March 27: In advance of the Avalanche’s match tonight against the Minnesota Wild, The Athletic’s Peter Baugh issued an update on the immigration situation of newly-acquired Avalanche forward Artturi Lehkonen, who has yet to play a game for the team. Lehkonen is reportedly “still in a holding pattern” with regard to his immigration paperwork, and it is unclear if that will be resolved by the time the Avalanche take the ice against the Wild.
March 25: The Colorado Avalanche paid a significant price to acquire forward Artturi Lehkonen from the Montreal Canadiens on Monday’s trade deadline. They sent the Canadiens a 2024 second-round pick and defenseman Justin Barron, the team’s 2020 first-round pick. Avalanche GM Joe Sakic made the deal likely with the idea that Lehkonen would be able to help the team prepare for the playoffs and find chemistry on his new team as the Avalanche play to secure their playoff spot. But despite those hopes, it is unclear when Lehkonen, who is healthy, will be making his debut with the Avalanche. In his media availability today, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar stated that the process of securing Lehkonen a visa so he can play for the Avalanche is still ongoing, and until it’s completed, he can only practice with the team, and not play in their games. Adrian Dater of Colorado Hockey Now added that “as of this moment,” Lehkonen’s immigration paperwork was still incomplete.
While this development does not figure to do any real damage to the Avalanche’s ability to make the playoffs (they have a 100% chance of making the playoffs, per MoneyPuck.com) it does mean that the process of getting Lehkonen settled in the Avalanche lineup could be stalled until further notice. Part of the reason Lehkonen was such an attractive trade asset for the Avalanche was his versatility. He routinely played in many different situations and on many different lines in Montreal, and it’s with that versatility that Lehkonen could make a major impact on the makeup of the Avalanche lineup. But with the holding pattern the team finds itself in concerning Lehkonen’s immigration paperwork, finding the best fit for their prized acquisition before the playoffs begin could be more challenging.
But, as has been already mentioned, the Avalanche are under no serious threat to miss the playoffs. They currently sit first in the Central with a 45-14-5 record and have a fifteen-point lead over the second-place Minnesota Wild. But like many of the other contending teams, the Avalanche’s success this regular season was the basic expectation for their club. The players and the organization as a whole will be judged based on their playoff success, and that’s where this Lehkonen setback may be slightly more concerning. Lehkonen was highly effective in Montreal’s run to the Stanley Cup Final last season, as a crucial third wheel on the team’s Phillip Danault-centered shutdown line. Lehkonen had extensive experience playing with Danault and Brendan Gallagher before that, and by the time he was called into action to replace Tomas Tatar early in the Canadiens’ first-round series versus the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was able to hit the ground running. Getting that sort of player was seemingly Sakic’s goal in trading for the Finnish winger, but these immigration issues could prove to be a bit of a setback to fully integrating Lehkonen into Sakic’s juggernaut Avalanche squad.