Colorado Avalanche: New Additions Have Them All-In On Season
The Colorado Avalanche, sick of consecutive second round exits in the playoffs, decided to go all in on next season, something not unlike the Lightning did this past season before winning the Stanley Cup.
It’s not something we’ve never seen before, but the way the Lightning doubled down on this season, trading so much to acquire players that would eventually play on the third line, they were confident enough in how close their team was to winning, they were willing to part with what it took to make their team better.
All the while knowing this offseason they would have some difficult decisions to make with some of their younger core players due significant raises from their current salary.
If any of this sounds familiar at all, it should, as it is the same pattern the Avalanche have followed this offseason.
Already with one of the best cores in the game, the Avalanche traded for two players that further their depth and may end up being the final pieces needed to get over their second-round hump.
The Avalanche start with Nathan MacKinnon, who has emerged as one of the top players in the league. Although he didn’t win the Hart Trophy for League MVP, there is little doubt what he did this past season was amazing, especially having to play without Mikko Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog for parts of the year.
Speaking of Ranatanen, when healthy, the Finish born winger forms one of the best duos with MacKinnon the league has to offer. Their passing is something that can fill up the highlight reels on a nightly basis.
Joining them on the blue this past season was one of the most hyped defensive prospects in quite some time, Cale Makar - and he did not disappoint. The Calder Trophy winner for being the league’s top rookie, scored 50 points (12 G, 38 A) in just 57 games - a pace that would have put him over 70 through a full season.
Role players like Andre Burakovsky (career high 20 goals), Nadeem Kadri (36 points in 51 games), and Samuel Girard (career best 30 assists) continued to carve roles for the team that finished second in the Central Division this past season.
Colorado had a couple of restricted free agents they had to get new contracts to before they started to look outside to improve their roster.
They got new deals to Burakovsky (2 years, $9 million), Valeri Nichushkin (2 years, $5 million), and Ryan Graves (3 years, $9.5 million) before deciding to make an even bigger run to ensure the team doesn’t suffer the same fate they have the previous two seasons.
Nikita Zadorov was another name on their list that needed a new deal, but decided to traded the inconsistent blue liner to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Brandon Saad. Anton Lindholm was also sent to Chicago, with Dennis Gilbert also coming to Colorado to complete the four player swap.
Saad, who has one year left on his deal, is a five-time 20 goal scorer (one of which he topped 30), was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks, and eventually traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets before landing back in the Windy City three seasons ago.
*All numbers from Natural Stat Trick. Percentile based on 5v5 play, adjusted for score and venue. Based off all forwards with at least 1,500 minutes over past three years.
As you can see here, Saad is one of the best pure shooters in the league, and has been over the course of his career. Over the past three seasons, Saad has an actual goal rate nearly identical to his expected goal rate of 0.90.
His high shot volume allows him to continue to score even with an average shooting percentage, and has also allowed him to avoid regressing.
Saad isn’t great defensively, but you can count on him to fill the back of the net.
The New York Islanders are finding themselves in a position that the Avalanche hope to avoid in a couple of seasons. With little to no cap space available, New York has to get star players like Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock under contract for the upcoming season.
Another player, Devon Toews, was also in need of a contract, and not seeing a way to keep all of them, the Islanders traded him to the Avalanche for a pair of second round picks.
The former fourth round pick spent three years in the college ranks, before spending another three in the American Hockey League (AHL) fine tuning his play before finally making his NHL debut last season.
Now 26 years old, Toews is a restricted free agent and a legitimate top-pairing defender that could find himself on the third pairing with the Avalanche. They could pair him with Makar to form a super-pairing, but Graves played so well last year it makes sense to keep him there.
In Toews’ two seasons in the league, he has been a puck possession, offensive generating machine with an elite expected goal share. The fact he may end up on the third pairing for the Avalanche is a scary thought.
Talking about this season, according to CapFriendly, the Avalanche have just over $6.7 million left in cap space for the upcoming season. They acquired the rights to Toews, who is in need of a new deal, but also have Tyson Jost and Vladislav Kamenev to resign as well.
That could leave, on average, $3-3.5 million for each Toews and Jost to get some sort of bridge deal done. Which would take them into next season when things are going to get interesting.
Colorado has a whole slew of upcoming free agents, players a part of this current core, that they will have to try and resign.
Among the biggest names, captain Landeskog, goaltender Philipp Grubauer and Rookie of the Year Makar.
Obviously you want to keep your captain, but at what cost? Grubauer has proven to be a true starter in the league, and it won’t be long till Makar is going to be in the conversation for the Norris Trophy for being the league’s top defenseman.
None of those options are going to come cheap. Will they be able to keep them all? That would be the dream.
Contracts of role players like Matt Calvert, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ian Cole are also up and their roster spots will need to be filled as well but they won’t be able to spend the same kind of money on their replacements after getting the core locked up.
The Next Wave of Players
Despite their recent success, the Avalanche have been able to stockpile their farm system, having one of the best prospect pools in the sport.
Forwards Shane Bowers, Martin Kaut and defenseman Conor Timmons are all highly touted prospects knocking on the door and with another year of seasoning in the AHL, will be ready to make an impact when called.
For two straight years, an Avalanche had a different defenseman ranked as the league’s best prospect, according to The Hockey News. First it was Makar, and he won the Calder Trophy the following season.
This past season, Bowen Byram was named the top prospect in hockey, and with a similar skill set, the former fourth overall pick may force himself onto the scene sooner-than-later but the Avalanche are certainly happy to let him take his time.
Byram and Makar could eventually make up one of the most dynamic defensive pairing the league has ever seen.
All of these players will be able to step into the NHL on very team friendly rookie contracts that because they were able to let them develop, be able to contribute on day one, freeing up space to sign some of the current core to contracts.
The Avalanche are already one of the most dynamic teams in the league. If both of their starting goalies hadn’t been injured, it might be easy to see the playoffs going a little different.
Not only are they set up to continue to be one of the best teams in the league now, their drafting and developing will keep them in contention for the long term as well.
Their drafting and developing has also allowed them to take the added risk of buying this season and going all in on this season, without sacrificing too much of the future.
After the addition of Saad and Toews, are the Avalanche the favorites in the West? The entire NHL? Is there anything else they still need before they become the true favorites? Let us know in the comment section below and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy