Ryan O’Reilly’s trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs late Friday night was the talk of the hockey world. For good reason.

Not only did the St. Louis Blues double down on selling before the March 3 trade deadline, but arguably the biggest name remaining on the market was suddenly heading east. And for the Avalanche and their search for a second-line center, it’s another rental option snatched away by another Cup-contending team.

So where do the Avs go from here?

Bo Horvat was already dealt to the New York Islanders, and with O’Reilly now traded, it leaves Jonathan Toews and Sean Monahan as the two remaining clear-cut rental pieces that could fill the void left by Nazem Kadri. Toews hasn’t played since Jan. 28 because of an illness, and it’s unclear if or when he’ll return. And Monahan returned to practice with Montreal on Friday after missing more than two and a half months with a lower-body injury. His initial early-December timeline was 2-3 weeks.

If the Avs are to acquire a second-line center this season, it might be wise to look for a player with term. Someone signed to at least another year after this, at a reasonable cap number, that Colorado could secure for more than one playoff race. It might be the best option at this point.


The Avalanche improved to 10-2-2 in their last 14 games on Saturday following a 4-1 victory in St. Louis. It was a game they couldn’t afford to lose given the trade the previous night of the suddenly gutted Blues. Bowen Byram had two goals — his first since returning from an injury that put him out for more than two months. Mikko Rantanen ended his six-game goal-less drought to reach No. 200 of his career, and Valeri Nichushkin put home just his second goal since Oct. 25.

Nathan MacKinnon, J.T. Compher and Samuel Girard had two assists, each, and Justus Annunen got his first start of the season — making 19 saves to secure the victory.

Colorado (30-19-5, 65 points) is suddenly just four points back of Winnipeg (34-20-1, 69 points) for second place in the Central Division with a game in hand. The Avs host the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday with an opportunity to pull within two points. Their following game will be in Winnipeg on Friday.

Listen to “Taking Care of Business in St. Louis” on Spreaker.


Makar hurt again, returns again

For the second time in 11 days, Cale Makar exited the game after taking a blow to the head. Against the Penguins on Feb. 7, Makar returned and finished the game before sitting out the next four with a concussion. Saturday’s matinee was his first game back, and it happened again.

The hit wasn’t as severe as the one he absorbed early last week, but it did send him back to the quiet room for another look. Makar told Kyle Fredrickson of the Colorado Gazette following the game that he expects to play against Edmonton on Sunday. But if the concussion symptoms return, and Makar is unable to go, it might be time for the Avalanche to take the decision out of his hands in the future.

Bo’s got confidence

Last season Byram suddenly went from barely an option to one of the biggest pieces of the Avs’ Stanley Cup run. His concussion issues had nearly hampered his entire season before he returned in April. And even then, he didn’t look like himself for the rest of the regular season or the early part of the playoffs. He needed time to regain his game and confidence.

In his sixth game back from this season’s injury, Byram looks to be on that same track. His two goals against St. Louis were his third and fourth of the season, and first since October. Byram has been a wonderful defensive addition to the lineup since returning and is finally finding his offensive groove once again. With Manson also expected to play Sunday at Ball Arena, Colorado could have all five of its defensive horses in the lineup for the first time in nearly three months. Byram playing the way he did against the Blues will only elevate the group’s play.

Nichushkin scores

It’s tough to predict if Nichushkin is anywhere close to 100 percent healthy. What started as a phenomenal season was dragged down because of injuries that have lingered since October. Nichushkin scored on the power play for the Avs on Saturday, just his second goal since Oct. 25. It was also just his 19th game in three and a half months.

The Russian forward stormed out of the gate with seven goals and five assists in seven games. He was seemingly carrying over his strong play from the playoffs right into the new season. But in that seventh game — a victory at Madison Square Garden — Nichushkin was injured and didn’t return until Dec. 9. He played 13 games before sitting out again for several weeks.

When you take into account the production he had a year ago (25 goals, 52 points), and the fact that Gabriel Landeskog has missed all season to this point, it’s easy to see why Colorado has struggled to score. But Nichushkin’s play has been better of late. Against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, Nichushkin was a force in the crease, setting up a goal and screening Andrei Vasileskiy on Artturi Lehkonen’s tally 50 seconds in.

His goal against the Blues was also in the crease. It’s a good sign for a player who usually produces from the blue paint.

Annunen progressing

The last time we saw Annunen in NHL action, he was thrust into the starters role because of injuries to both Pavel Francouz and Darcy Kuemper. He was victorious despite surrendering five goals to Philadelphia on 32 shots. Annunen has since seen his numbers with the Colorado Eagles progress. His .893 save percentage a season ago has jumped to .912 this year.

The Finnish goaltender made his way to North America at the start of last season and needed to adjust. What he did against the Blues — albeit with minimal shots — shows that the young goalie has progressed well since late 2021. Is he ready for a full-time NHL role? Unlikely. But the Avs don’t need him, yet. They just need to see him continue to develop into what could be the long-term goalie of the future.