Colorado Avalanche trounce Red Wings amid emotional day of trades

The Colorado Avalanche look highly motivated in 7-2 drubbing of Detroit. What do major moves mean to a team with eyes on another Stanley Cup?

Mar 6, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) celebrates
Mar 6, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) celebrates / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche took some big swings Wednesday just days before the trade deadline. MHS has already graded these trades highly, and I agree. Casey Mittelstadt does feel like a best-case scenario for the 2C problem. With 47 points on the year with Buffalo, he has produced like a legit top-six forward. Unloading Ryan Johansen and a pick to Philly for Sean Walker, who is having a career year this season with 22 points, paved the way for the bigger impact swap. Losing Bowen Byram still hurts my heart.

Regular readers may recall my recent article where I made the case for Colorado keeping Bo. I fully admit to being sentimental about the team. Perhaps especially so in the case of younger players who have proven playoff success. Still, there are a multitude of reasons real front-office pros get paid to set aside their feelings when it comes to transactions. The Avalanche look significantly improved on the projected depth chart. The real proof will be felt on the ice, and privately in the locker room.

If the 7-2 beating that the Avalanche dished out to their oldest rival on Wednesday night is any indication, it would seem burgundy and blue are excited. The Avs' biggest stars were on fire against Detroit. MacKinnon, Makar & Rantanen each poured in four points! Nate extended his home-point streak to 31, inching closer to a Wayne Gretzky record that once seemed untouchable. Mikko looked awesome, leading the team in SOG with nine, and notching four assists. Cale Makar meanwhile, fresh off snapping out of his cold streak, tallied his first-ever hat trick. 12 total points by three players - those are video-game numbers.

The energy was felt up and down the lineup last night. Lehkonen and Drouin each added goals. Lehky scored his tenth in just 29 games after being limited by injury early in the year. Jonathan Drouin scored his second in as many games, bringing his total to 12. The final goal was an NHL first for forward Jean-Luc Foudy, who was only called up hours before due to the team being short-handed following the trade activity.

It being an Avalanche vs Red Wings game, there was also a fair bit of the customary nastiness and animosity. Ross Colton and Miles Wood seemed more than happy to get scrappy when necessary. Even if the teams aren't bitter conference rivals these days, the match-up is always circled on the calendar for fans.

Makar's historic night may say the most of all about the team's collective mood. He is known to be very close to Bowen Byram off the ice. Even the league's elite might be forgiven for being impacted by having to bid farewell to a best friend. A career-first hat-trick tells me that #8 is all business.

Recent veteran acquisition Zach Parise told TNT mid-game about how the deadline week can be fun for fans, but said it's always a little sad for players on a personal level. What it does mean in relation to a bigger picture, however, is that the front office believes the squad is poised for a championship run. It is an old adage in sports and specifically in trades: you gotta give something good to get something good back. The Avalanche played this well. Sacrifice an area of strength to fill a need.

As much as deadline time can make a fan like me queasy with apprehension, a blockbuster one-for-one trade is always fascinating. Straight swaps are the easiest thing to track in later assessment as they invite direct comparison and aren't made messy by future unknowns or some prolonged waiting game. Avs faithful has spent seemingly all year asking about the 2C question. The team in turn gave every effort to the roster to figure it out before eventually pulling the trigger.

Colorado is clearly in win-now mode. Nathan MacKinnon is having an MVP-caliber campaign and he's a virtual lock to break the Avalanche single-season scoring record. He now has 109 points with 18 games remaining on the schedule. That means he only needs 11 to tie Super Joe's mark of 120 from 1995-96. Frankly, the team owes it to Nate to go all-in. This is potentially a career-defining season for a generational talent.

Yesterday afternoon was tough for me as a fan. I have nothing but love for Bowen Byram. I still believe he will be an outstanding player in his NHL future. I was momentarily reminded of the 2022 deadline when the Avs dealt Tyson Jost. The guy had recently broken his jaw and was playing anyway (with a bubble helmet). I had then christened him "Bubble Boy" and felt some kind of sad when he was shipped out. The Avs also acquired Josh Manson from the Ducks the day before. The first time the Avalanche met the Wild after Manson committed a costly penalty on a hit on Jost. I was sure I would never forgive Manson.

Of course, the Avalanche went on to win the cup, and today Josh Manson is one of my favorite players. Not just because he hits like a truck, but he scored some massively important points. None bigger than the OT winner in Game 1 against St. Louis.

So, while there are no guarantees in sports I can only remind myself to trust in CMac and Joe. Trust in Mack and Cale. This team is about winning when it matters most and that's why they have climbed hockey's mountaintop and will again.