MONTREAL, QUE – Joe Sakic didn’t want to make the call to Darcy Kuemper telling him the Colorado Avalanche were not bringing back their goaltender who was in net when they won the Stanley Cup.
He also couldn’t afford to wait.
The champs started a domino effect of draft day trades that started to reshape the goaltending landscape around the league when they acquired Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers. The trade, which came just before Pittsburgh re-signed veteran defenseman Kris Letang to a long-term deal, set the stage for Minnesota to bring back Marc-Andre Fleury and Toronto to give up a first-round pick to shed Petr Mrazek’s contract.
“We wanted to get ahead of it, for sure,” said Sakic, who has now won the Cup as Colorado’s GM after leading the team to two championships as captain. “Alex, he was a priority for us. We like his age. We’re a younger team, and we felt we can have him for a number of years.”
The Penguins now expect to have Kris Letang around for a number of years after signing him for $36.6 million over the next six seasons. The contract for the 36-year-old stalwart on the blue line carries a $6.1 million annual salary cap hit.
“It was more of a contract to fit both parties: give a chance to the Penguins to sign other players and also based on performance and what I did in the last few years,” Letang said. “I think it was a mix of both. There was not like a set number or a set of years. It was just to fit both parties and make sure we can still compete and win and not take a big chunk and not leaving anything left.”
Working to clear cap space that could be used on goaltending prompted the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers to give up first-round picks to shed contracts. The Maple Leafs sent the 25th pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for No. 38 to free them of Petr Mrazek’s contract, and the Oilers ponied up with the 29th selection, a 2024 third and a 2025 second-rounder in exchange for No. 32 for the Arizona Coyotes to take forward Zach Kassian.
Edmonton and Toronto are among the top potential destinations for Kuemper, who played well enough in the playoffs to help Colorado win the Cup.
“He did a heck of a job for us all year,” Sakic said. “He’s going to do great wherever he goes. He’s going to have that opportunity to sign and there’s going to be a bunch of teams trying to sign him.”
Minnesota won’t be that team after locking up Fleury on a $7 million, two-year deal. Staying with the Wild became the best option for the 37-year-old who was traded to them from Chicago before the deadline in March.
The Blackhawks were one of the busiest teams on the first day of the draft, beginning their much-anticipated dismantling process by trading a pair of young forwards. They sent Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa and Kirby Dach to Montreal, getting back two top-15 picks.
Montreal, which took Slovak winger Juraj Slafkovsky with the No. 1 pick, spurred the move by acquiring No. 13 from trading defenseman Alexander Romanov and the 98th pick to the Islanders. General manager Kyle Davidson said the trade only materialized when the Canadiens got that pick, and that still didn’t make it easier to move on from DeBrincat or Dach.
“It’s difficult to trade any young player, and especially young contributors like we did,” Davidson said. “It’s not easy. Going through a rebuild, it’s not fun. Doing things you have to do to get to where you want to go is not fun. There’s going to be tough days like this where you see familiar faces and faces that we in management and the fans know and love, but it’s necessary and it’s necessary to get to where we want to be.”
Where they want to be eventually is atop the NHL again like the Avalanche are now. They will attempt to defend their title with 26-year-old Georgiev as their starter and 31-year-old Pavel Francouz returning as the backup.
“When he was a starter, he played really well,” Sakic said. “He wanted a bigger opportunity, and he’s got that opportunity. He’s looking forward to the challenge
The Penguins, who won it all back to back in 2016 and ’17, now turn their attention to trying to re-sign star center Evgeni Malkin, who’s set to be an unrestricted free agent next week. General manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday the team was closer to an agreement with Letang than Malkin.
When Malkin texted Letang on Thursday, he responded, “I hope you get this done soon so we keep it all together.”
The Blackhawks are certainly not keeping their group together after trading DeBrincat and Dach. The Senators on the way to contending sooner than later were thrilled to make a trade with rebuilding Chicago.
“It’s way more fun adding than deleting,” GM Pierre Dorion said. “We want to play meaningful games until the end of the year. I think that’s one step closer to doing that. Obviously the rebuild has been going on. We feel we’re in the next phase now, and for us adding a player of this caliber you have to pay a certain price, and we felt it was a fair deal.”
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