month. But the edge goes to Manson, for me. Size? Check. Aggression? Check. Leadership? Check. Hits? Check. Points? Check. That game-winner against the Blues to end Game 1 in overtime was just the cherry on top of what he’s done.
Chambers: Manson is a beast. And a great teammate. The guys love his style. He’s an excellent “rental,” although it sure would be nice to see him back in burgundy and blue next season. The Avs will again need that kind of physicality on the second pairing. Coach Jared Bednar dubbed Manson and Sam Girard the “perfect pairing” — stemming from the left shot/right shot look. But with Girard out for the rest of the postseason with a broken sternum, Manson’s new partner — rookie Bo Byram — is just as good for me, if not better. Byram, 20, is a tougher version of Girard, 24.
Keeler: You know what’s funny? The Manson snapshot that put him over the top for me had nothing to do with his overtime goal. It was in Game 2 of the Nashville series. The Predators’ Luke Kunin shot over to Nazem Kadri behind the net at the end of the second period, cheap-shotted Naz, dropped his gloves and tried to goad Kadri into a fight. Manson raced in, bear-hugged Kunin, threw him to the ice and prevented a bad situation from getting worse. That’s not just having your teammates’ back. That’s having a locker room’s back in the heat of the moment.
Chambers: I love the anecdote, Keels. Manson is a disciplined big guy. He skates away from the stuff he should and gets involved in the situations he needs to step into. Just a terrific trade-deadline addition. It costs the Avs defensive prospect Drew Hellesen, who played in the 2022 Olympics for Team USA, and a 2023 second-round draft pick. Some may think that’s a ton for a pending unrestricted free agent. But Manson’s addition filled a void some folks couldn’t see. He completed a three-pairing left shot/right shot look and allowed righty Erik Johnson, 34, to focus on third pairing/penalty killing minutes in the waning point of his career.
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