The Decline of Greatness: The Five Worst Trades in Colorado Avalanche History

James CriderCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2009

DENVER - NOVEMBER 01:  Goaltender Jose Theodore #60 of the Colorado Avalanche had 26 saves against the Pittsburgh Penguins during NHL action at the Pepsi Center on November 1, 2007 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Penguins 3-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Good things don't last forever.

As is the case will all dominant sports team, each eventually fall back to Earth. In the Avalanche's case, their decent was highlighted by some mind boggling high risk, low reward trades.

5. March 9, 2004 - Colorado trades Tom Gilbert to Edmonton for Tommy Salo and a sixth round pick in 2005.

The 2004 season was one in which David Aebischer seemingly secured Patrick Roy's starting job after the latter's retirement. Going into the 2004 playoffs, then general manager and current Avalanche President Pierre Lacroix decided it would be best if Aebischer had an experienced back up in case he faltered.

Big mistake.

The Avalanche acquired a washed-up Tommy Salo from Edmonton to fill the role, and it backfired big time.

Salo started five games for Colorado, going 1-3-1, and only played 27 minutes in the post-season in a relief effort. Couldn't the other Avalanche back-up Philippe Sauve, who was 7-7-3 behind Aebischer, handle such a light load?

Worse than Salo's performance was the player Colorado gave up in Tom Gilbert.

Though the defenseman has struggled a bit this year, he scored 45 points last year and is one of the Oilers top defenders.

And all it cost them was a past his prime goaltender who was never great to begin with.

4. February 28, 1999 - Colorado trades Rene Corbet, Wade Belak, and future considerations to Calgary for Theo Fleury and Chris Dingman.

In 1999, the Avalanche were a power house and tried to bulk up at the deadline. At the time, Calgary was struggling and were willing to part with their franchise player Theo Fleury.

He, along with Chris Dingman were shipped to Colorado for Rene Corbet, Wade Belak, and future considerations. Seems fair enough for a rental player, right?

One problem: those "future considerations" turned out to be star defenseman Robyn Regehr and a second round pick, which ended up drafting Jarret Stoll.

I'm all in favor of a top team trying to make an extra push come playoff time, but the facts are the facts: Fleury only played 15 games for the Avalanche, they didn't win the cup, and a decade later the division rival Flames are the best team in the division largely thanks to the efforts of Regehr.

If only Lacroix would have given Martin Skoula instead.

3. October 1, 2002 - Colorado trades Chris Drury and Stephane Yelle to Calgary for Derek Morris, Jeff Shantz, and Dean McAmmond.

There are some unwritten rules in hockey. One of them is to not trade high end talent with your rivals.

This list is only five trades long, yet this is the third trade where Colorado has traded with a division rival and been burned.

At the time of this trade, Derek Morris was a 24-year-old physical defenseman with a booming slap shot, and Lacroix was in love; so in love that he was willing to trade the Avalanche's best role player in Yelle and one of the best young players in Drury.

Derek Morris played great his first year with Colorado, scoring 11 goals and 48 points, which was more points than Rob Blake.

But, when acquiring a player you expect to be a mainstay with your team, you need consistency. After that first year, Morris play declined significantly and by the end of the next season was no longer a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

As for McAmmond, he only suited up for 41 games due to injury, never filling the hole left by Stephane Yelle (which was left unfilled until Colorado drafted Ryan O'Reilly). McAmmond returned to the Flames team he was traded from the following offseason.Β 

Shantz, on the other hand, departed for the Switzerland after playing some of the worst hockey and Avalanche player has ever played.

This debacle of a trade set up an even bigger debacle...

2. March 9, 2004 - Colorado trades Derek Morris and Keith Ballard to Phoenix for Chris Gratton, Ossi Vaananen, and a second round pick in 2005.

I'm not a general manager, nor do I claim to be one.

But I ask you, the reader, this: when you pay a kings ransom for a player, wouldn't it be wise to hang on to that player for a little while rather than trading him for a scrap pile after a year?

After Morris's offensive production cooled off in 2004, Lacroix traded him, along with future goalie rights activist Keith Ballard to Phoenix in exchange for Chris Gratton (a fourth liner, no longer in the NHL), Ossi Vaananen (a bottom pair defenseman, also no longer in the NHL) and a second round pick.

Lacroix essentially traded Drury, Yelle, and Ballard for Gratton, Vaananen, and a second round pick.

That's horrid asset management.

Many will point to the fact that the second round pick Colorado recieved in the trade ended up drafting current Avalanche star Paul Stastny, but that's not really a valid argument.

Stastny was projected to go in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, and the Avalanche took him in the second round. Even if they didn't have the pick from this trade, they had three other second round picks. One way or another, they were leaving that draft with Peter Stastny's son.

1. March 8, 2006 - Colorado trades David Aebischer to Montreal for Jose Theodore.

No worst trades list would be complete without this doozie.

Seeing his team had fallen to mediocrity, then Avalanche General Manager Pierre Lacroix decided to take one final gamble, once again acquiring a star goaltender from the Montreal Canadiens.


Everything that could have gone wrong did in the three year roller coaster ride that was Jose Theodore's tenure in Colorado.

One must question why Lacroix thought it was a good idea to trade for Theodore in the first place. The goalie had been reduced to backing up Christobal Huet, and was injured with a broken ankle after slipping and falling while getting the mail at his Montreal home.

In fairness to Theodore, he did manage to win two playoff series in his three years in Denver. But that doesn't change the fact that he was atrocious for the majority of the time, which included losing the starting job to Peter Budaj in 2007.

Worst of all is that the price tag on Theodore was 6 million per season; top dollar for a man who was warming the bench most nights.

Theodore's hefty price tag forced the Avalanche to cut ties with star defenseman Rob Blake and trade star winger Alex Tanguay, replacing both with affordable commodities like Ken Klee and Tyler Arnason.

David Aebischer, on the other hand, wasn't signed after the 2006 season, so it would have been very easy for Colorado to find a quality free agent goaltending option while keeping their top end players.

At the end of Theodore's tenure, the Avalanche did reward his strong play with a two-year contract offer, but he bolted for more money in Washington (where he once again has been reduced to being a back-up).

This trade was a complete mess in every sense of the word, and takes the cake as the worst move in Avalanche history.

All of the trades I've discussed are bad, but this is the only trade that ended up causing Colorado to miss the playoffs.


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