The Colorado Avalanche used to be known for many things. Championship level hockey, tough competition, and of course a front office that could make some of the best and most unlikely trades. The takeover of Patrick Roy, Claude Lemieux, Rob Blake, Ray Bourque, and others to help the Avalanche win their two Stanley Cups gave the Avalanche front office an aura of infallibility.
While it’s true that they made some great trades, they were also responsible for some real stinkers. Here are the worst trades in Colorado Avalanche history, in no particular order.
Sandis Ozolinsh to Carolina
Sandis Ozolinsh was by far the best offensive defender in the history of the avalanche – there is little discussion about that. He was an exceptional skater with great size and reach, had a great shot, would join the onslaught and also be the first to defend back. His presence always added an extra element that opposing teams had to respect.
Sandis Ozolinsh, Carolina Hurricanes (Courtesy of the Carolina Hurricanes Media Archives)
During the 1998-99 season, Ozolinsh held out for a major contract from the Avalanche. The suspension lasted until January of that season when he and the Avs finally agreed on a contract at a time when they were struggling. He stayed with them for the remainder of the season and even through the 1999-00 season before Pierre Lacroix awarded him to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Dealers sent Ozolinsh and Colorado’s second-round pick in the 2000 draft to Carolina in exchange for Nolan Pratt, Carolina’s first-round pick (which became Vaclav Nederost), and two second-round picks in 2000 (which became Jared Aulin and Agris Saviels). Nolan Pratt played 46 games for the Avalanche in the 2000-01 season and was traded from Colorado after that year. Vaclav Nederost played in an Avs shirt for a short time – 67 games with a total of six goals and 13 points. He was later sold to Florida.
Jared Aulin never saw time with the Avalanche in the NHL as he was sent to Los Angeles to finalize the deal that brought Blake to Colorado. He played with the Kings only a total of 17 NHL games with four points. Agris Saviels has not played in any capacity in the NHL.
This was an utter and utter disaster of a trade. Ozolinsh was a dynamic defender who could change the game. He was a big part of the 1996 Stanley Cup championship team and was essentially punished by Lacroix for persevering, which became an issue under Lacroix. You just don’t trade such top talent for what turns out to be pretty much nothing.
Brad Stuart taken over from San Jose
This trade has gotten a bit of a hassle, but it’s definitely not one that has paid off. The Avalanche acquired Brad Stuart during Free Agent Frenzy Day 2014. This could have been a good trade if the Avalanche had put Stuart in the right capacity, but they were determined to force him into the top pairing.
# Avs trainer Patrick Roy on Brad Stuart: “He will play some big minutes and he can play in the top pair with Erik Johnson.”
This did not produce very good results. Stuart and Erik Johnson just didn’t match, and it wasn’t long before Stuart was removed from Johnson’s pair in favor of EJ’s former defensive partner Jan Hejda. Since then, Stuart has struggled with injuries and was unable to stay in the Avalanche line-up. At this point, it appears the Avs will be forced to buy him out at the end of this season depending on his injury status.
The Avalanche sent a 2016 round second pick and a 2017 round six pick to San Jose in exchange for Stuart. The Avalanche got those two picks back from San Jose in the 2015 draft, plus San Jose’s second-round pick in the 2015 draft in exchange for the pick Avalanche acquired from Buffalo in the Ryan O’Reilly trade.
Taking over Brad Stuart wasn’t a terrible Avalanche move, but signing him back before they saw him at a game and forcing him into a role he was definitely no longer equipped for made it a bad deal . Fortunately, Colorado did a good job breaking off this trade.
Avalanche sends Alex Tanguay to Calgary
This was another deal in the chain of stores the Avalanche tried to find a defender to replace Ozolinsh with after Bourque came and went. The Avalanche tried several times to recruit a defender who could give the team a dynamic offensive ability, but this could have been the greatest range.
The Avalanche sent Alex Tanguay to division rival Calgary in exchange for Jordan Leopold, a 2006 second round pick (which became Codey Burki) and a 2007 conditional pick (which became Trevor Cann). This was the second deal they made with Calgary that sent a top notch offensive player to their league rival in exchange with a defender who might be able to create the same offensive spark. On the other hand, we’ll come later.
Alex Tanguay, Calgary Flames (Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE)
Tanguay had become an integral part of the avalanche crime and was a large part of the 2001 Stanley Cup championship team. He was really in the prime of his career at this time, spending most of his prime in Calgary.
What the Avalanche got back for Tanguay was again incredibly disappointing. Leopold played 122 games with the Avs, scoring 13 goals and a total of 38 points. A few years later he was sent back to Calgary. Burki never played in the NHL, and neither did Trevor Cann.
Another wasted trade made to undo the stupidity that made Ozolinsh packing.
Avalanche takeover by Peter Worrell
In an effort to get bigger and tougher, the Colorado Avalanche acquired Peter Worrell and a second-round pick (who became Jeff Shantz) from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Eric Messier and Nederost. I never understood this deal – never. Worrell served pretty much one purpose and one purpose throughout his career; Beat people up. In his 49 games with the Avalanche, he had four points and 179 penalty minutes, he just never made sense in a team that had so much skill that they should have been fighting for a Stanley Cup.
Nederost was a young player who hadn’t seen much Ice Age at the Avalanche, but he had shown some promise. He would probably never become a top six striker, but he certainly had the ability to write minutes on a third line and be a two-way player.
Messier is one of the most underrated players in avalanche history. Lots of people forget him, but he was part of the Avalanche roster for seven years. He was able to play forward and defensive and was a very good defensive player. Losing those two players to a fighter who couldn’t compete with a great team like the Avalanche was stupid for lack of a better word.
Chris Drury moved to Calgary
I saved this one for the last time because this is the worst trade in the history of the avalanche. Chris Drury was nothing but brilliant for the team when he got into the league. He won the Calder Trophy and continued to put up fantastic numbers while also delivering an excellent two-way game.
He scored 11 playoff goals during the 2001 Stanley Cup Championship run and was one of those players who had something special about himself. When Drury was on the ice, you saw a guy who gave every fiber of his being in every shift. He would just keep working and working and most of the time he was rewarded.
Then, just before the start of the 2002 NHL season, the Avalanche exchanged him. It was a blockbuster deal that sent Drury and Stephane Yelle to Calgary in exchange for Derek Morris, Dean McAmmond and Shantz. Yes, this is that other trade within the division that revolved around a defender who should be able to deliver the offensive spark that was gone because Ozolinsh was being traded.
Among them was one of the most underrated two-way players in Avalanche history (Yelle) and a dynamic player who could have played alongside Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg his entire career. Just close your eyes and imagine this for a second, Avalanche fans. Yeah, it hurts me too.
Morris quickly fizzled out in Colorado and was timely traded on Phoenix in 2004. McAmmond played 41 games for the Avalanche before being traded back to Calgary that same season in March 2003. Shantz played 79 games for the Avalanche in 2002–03, and it was the only season he played with Avalanche. After the 2002/03 season he signed in Europe.
Drury, on the other hand, only played one season in Calgary, but ended up being a big part of some very good Buffalo Sabers teams – teams that were about to win championships. With the Sabers he scored more than 30 goals twice, which he never did at the Avalanche and showed that he really belongs to the elite of the league.
Chris Drury, Buffalo Sabers (Photo by Rick Stewart / Getty Images)
There was never any reason to trade Drury. To this day, all I can do is look back and think, “What on earth was Lacroix thinking of doing business with Drury?” Adrian Dater best wrote it several years after the deal when he asked the same question.
Drury was a special player who could have been a big part of several other championships in Denver. Yes, I absolutely believe that trading with Drury cost the Avalanche a chance at several more Stanley Cup championships. There is no question on my mind. Lacroix believed too much in its own hype when it came to its ability to make trades and roll back the franchise on a large scale.
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