Mile High Sports

Frei: At least around here, the NHL trading deadline was much ado about very, very little

Colorado Avalanche forward Blake Comeau (14) skates with the puck against the Winnipeg Jets, Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This wasn’t a shocker.

In fact, the bigger surprise would have been if the Avalanche made a significant deal before the NHL trading deadline passed Monday afternoon.

The Avalanche claimed defenseman Mark Alt, who has played nine NHL games, on waivers from Philadelphia and acquired D-man Ryan Graves from the Rangers for Chris Bigras, who had been with the San Antonio Rampage. Alt, the son of long-time former Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle John Alt, will join the Avalanche and Graves will report to the Rampage.

That’s it.

Also, Blake Comeau, the veteran winger pictured above whose contract is up after this season, stayed put.

“It was pretty quiet,” Colorado general manager Joe Sakic said at his pre-game availability Monday night, shortly before the Avalanche beat Vancouver 3-1 at the Pepsi Center. “We knew it was going to be quiet, though. Not a lot going on.

“We had a lot of conversations about different possibilities, but we weren’t in the rental market. We want to stay the course, this being a fun team to watch. We have a great group of kids, a great team with a lot of chemistry. Right now, we’re only four points out (of a playoff spot), and we have a couple of games in hand.

“We have a great (four-game) homestand here, we’ve played well at home all year and hopefully we can win some games here and put ourselves in good position.”

All along, Sakic had made clear that aversion to acquiring a likely rental, even if that improved the Avalanche’s chances of making the playoffs. Those chances improved a bit Monday. At the end of the night, the Los Angeles Kings had 73 points and were precariously sitting in the second Western Conference wild-card spot, two points ahead of the 33-24-5 Avalanche. Calgary (73) and St. Louis (72) were between the Avs and Kings.

In different situations as the deadline approached: a) the San Jose Sharks added Evander Kane, whose contract is expiring, from Buffalo; b) the Boston Bruins took on Rick Nash, whose deal is up, from the Rangers; and, c) the Winnipeg Jets acquired former Avs center and still-Denver resident Paul Stastny, whose four-year, $28-million contract with St. Louis — the one he signed after turning his back on the Avalanche — is coming to an end.

In fact, the Avs previously had taken a shot on rentals during Sakic’s tenure, most notably in 2016 adding Shawn Matthias and Mikkel Boedker, who both departed as unrestricted free agents after Colorado failed to reach the postseason.

The biggest name on the market, Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson, who has one more season remaining on his deal, remained with the Senators for now.

Sakic wouldn’t address whether the Avalanche — currently minus injured defensemen Erik Johnson, Mark Barberio and Anton Lindholm — got in the bidding for Karlsson, who still is  expected to be dealt in the offseason.

“Had conversations with a lot of different GMs, a lot of different things,” Sakic said.

That also might have included checking with the Rangers about veteran defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh, who is under contract through 2018-19. McDonagh ended up going to Tampa Bay, along with J.T. Miller, for two picks and three players.

I asked Sakic if the Feb. 18 injury to Johnson changed his outlook at all as the deadline neared.

“No,” Sakic said. “Like I said, without Erik in the lineup, we’re going to stay the course and not giving up assets.”

He alluded to the haul the Avalanche got in the three-team November deal involving Matt Duchene, then added: “We’re still in the mode where we’re starting his and want to grow together and we’re still building up the depth pool, the prospect pool.”

The Avs are playing it coy with Johnson’s injury and especially the prognosis (“out indefinitely”), but it’s crystal clear that his absence creates a major problem. I discussed that in my previous commentary, also opining that standing pat at the deadline was a reasonable and defensible strategy after checking around.

Sakic said of the three injured D-men in general: “We don’t know when they’re going to be back. We think (Lindholm) might be back sooner.”

The Avalanche recalled defensemen David Warsofsky and Duncan Siemens last week, and now Alt, who was the quarterback on a state high school championship team in Minnesota in 2009 and then played three seasons of hockey at the University of Minnesota, also will get a look.

“He’s still young and he’s just starting,” Sakic said of Alt, 26. “He’s played some games (in the NHL) and he’s showing signs of maturing … He’s getting that opportunity right now. He had a little bit of opportunity this year. He’s big, he’s a defender and he can move the puck up.”

Comeau has played well this season on the Avalanche’s revitalized third line, but he is 32. I asked Sakic if, in line with the reboot, the Avalanche considered trading Comeau — who would have been a rental for someone else.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” Sakic said. “We did look at different things and what we had to weigh was the return compared to what it means to have a great veteran like that in the dressing room. He’s a leader on our team. Like I said, we didn’t want to change out lineup because we’re four points out and our guys believe and we believe in them.”

It keeps coming back to that. At times, it might seem to some that this team is getting too much praise, considering the Avalanche still is only in sixth place in a seven-team division and in 11th in a 15-team conference. But considering the Avalanche had only 22 wins and 48 points last season, the major improvement is startling. And Sakic is committed to the roster that has pulled it off.

“That’s why we didn’t move anybody,” Sakic said. “We want to keep this team together. They’re growing together, they’re learning, they’re going through some ups and downs. But that’s what this year is for. We’re starting this process and part of that is to go through it, face some adversity, go through the ups and downs and keep fighting for a playoff spot.”

*   *   *

Denver-based journalist Terry Frei writes two commentaries a week about the Avalanche for Mile High Sports. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times, four times in Colorado (including for 2016) and three times in Oregon. He’s the author of seven books, including the fact-based novel “Olympic Affair” about Colorado’s Glenn Morris, the 1936 Olympic decathlon champion; and “Third Down and a War to Go,” about the 1942 football national champion Wisconsin Badgers and the players’ subsequent World War II heroism. His web site is terryfrei.com and his additional “On the Colorado Scene” commentaries on subjects beyond the Avalanche are at terryfrei/oncolorado. 

E-mail: terry@terryfrei.com

Twitter: @tfrei

Terry Frei’s MHS Commentary/Story Archive:

Avalanche standing pat wouldn’t be irresponsible inertia

If the NHL stays away again, USA Hockey should be all-collegians

Just your average Harvard guy from West Vancouver

As MacKinnon skates closer to return, Avs have stayed in the playoff hunt

Bowman Brothers Reunion with the Colorado Eagles in final season as Avs’ ECHL affiliate

The longer Bernier can hold the net, the better off the Avalanche will be

Magazine: Interview with DU local product — and Olympian — Troy Terry  

Magazine: Nordic Combined ace Bryan Fletcher beat childhood cancer 

Magazine: Arvada-raised Olympic snowboarder Chris Corning  

Magazine: Mikaela Shiffrin can add Olympic glory in amazing season

Magazine: Lindsey Vonn shooting to stay healthy, go for gold 

Magazine: Lakewood’s Nicole Hensley is USA’s backup goalie

Magazine: Gateway High Olympian Stephen Garbett

Don’t let MacKinnon injury knock the Avalanche off course

NHL, Avs heading back to work, not Olympics

A Tale of Avalanche All-Stars, past and present

All Aboard! Avalanche bandwagon gains momentum

A kid in Long Beach and his first stick

Jonathan Bernier on taking over the Avalanche net

Nathan MacKinnon doesn’t mind not being recognized … at the mall

Glory Days … Now get Springsteen out of your head

Sakic/Bednar and Elway/Joseph: Eerie parallels

Carl Soderberg goes from albatross to asset

Magazine: Jim Montgomery is Mile High Sports’ college coach of the year

Magazine: Will Butcher is Mile High Sports’ college athlete of the year 

Varlamov playing better than the numbers might indicate 

At the Christmas break, Avalanche is last — but still a turnaround story  

Tyson Barrie isn’t pictured, but he’s in the Avalanche picture 

On this (unnamed) line, Gabe Landeskog amps up the scoring

Avalanche rushing game involves Girard and Jost

And the Nathan MacKinnon answer is… 

Noted hockey pundit Yogi Berra would call this deja vu all over again

MacKinnon and O’Reilly meet again

Catching up with Jared Bednar

Gabe Landeskog has to be smarter, and he’s the first to say so

For Avalanche, winning back fans isn’t easy, either

Horseman/defenseman Erik Johnson up to playing marathon minutes

Ring of Famer Red Miller, Part One: Coal Miner’s son

Ring of Famer Red Miller, Part Two: About those %$#@ Raiders… 

This time a year ago, the wheels fell off 

Post-trade: On Girard and Kamenev

Matt Duchene heads to Ottawa

Stockholm is a Homecoming for Landeskog

Why Can’t MacKinnon do that every night?

And this Avalanche team is?

At the Pepsi Center, you’ll think you’re in Chicago

Is Zadorov ready to be – and stay – a top-pairing “D”?

For this is to work, Bernier has to be better

This isn’t just Jared Bednar’s second season. It’s his second chance.

Sven (The Reindeer) Andrighetto speedily skating into Avalanche forefront

With Avalanche off to another 3-1 start, leadership is a “core” issue

Magazine: Colorado Eagles’ class act in Northern Colorado

Magazine: Avalanche convinced a turnaround is possible