Rocky Mountain Way: Reviewing The Mutually Beneficial Colorado-Washington Trade Pipeline

After the Washington Capitals traded center Lars Eller to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2025 second-round pick this week, many were pleasantly surprised by the return that Eller fetched, considering the 33-year-old has seen his production decline over the last two seasons, and his current deal carries a $3.5 million cap hit.

But the this week’s Eller deal with Colorado is only the latest in a series of dealings between the two franchises under Brian MacLellan’s tenure as Washington’s General Manager. And the past moves between the two clubs could be considered very favorable, or assisting in nature, to both sides of the equation.

Orpik’s Round Trip

On June 22, 2018, Washington sent goaltender Philipp Grubauer and defenseman Brooks Orpik to the Mile High City for the 47th overall pick (used on right-wing Kody Clark) in the NHL Draft the following day. Orpik was on the hook for $5.5 million cap hit for another season and was coming off a historically bad regular season where he tallied just 10 assists, a team-worst -9 rating, 44.29% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage (second-worst among team defensemen who played at least 20 games), 40.98% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage (second-worst), and 44.44% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage (third-worst) in 81 regular-season games.

Washington had to trade Grubauer, a pending restricted free agent at the time, to re-sign defensemen John Carlson and Michal Kempny (both unrestricted free agents) in addition to right-wing Tom Wilson (restricted). Instead of making them sweeten the pot to take Orpik, they accepted Grubauer as the incentive and took the discount on him to also acquire Orpik.

The following day, Colorado bought out the final season Orpik’s deal and Washington re-signed him the next month at a much more reasonable $1 million cap hit for the 2018-19 season. It was such masterclass by Washington that both sides were interrogated by the NHL to ensure Orpik returning to the District was not part of the arrangement that both sides made with one another.

The Andre Way

A little more than 12 months to the day of the Orpik and Grubauer trade, Colorado stepped up and deal 2020 second- and third-round picks to Washington for left-wing Andre Burakovsky, who requested a trade four months earlier to get more opportunity in a team’s top-six forward group. Washington dealt the second-round pick acquired in the trade to the San Jose Sharks as part of a deal to acquire defenseman Brenden Dillon eight months later.

Burakovsky wanted (and needed) a change of scenery and it worked out very well for both him and Colorado. He set career-highs in goals (20) and points (45) in 58 games during his first season in Denver. Burakovsky came just one goal and point, respectively, behind that mark in his second season in Colorado.

Last season, Burakovsky set career-highs with 22 goals, 39 assists, and 61 points. Though he was a healthy scratch in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he was still a valuable contributor with three goals and eight points in 12 games for the eventual champs.

The Great Dane

The previous two deals get us to yesterday where Colorado took Eller, a pending unrestricted free agent who Washington needed to unload, and paid Washington happily to acquire him. The 33-year-old recorded only seven goals and 16 points in 60 games this season before the trade. Washington, who is selling players on expiring contracts for the first time since captain Alex Ovechkin’s sophomore campaign, had to offload him with his contract set to expire and center Aliaksei Protas among the players in the system needing a bigger role.

Colorado arguably did not just do this deal to help Washington. They have lacked some depth down the middle after Nazem Kadri signed with the Calgary Flames last August in addition to both Nathan MacKinnon and Evan Rodrigues both having missed 11 games due to injury this season. With Colorado still very much in win-now mode and Bo Horvat (who was traded to the New York Islanders in January) and Ryan O’Reilly (dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs last month) both off of the trade board, their options were waning.

Colorado also needed the help on the penalty-kill, where they are currently tied for 17th with a 77.5% efficiency and Eller, who averaged 1:51 per game (second among Washington forwards excluding right-wing Connor Brown), was among the leaders of his team in that department this season.

Still, were they really desperate enough to give up a second-round pick for a (declining) fourth-line center? Behind MacKinnon, both Rodrigues (11 goals, 27 points in 48 games) and Alex Newhook (13 goals, 23 points in 59) have had better seasons than Eller. There is more that goes into offensive production, of course, but the point remains that they paid a high price for a center who is no more than the fourth-highest on their depth chart.

Trading Partners

Wednesday’s Eller trade was just the latest in the well-established Colorado-Washington trade pipeline, and it’s very likely not be the last bit of business that we see the two sides make.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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16 Responses to Rocky Mountain Way: Reviewing The Mutually Beneficial Colorado-Washington Trade Pipeline

  1. franky619 says:

    Now if only they could rid us of Backstrom.

    • Anonymous says:

      Are you serious?

      • franky619 says:

        Hell yeah. They should have never resigned him. Can’t spend 10 millions on a guy like that and be competitive. He has 5 pts at 5v5 in 20 gms and that’s including an empty netter.

    • KimRB says:

      It ain’t happening. May as well not even expend energy wishing for it. He’s got two more years after this, at $9.2M, and his production isn’t gonna be worth that, plus he’s got an NMC, to boot. He’s effectively untradeable.

      Sorry to burst your bubble

      • franky619 says:

        Can still be bought out.

        • KimRB says:

          That is true, but it’s something the Caps typically don’t do. The last time I can remember a Cap being bought out, was Ben Clymer, and that was when McPhee was still in charge.
          To buy out Nick it would cost $12.1M (2/3 of $18.4M) spread over 4 years, or $3M/yr.
          That’s a lot of dead cap space

          • franky619 says:

            It is, but it’s better than having him in the line up holding the team back. They give him way too much oZ%s, which 99% of the time leads to nothing. And for god sakes what the heck is he still doing on the first PP unit? Look where Orlov plays for Boston on the PP, right face off circle, scoring threat from both sides makes their PP much better than playing a guy like Backstrom.

  2. Anonymous says:

    That Orpik deal was a head-spinner that really worked out for the Capitals.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I’ll never forget Mac’s presser after day one of the draft (I believe). He was asked if it was possible Orpik would be waived by Avs, bought-out and re-signed by Capitals, and he said “we think it’s legal” and chuckled after.. 😁

  3. Anonymous says:

    I wish the Caps would try for Boeser and find a way to package Mantha in the swap

    • hockeydruid says:

      Getting rid of Mantha would be a bonus even if they received nothing in return. Just getting rid of him and his salary works so well for next year and beyond. The bad thing is that Mantha really offers nothing for any team so the Caps are stuck with him through next season when he becomes; oh joy joy; a UFA!! For playing 55 games and only producing 24 points (9g and 15A) and with a +- of -6 I really cant think of who would want him.

  4. horn73 says:

    Agreed, unloading Mantha would be huge.Pre GMBM, the first significant player traded from DC to the mountains that I recall was Dale Hunter (back to the Nordiques) for a shot to win the Cup

    • KimRB says:

      There’s an earlier one:
      November 1996, Keith Jones and 1998 #1 pick to Colorado for Chris Simon and, Curt Leschyshyn. CL was flipped after 2 games to Hartford for Andrei Nikolishin

      • horn73 says:

        Good point. I knew Jones played for both, but was unaware of the specifics. Jones, who most now know from NHL network…Chris Simon…talk about a tough dude.

        • Anonymous says:

          No love for Konowalchuk? Come on guys, he was the captain

        • KimRB says:

          Chris was a tough guy, with a bad temper. He got suspended multiple times for doing dumb things. Nicest guy in the world off the ice, though
          I still have a picture of him and my stepdaughter together. Even though Chris was the last player off the ice, and was obviously tired, he still summoned a big smile. The tough guys are almost always real gentlemen when not playing hockey.

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