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STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- For the first time in six seasons, the NHL returns to Scandinavia via its Global Series.
The Colorado Avalanche and the Ottawa Senators will stage a two-game series on Friday and Saturday at the Ericsson Globe. Previously, the Los Angeles Kings, the Anaheim Ducks and the New York Rangers opened the 2011-12 season there.
Colorado and Ottawa will alternate as home teams with the Avalanche set to be the host on Friday (2 p.m. ET).
The intrigue around the matchup is dialed up due to the high-profile trade that was executed before the teams left North America for Stockholm.
Matt Duchene, the subject of trade rumors over the past year, was traded to the Senators from the Avalanche in a three-way swap last Saturday. Although Colorado is off to a respectable 8-6-0 record this season, the Avalanche finished last in points in the 2016-17 season, and observers felt that the time had come to rebuild the roster.
Despite getting harsh criticism for not trading Duchene for months, Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic held firm on his asking price. His patience paid off as he received six assets in a three-way swap that included Senators center Kyle Turris being moved to the Nashville Predators.
From Ottawa, Colorado received goaltender Andrew Hammond, the Senators' first-round pick in the 2018 draft and third-round pick in 2019, and forward Shane Bowers, a first-round pick (No. 28) in 2017. From Nashville, the Avalanche got a second-round pick in 2018, 19-year-old defenseman Samuel Girard, and rookie forward Vladislav Kamenev, both prized prospects for the Predators.
"Matt asked me last Christmas to move him, and I told him to be patient," Sakic said. "We just had to wait until we got the right deal. We have to keep building with youth, and we feel we have accomplished that."
As for the Avalanche players who remain, the series against Ottawa and their former teammate gives them the opportunity to continue their surprising start. Colorado finished last season with 48 points, 21 fewer than the second-worst team, and with the chatter around the ongoing Duchene trade saga, not much improvement was expected.
Led by co-scoring leaders Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie (14 points apiece), the Avalanche have shown enough offensive punch to win games. There is renewed optimism as they travel to Sweden to help promote the game, entering the weekend winning four of their past six contests.
The Global Series has special meaning for Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog as he returns to his hometown.
"When you come home, it is a great feeling every time," said Landeskog, a Stockholm native. "I have been looking forward to this for a long time. I think my teammates were getting annoyed with me because I was telling them about every single house on the ride in from the airport."
Unlike Colorado, the Senators (6-3-5) are on a mission to replicate their deep postseason run of last spring that took them to the verge of a Stanley Cup Final. Ottawa took a bitter Game 7 overtime loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Senators general manager Pierre Dorion believes Duchene's arrival will resolve his team's inconsistent start.
Ottawa completed a 1-2-0 homestand Saturday with a 5-4 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. While the Senators have only failed to gain a point in three of 14 games, their five losses after regulation are the most in the league.
"We feel we have added an elite forward to a group that went to the Eastern Conference finals last season," Dorion said. "To us, this deal was a no-brainer and the future is now. We are encouraged not to give up our top prospects and still have the ability to add Matt."
Duchene admitted that the timing of the trade was unique but said that his first game in an Ottawa jersey may be easier due to the very familiar opposition.
"It's going to be strange playing in Sweden in back-to-back games, it's tough," Duchene said. "To play against my former teammates and friends is going to be weirder. There will a level of comfort as I have practiced against them every day. It is going to be good to start my time in Ottawa on a good note, and there is extra motivation against Colorado."
Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, one of the best defenseman in the league, continues to play at less than full speed because of offseason ankle surgery. Though he has racked up 13 points in the early going, leading the team in assists with 12, he has an uncharacteristic plus/minus rating of minus-1. Like Landeskog, Karlsson will be in the spotlight throughout the weekend, as he is a native of Sweden.
"It's going to be a lot of fun for us as well," Karlsson told the Senators' website. "I think the players' families that decide to come over to watch the game will see a big difference in the culture. Sweden might not be the most popular vacation destination, so it's going to be fun to bring everybody over there and introduce them to a few things that they aren't used to. I'm sure that they're excited to see that stuff, too."
Updated November 9, 2017