Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic was relentless in his pursuit of former Montreal Canadiens winger Artturi Lehkonen leading up to the March 21 NHL trade deadline.
“From the start, Lehkonen was a player we were looking at and I let Kent know that we were certainly interested,” the Avalanche GM said at media day on Tuesday. “We stayed in contact the whole way. We were watching Montreal quite a bit. And he was definitely on our radar for what type of player we were looking at. He’s been everything that we thought he would be.
First of all, a great person. He works extremely hard. He’s versatile. He can play anywhere up and down your lineup. He’s got a motor on him and he never takes a shift off. He’s been a great fit. One of those guys, he’s really smart, really competitive, knows who he is. Just love the way he competes.’’
Just prior to the NHL trade deadline, Sakic’s persistence paid off and the Avalanche acquired Lehokonen in exchange for for 20-year old defenceman Justin Barron and a 2024 2nd round pick.
“Joe was just pretty consistent, checking in, saying, ‘would you consider this?’ And I was pretty consistent in saying no,” Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes recalled to Pierre LeBrun of Athletic this past weekend. “There were other teams that had called and inquired as well. I told them it would take a lot for us to trade him. He’s good, he’s young. Joe just checked in pretty regularly on it. I was almost embarrassed because I kept saying ‘No.’ Joe did it the right way. He kept it alive and eventually it just got done.”
Hughes had said no on Lehkonen to Joe Sakic so many times that he felt confident enough to tell the Finnish winger he wouldn’t be traded in the days leading into the NHL Trade Deadline.
“I’m remembering a conversation I had with him either the night before or two nights before the deadline,” Hughes recounted. “We were leaving the rink and I said, ‘Lehky, are you hanging in there? I know your name is all over the place.’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ And he never asked me anything. He said, ‘I figured it was none of my business. This is a business and you’re going to do what you’re going to do.
I said, ‘I can tell you I’m not trying to trade you. We value you. But I can’t tell you I wouldn’t, either,” Hughes recalled. “It would have to be something really good.’ I’m pretty sure it was 24 hours later I called him back to say, ‘I just traded you. But then I said, ‘I think there’s some good news. Let me ask you: If you were to pick where you would want to get traded to have the best chance at winning the Stanley Cup, where would you want to go?’
“He said, ‘Colorado.’ I said, ‘Colorado it is.’’’
With six goals and five assists in 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games, Lehkonen will now get another shot at trying to derail the Tampa Bay Lightning dynasty after losing, along with his former Montreal Canadiens teammates, to them in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.
“Kind of like a rematch for me. I’m excited for sure,’’ Lehkonen said on media day Tuesday.
That rematch comes thanks to another Western Conference overtime clincher by Artturi Lehkonen in Game 4 of the 2022 Western Conference Final against the Edmonton Oilers.