The trade deadline is always a day that has people holding their breath. Both players and fans are on the edges of their seats, wondering who is going to be moved and who is going to stay. This year was no different.
On what turned out to be a very quiet trade deadline, there were several rumors surrounding a number of Colorado Avalanche players—players who have been part of the franchise for a while and players who are only in their second years. The most notable of these names were John-Michael Liles and Paul Stastny.
After the day came and went, the Avalanche had only made one trade. Trading Kevin Montgomery to Edmonton for Shawn Belle, an American Hockey League trade. Far from the blowing up of a roster that many Avalanche fans, including Paul Stastny's dad, was expecting. As it turns out, not moving Liles, Stastny and others is probably the best thing that the Avalanche could have done and here's why.
Over the days leading up to the trade deadline, there were several discussions going on regarding Liles. It was actually quite a surprise to see how many people thought it would necessary to trade him. The main reasons that kept coming up were that he had an inflated contract and that he is a "liability" in the defensive zone. Here's why not trading him was smart.
First, his contract might be a little big, but the Avalanche need that contract in order to stay at the salary cap floor, where they have been hovering for most of the year. So his salary had quite the opposite effect that most people thought it did.
Second, Liles might not be the greatest defensive defenseman in the world, the league, or even on the team, but that's not what is expected of him. Liles is an offensive defenseman. His job isn't to worry about shutting down the opposing team's top player, his job is to get involved on the other side of the ice and surprise the other team's defense. This is something that Liles does exceptionally well.
As of right now, Liles has 41 points, that is seventh in the league among defensemen. He leads the team in assists, with 35, and regularly logs about 20 minutes worth of ice time. He is incredibly valuable to this team.
His value isn't just on the ice. Liles has really become a leader on this team. This really started after he played his way out of coach Sacco's "doghouse" last year and really exploded with scoring earlier this year. Players see his energy and drive and it is contagious. This is a guy that really does improve any team that he's on with his hunger and ability.
One other thing to add about Liles, which will return later in this story, is how adored he is by both his fellow players and fans. It definitely takes a toll on players when one of the guys who has always been a fixture in the locker room leaves. Same for the fans. In case you weren't on twitter during the day of the trade deadline, there was a rampant movement amongst the fans who constantly tagged each tweet with #DontTradeLiles. It's hard to put a value on something like that.
Once Stastny's dad went off in the papers about how Avalanche GM Greg Sherman was "destroying" the team with the trades that he made, that seemed to make some people feel like Stastny would be traded, as if the feelings of someone's parents really mattered that much to the team and the front office.
Son Stastny has never made any inclination that he doesn't want to be an Avalanche player, nor has he ever shown any frustration with anything other than the losing trend that has been happening. The only reason that his dad got any real play is because he formerly played for the Quebec organization, before it moved to Colorado and was one of its all time greats. Does anybody honestly think people would have given this a second thought if his dad was just some random Joe who had never played professionally in his life? Doubtful.
Stastny has also shown himself to be quite a leader on this team. In his rookie year, Stastny scored 28 goals and had a great year. At that time, people were still very focused on shutting down Joe Sakic, and he was able to reap the benefits of being a great player on a secondary line. Now that he's the guy, Stastny has still managed to put up numbers, despite being focused on by the team's biggest defensive pairing.
Currently, Stastny has 19 goals, but should easily break the 20 goal mark before the end of the season. That would make four out of his five professional years that Stastny has broken 20 goals and the only year he didn't, he only played half of the games in the season.
One other thing that is very underrated about Stastny is how good he is on face-offs. He is definitely the Avs number one guy on face-offs and constantly finds himself taking draws in his defensive zone in critical situations. This season he has taken over 1300 face-offs and has won them 53.4 percent of the time. Definitely not too shabby. The next closest player on the team, as far as draws taken, is Matt Duchene, with 997. This says a lot about his ability, and how much he is trusted on these faceoffs.
There were a few rumblings that a contending team might try and take a run at Hejduk, and that the Avs might be tempted to trade him, or at least ask him to wave his No Trade Clause. This didn't happen, obviously, and it's a good thing for the Avs.
Hejduk has scored 20 goals, or more, in each of the last 10 seasons and is only one goal away from doing so again this year. That type of consistency is so important to a team. It gives them confidence, and it gives them a certain sense of relaxation. They know, no matter what, that Hejduk is good for those goals.
Plus, how can anybody be tempted to trade a guy that has the kind of hands that Hejduk does. This guy could stick handle around somebody inside of a phone booth. He barely needs any kind of space, but the second that he finds it, the puck is in the back of the net.
Hejduk's numbers have obviously benefited from the years that he spent on the same line with Peter Forsberg or Joe Sakic, but even with both of those players gone, Hejduk has always managed to be a threat and a great teammate.
Another thing that can't be forgotten is that Hejduk, aside from Adam Foote, is the only other player currently on the Avalanche roster from the last Stanley Cup championship team. Veteran leadership is obviously a good thing, but when you have a guy who has been to the promised land and who has reached the top of the mountain, he is able to help drive the other players to get back there. The younger guys see that Stanley Cup ring and want to taste that glory.
One final reason that makes keeping Hejduk such a positive, which is rarely given any credence, is his love of the community. Hejduk has never played for another team in the National Hockey League and he is a fixture not only in the Avalanche locker room, but in the community of Denver as well. It would kill the fan base to see Hejduk play for another team and might end up killing the Avalanche if they ever had to play against him. Luckily, that isn't going to happen.
In the end, keeping each of these players is a very smart thing for the Avalanche. Any of them could very well end up as the next captain of the team, as many expect this to be the last year for current captain Adam Foote. Each of them are leaders of their team both on and off of the ice.
The most important reason of all is that each of these players still has a lot of good hockey left in a team that is rebuilding. Every team needs some veterans to help mold the younger players and as the Avalanche currently have the youngest roster in the league, it is even more important.
Liles is just 30 years old, Stastny is still in his 20s and Hedjuk, as the senior citizen at age 35, still has a lot of good hockey left in him. They could each spend at least five more solid years and help build this team back into one that is a perennial contender.
Even with the off-season fast approaching for the Avalanche, it would still be quite a shock if this team did decide to trade any of these players. Their abilities and positives far outshine any of their negatives and they have shown that the entire Colorado Avalanche organization, as well as the whole city of Denver, is better for having them. In the end, there will still be much more to see from all three of these players in an Avalanche uniform.