After 21 years, the Colorado Avalanche have finally lifted the Stanley Cup. It was a long road; just five years ago, the Avalanche had a 48-point season, they were eliminated in the second round three years in a row, and the team needed a change. General manager, Joe Sakic, had to make strategic moves over the years to get the team from the bottom of the league to its highest honor. Sakic is known for making steals, getting hidden stars for almost nothing, bringing them to Colorado, and letting them thrive. One of the best examples is defensemen Devon Toews.
In 2018, Toews was a fourth-round draft pick for the New York Islanders. His first NHL point was a game-winning goal in overtime against Chicago. He scored his first playoff goal that season in round two against Carolina. Toews played a total of 116 regular-season games, scored 11 goals, and had 35 assists and 15 post-season points in 30 games while in New York. It may not seem like much of a stat line, but to a certain jack-of-all-trades, it was just what his team needed.
In October 2020, Toews was traded to the Avalanche for two second-round draft picks. He was a restricted free agent who had just signed a salary arbitration. The arbitration was a big part of why the Islanders needed to move Toews, he was due for a raise, and the Islanders didn’t have the cap room. The Islanders had first-round pick Noah Dobson in the pipeline. They thought he could fill Toews’ spot, so Lou Lamoriello (Islander’s General Manager) gave Toews to Colorado.
It wasn’t definite, but Toews was poised to break out as the Islanders were in a cap crunch. Toews was a big part of the Islanders making it to the 2020 Eastern Conference Final. Joe Sakic had a significant opportunity. For only two draft picks, Sakic would get a defenseman who knew what it takes to make it into the elusive third round. He signed Toews to a four-year, $4.1 million contract. Two days after Toews got married, he was off to Colorado.
Sakic saw potential in Toews, and it was confirmed almost instantly. In his first season with Colorado, he played 53 games with nine goals, 22 assists, and a 29 +/- record. In the 2020 playoffs, he had one goal, five assists, and a 10 +/-. Toews was key in sweeping the Blues and helped keep Colorado in the fight against Vegas. Ironically, the Islanders missed the playoffs that year. It seemed they were missing some offensive defense that had helped them in the past.
Toews exploded in the 21/22 season with 13 goals, 44 assists, and a 52 +/-, double his last season in New York. Toews plays all over the ice, is a two-way player, and is a perfect fit for the Avalanche. There isn’t an aspect of the game he can’t master. He’s a solid defender, jumps in on offense, can play twenty minutes a night, and has a powerful one-timer that impresses even the best forwards. He flies under the radar because his primary defense partner is the phenom, Cale Makar. The two are electric together. They both look at their roles as defenders as ways to create scoring chances. That means no relief on either end of the ice for opponents. Both Toews and Makar seek ways to get a goal from any spot. If both are on the ice, it’s game over. Makar deserves all the praise he gets, but Toews is with him. He should be in the conversation every year for a top defenseman in the league and was in consideration for Team Canada at the Olympics if the NHL had let players go.
Toews brings more than just scoring defense to the Avalanche. One thing every Avalanche player echoes are that the team is a family. It’s part of how they’ve made it through everything they’ve been through. Toews fits that family aspect perfectly. There is no question he loves his teammates. He takes every opportunity to praise them in interviews, comment on social media posts, and celebrate goals with them. He is the voice of reason, sunshine in the locker room, and the biggest Avs fan. His teammates love him back. They wish the spotlight would be more on him, and he deserves it. His presence on the ice is always felt, whether it’s scoring or backing up his teammates. Players have said even though he only has 173 games played, he feels like a veteran. He buys into the Avalanche’s “next man up” mentality and knows the team needs everyone to do their part to win the Stanley Cup.
Which the Avs did on June 24th, defeating Tampa Bay 2-1 in Tampa. In the 2022 playoffs, Toews had five goals, ten assists, and a 5 +/-. When the clock struck zero, he was on the ice, and the Avalanche had done it. He threw his helmet off and immediately embraced Logan O’Connor, falling into a group hug. He had achieved the dream, played with the next Bobby Orr, stepped up when needed, flourished, and helped the Avalanche lift the Stanley Cup.
All that for two draft picks—the perfect Sakic Steal.