Sakic’s late-season deals paying off as Avs lead series 2-0

DENVER (AP) — The stat sheet won’t reflect this: Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic actually had a pair of assists on those two goals scored in a 15-second window.

The goal spurt by Artturi Lehkonen and Josh Manson in Game 2’s 4-0 win against Edmonton only illustrated the impactful trade deadline deals orchestrated by Sakic. So far in the postseason, five of the team’s 10 game-winning goals have been courtesy of their newest additions.

Sakic has steadily built this squad into a mirror image of the championship teams the Hall of Famer played on with Colorado — fast-flying forwards and dynamic defensemen who are capable of playing any style necessary. The Avalanche are up 2-0 on the Oilers in the Western Conference finals with the series heading to Edmonton for Game 3 on Saturday.

“One of the best in the business,” Edmonton front-office executive Ken Holland said of his GM counterpart before the series.

The Great One praised Sakic, too.

“If you look at Colorado’s organization, Joe Sakic’s done a really nice job of carefully building that team over the last four or five years,” Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky said. “He’s added, really, some nice pieces.”

Those late moves are coming through in all sorts of ways. Like Lehkonen, who was brought in from Montreal and has five goals in these playoffs. Or Manson, the defenseman acquired from Anaheim who scored the OT winner to open the St. Louis series. Or forward Andrew Cogliano, picked up in a deal with San Jose, who didn’t score over 18 games with Colorado in the regular season but has two goals — both of the game-winning variety — in the postseason.

Sakic had to mortgage a portion of the future for a chance to win now. But it’s all coming together as the Avs advanced to their first conference finals since his playing days in 2002.

“We feel that we addressed the needs that we needed to address,” Sakic said. “You can never have enough depth. Everybody’s contributing.”

Since stepping into his role in 2013, Sakic has worked with two head coaches (Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy and now Jared Bednar). He’s seen some lean years (a 48-point showing in ‘16-17) and experienced some frustrations (three straight second-round playoff exits). But it’s led the Avalanche to this point — a chance at capturing their first Stanley Cup title since 2001.

Cogliano counts himself fortunate to be a late addition.

“Very special for me to be traded to a team like this, the caliber that we have and to come in and add something — be a piece of the puzzle,” Cogliano said.

On top of Sakic’s recent deadline deals, there have been his offseason maneuverings. He picked up forward Nazem Kadri in a 2019 trade with Toronto, and acquired defenseman Devon Toews as part of a deal with the New York Islanders in ‘20. He also traded for goaltender Darcy Kuemper last summer.

Kadri had a three-assist performance in Game 2 against Edmonton and Toews has helped keep in check Oilers standouts Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane. Kuemper picked up a career-best 37 wins in the regular season, but is dealing with an upper-body injury in this series, with Pavel Francouz filling in. Francouz recorded a 24-save shutout Thursday.

Then there’s Sakic’s draft picks: His first being star forward Nathan MacKinnon with the No. 1 pick in 2013, and later Mikko Rantanen (10th overall, 2015), along with defenseman Cale Makar (fourth overall, 2017).

Sakic has stayed true to his course, too, even after last season when the team earned the Presidents’ Trophy for the best record, only to lose to Vegas in the second round.

A step back that’s led to a big step forward.

“It’s such a fine-line league that you just have to stick with it,” Holland said. “That’s what Joe’s done.”

Sakic prefers to work outside the spotlight and go about his business of building a winner. His approach is similar to that of his mentor, the late Pierre Lacroix, who was the architect behind the two Avalanche Stanley Cup championships featuring Sakic.

Like those teams, this is an Avalanche squad not completely reliant on the top-line players. The offense can come from anywhere.

The blueline is deep, too, with Makar, Toews, Manson, Bowen Byram and veterans Erik Johnson and Jack Johnson (who was brought in on a professional tryout in October).

“Your best players still have to be your best if you want a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup,” Sakic said. “But you also need those (others) contributing and taking some of the pressure off of them.”

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AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

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