Avalanche GM Joe Sakic once again turns into “Trader Joe” during NHL free agency to bolster roster – The Denver Post

For the second year in a row, NHL free agency wasn’t a free-for-all for the Avalanche.

Instead, Colorado general manager Joe Sakic followed a script similar to the summer of 2019, passing on expensive players on the open market in favor of acquiring talent via trades.

Sakic, who acquired second-line center Nazem Kadri in a deal on the first day of free agency in 2019, again turned into “Trader Joe” when the market opened just over a week ago. The Avs boss located his targets and made shrewd deals, picking up forward Brandon Saad from Chicago and defenseman Devon Toews from the New York Islanders.

Unlike in free agency, Saad and Toews had no say in their new homes, but both are presumably happy to join what many believe is the team to beat in the Western Conference next year.

“We were looking for a second-line player (and) maybe a top-four D-man,” Sakic said after the Saad trade but hours before the deal for Toews was finalized.

Sakic, who also acquired forward Andre Burakovsky in a trade days before making the Kadri deal last year, declined to say if he tried to recruit forward Taylor Hall or other high-dollar free agents. But given what he got in Saad and Toews, it’s a moot point.

Saad, a two-time Stanley Cup champion who turns 29 this month, will slot in at one of the wings beside second-line center Nazem Kadri. Toews, 26, will play in the first or second pairing and probably log around 20 minutes a night.

They both help the Avalanche at both ends of the ice.

“Sakic didn’t swing for the fences, but he made his team better in two key areas,” TSN’s Darren Dreger told The Post.

The cost for Saad was inconsistent shutdown defenseman Nikita Zadorov, who was a healthy scratch in three regular-season games and often benched last season, in a deal that also included a swap of minor-league defensemen. Colorado gave the Islanders second-round draft picks in 2021 and 2022 for Toews, who is a restricted free agent scheduled for salary arbitration Oct. 31.

Toews, who shoots left, might play with right-shot Cale Makar on the first defensive pairing.

“The addition of Devon Toews is a shrewd move by Sakic,” Dreger said. “Toews was a consistent and solid core piece of a very good defensive Islanders team. Twenty-plus-minute defensemen of this quality are hard to get ahold of.”

Perhaps the Avs knew where to shop. The unsigned Toews is due a hefty raise from the $700,000 he made last season — perhaps in the $5 million range — and the Islanders wanted to instead save money by playing 20-year-old Noah Dobson.

“We did give up a good hockey player to acquire assets,” Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters. “(Toews’) arbitration was coming up, so there’s a lot of circumstances that came into play in this decision. We would not have made this move certainly if the ice time that Devon received, we didn’t have the ability to put a player into that, and Noah Dobson will certainly — we feel is ready to take the next step.”

The Avs are approximately $6 million under the $81.5 million salary cap with 19-of-23 players under contract. They have the money to pay Toews the Islanders weren’t willing to spend.

Colorado might have known the Blackhawks also wanted to downsize and shed the $6 million owed to Saad in the final year of his contract. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews (no relation to Devon) publicly complained to The Athletic about the Blackhawks telling goalie Corey Crawford, forward Drake Caggiula and defenseman Slater Koekkoek they would not be offered contracts, and then trading Saad.

“Brandon Saad provides experience and hands-on knowledge of what it takes to win,” Dreger said. “He will complement Colorado’s second line and should pair nicely with Kadri. Not a lot of risk in this move with Saad entering the final year of his contract.”

The Avalanche has extensions due to left wing Gabe Landeskog and Makar after next season, and goalie Philipp Grubauer is also a pending free agent after 2020-21. Those future contracts might prevent Saad from remaining in Denver for more than a year. But he and his wife are selling their Chicago home and not interested in moving twice in one year.

“Colorado has definitely always been on my list as a team where I could see myself playing for a long time — with just the talent and great hockey team, and I hear great things about the city as well,” Saad said. “It’s a little early to tell but it’s definitely (somewhere) I would look forward to playing for a long time.”

Toews was married Saturday and his honeymoon has prevented him from doing a Zoom call with reporters. Sakic’s only public comment about Toews came in a release: “Devon is a smart, two-way, puck-moving defenseman who plays 20-plus minutes a night. He is a durable defender who is excellent in transition and we are excited to add him to our blueline.”

Saad, 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, adds speed and toughness to the Avs, and he’ll also help in front of the offensive net.

“We have a lot of great shooters, perimeter shooters, but he’ll be good in the front of the net, getting those dirty goals,” Sakic said. “We just think he’s a versatile player. Can play anywhere in the lineup and we think it’s going to be a great addition.”

Sakic’s only moves in free agency were additions to the Colorado Eagles’ roster, and depth for the Avs.

Trader Joe looked elsewhere to improve the big club, and he unquestionably got the job done.

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