The NHL season has officially concluded. The Tampa Bay Lightning have hoisted the Stanley Cup and have been crowned champions of the NHL bubble. Unfortunately for the Avalanche and their fans the season ended rather unceremoniously with another heartbreaking exit from the playoffs. There is a lot to be hopeful about this offseason amid the heartbreak if you are an Avalanche fan though. One of the things to be most hopeful about is that according to the head coach of the Lightning heartbreak is a good thing.
If a heartbreak is all it takes to be ready to win then you can pencil the Avalanche in to win next years Stanley Cup. After being heavy favorites to win the Western Conference the Avalanche suffered a myriad of injuries that crippled the team. Erik Johnson was hurt, Phillip Grubauer was hurt, Landeskog couldn’t play game 7, Donskoi was hurt, the list just seemed to keep on going. Didn’t seem to matter at first as the Avalanche were able to take the Stars to game 7 in the second round, where they lost in overtime. Absolutely a heartbreaking moment for the team and fans. The 2018-19 playoff run wasn’t quite as gut wrenching considering the Avalanche weren’t even remotely favored to get past the first round let alone take the second round to game 7 against the Sharks. But it was all still so heartbreaking, both last years playoff exit, and this years. Now obviously the way to a Stanley Cup victory isn’t to just have your heart broken year after year until you eventually win, otherwise the Maple Leafs would have won one Stanley Cup by now.
If the Lightning have shown the NHL anything it’s that if your team is amazing year after year in the regular season it means the team is poised to win in the post season. It doesn’t matter how heartbreaking of a loss you’ve suffered in the post season (see Tampa getting swept in the first round last year after winning the Presidents Cup), if your team is good you add the pieces you need to win, you don’t change the whole formula. Well Tampa added the pieces they needed and didn’t screw with the whole formula and hoisted the Stanley Cup as their reward. Something the Avalanche have the ability to do, keep the winning formula of this season and add the pieces necessary to win next year.
So with the season over it’s time to look to the extremely bright future of the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche team that is already the betting favorite to win the Stanley Cup next year. And why shouldn’t they be? The team was an absolute wagon when they were healthy this year, both in the playoffs and in the regular season. The last two games the Avs played with a healthy roster in the playoffs they outscored their opponent 14-2! Just a wagon of a team. The roster looks phenomenal bolstering an MVP runner up in Nathan Mackinnon and rookie of the year Cale Makar. With the amount of cap space the Avalanche have available it’s likely they bring in a big name free agent or two that will be able give the Avalanche the pieces to push their winning formula over the top.
As of now no new players have been added to the Avalanche roster. Free agency doesn’t open up until October 9th so nothing will be official until then anyways. However, there are rumors galore on what the Avalanche could be doing this offseason to improve on the winning formula. Will the team try to shake up the goalie crease considering both starting goalies were unable to stay healthy all season? Is another big name forward headed the Avalanche’s way, maybe a defensemen? All of this is rumors with a slight amount of traction at the moment but I miss talking Avalanche hockey so I’m going to dive into them all.
Joe Sakic has been adamant that he is happy with his goaltending tandem in Phillip Grubauer and Pavel Francouz, but what else is he supposed to say? “I hated how both these guys played, they sucked and we lost games due to their inability to stay healthy.” Absolutely not. The GM is going to back his guys until he can move them for someone better. Yet Sakic saying he likes his goaltending tandem hasn’t stopped him from kicking the tires on a couple of possible goalie trades. Matt Murray, goalie for the Penguins, has won two Stanley Cups and has been on the trading block since the Penguins early playoff exit this year. Sakic and the Avalanche have been in talks with the Penguins, yet nothing has happened as of now. While nothing of substance has come from that rumor it is an intriguing one to keep an eye on. Grubauer has a cup of his own, but it came as the backup goalie to Braden Holtby while he was on the Capitals. Murray won his two Cups as the starter and would bring a championship starting goalie pedigree to the crease for the Avalanche, plus he’s been able to stay healthy all season. One of the most underrated abilities for a player is availability. Just being able to play game after game without getting injured is huge. Considering injuries is what derailed the Avalanche this year I would not be shocked if one of the Avalanche’s injury plagued goalies is moved.
The other goalie mentioned, Braden Holtby, is also an unrestricted free agent and could be signed during the free agency period. This seems much less likely as the Avalanche have multiple players that they need to resign and Holtby will get A TON of money in free agency. Holtby is also 30 years old and signing a 30 year goalie to a mega deal usually doesn’t pan out well. If you want an example just look at the Florida Panthers handing Sergei Brobrosvsky $70 million over ten years. Plus the Avalanche’s cap space will need to be kept as high as possible to sign Cale Makar to a new deal once his entry level deal is completed. So the Avalanche bringing in Braden Holtby over Matt Murray is unlikely.
Now if the Avalanche were to trade for Matt Murray it would come at a cost. The initial asking price of the Penguins was a first round pick, which isn’t crazy considering Murray is only 26 and has a TON of gas left in the tank. Yet they have seemed to lower that asking price in recent days. With the asking price being lowered there is a chance that the Penguins and Avalanche do a goalie swap of Phillip Grubauer and Matt Murray with the Penguins getting a couple other pieces from the Avalanche in return. What those pieces are I couldn’t tell you, likely a 2nd and or 3rd round draft pick and a prospect forward. The only reason I think a goalie swap would happen is because the Avalanche have no reason to carry the contracts of Matt Murray, Pavel Francouz, and Phillip Grubauer when only two get to dress a night. Bringing in Murray to replace one of the current goalies wouldn’t be destroying the winning formula of the Avalanche, it would be adding a better piece to that formula.
As for adding a better piece to a winning formula what more could you ask than bringing in former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall. Hall has stated all he wants to do is win games, something that wasn’t happening in the Arizona desert. Hall very well could take less money to play for a cup contender, but he could get paid and play for a cup contender with the Avalanche. The Avs have almost 20 million in cap space and could pay Hall to win games and potentially the Stanley Cup. The Avalanche were already in talks to trade for Taylor Hall during the regular season, now the team wouldn’t have to give up anything more than money to bring Hall to the Mile High City. If the Avalanche are able to sign Taylor Hall the top two lines for the Avalanche would consist of Nathan Mackinnon, Taylor Hall, and Mikko Rantanen on the top line with Nazem Kadri, Gabriel Landeskog, and Andre Burakovsky on the second line. That would be an absolutely stacked top 6.
Hall’s desire to win over big bucks is a huge plus for the Avalanche. He very well could be one of the missing pieces to the Avalanche’s winning formula. Depth scoring was a huge problem for the Avalanche this year as Nathan Mackinnon led the team in scoring by almost 50 points. Hall would be able to provide a ton of depth scoring to a team that needs it. In reality Hall would be a top line scorer, but the team needs points from someone other than Mackinnon. The Coyotes only have until October 9th to get a deal done with Hall to keep him in the desert before he hits free agency, but that seems unlikely to get done if all Hall cares about is winning. Since the Avalanche already tried to acquire Hall earlier in the year it would not be surprising if the former MVP was signed by the Avalanche.
The Avalanche do have a couple of forwards currently on the roster that need to be resigned as well. Tyson Jost, Valeri Nichushkin, and Andre Burakovsky are all restricted free agents. So the Avalanche have first dibs to resign all of them once free agency starts. Even if another team does try to sign these forwards they would have to be willing to give the Avalanche draft picks consistent with the offer sheet. Offer sheeting rarely happens in the NHL so if the Avalanche want to resign any one of these guys it’s more than likely going to happen.
The unrestricted free agent forwards on the Avalanche roster are Matt Nieto, Colin Wilson, and Vladislav Namestnikov. Namestnikov was acquired at the trade deadline and is the least likely player to return to the Avalanche roster in my opinion. However, if Hall is signed by the Avalanche the team would not need to resign one of their free agent wingers and would likely try to keep Namestnikov on the roster. What the Avalanche do with their free agent wingers will be dependent on their ability to sign Hall. If the team brings in stud left winger Hall they will need center depth in Namestnikov and less winger depth in Nieto and Wilson. Both Nieto and Wilson are depth wingers, a position that could use an upgrade for the Avalanche, hence the Taylor Hall rumors. While Wilson has been a fan favorite of the Avalanche there is a chance he’s seen his last bit of action in an Avs sweater. He wasn’t included in the postseason roster due to an injury and missed a large portion of the regular season. Availability to play is huge and Wilson just hasn’t been available to play.
The Avalanche have the best rookie in hockey. Thats not an opinion, its a fact. Cale Makar, defensemen for the Avalanche, won the rookie of the year award, the Calder Trophy, this year and will obviously be returning to the team. While Cale’s future is bright he is still a young player learning the game. Experience on defense is paramount to success in the NHL. While the Avalanche do have a couple of highly experienced defensemen in Erik Johnson and Ian Cole it never hurts to have a bit more experience. Enter the Torey Krug rumors.
Obviously Tory Krug’s rights weren’t traded to the Avalanche on September 28th otherwise this wouldn’t be a rumor. However, he’s still an unrestricted free agent come October 9th and has a high likely hood of coming to Denver. Krug, like most players, wants to go to a team thats he can win a Stanley Cup with. On the list of teams he’s been rumored to go to the top contenders for a Stanley Cup are the Vegas Golden Knights and the Avalanche. The Knights don’t have the cap room at the moment to sign Krug, but the Avalanche do.
The Boston Bruins and Torey Krug have been unable to come to an agreement on a new contract. Partially because the Bruin’s are in a cap space crunch and can’t really afford to give Krug the money he’s earned. Well the Avalanche are a team that have cap space to offer Krug the $6.5 x 6 year contract that he wants. Or that he’s rumored to want, numbers are never public until the signing is done. Bringing in the 27 year old defensemen would bolster the Avalanche defense to knew heights. Erik Johnson, Cale Makar, Tory Krug, Samuel Girard, Ian Cole, and [insert defensemen here] would be an instant cup contending defense. I say “insert defensemen here” as the two players that would fit into that spot are both restricted free agents. Both Ryan Graves and Nikita Zadorov are on the roster and both are restricted free agents. Not only that, but they have last years fourth overall pick in Bowen Byram waiting in the wings to play. Byram is only 19 so it’s pretty unlikely that the team decides to go with him in the 2020-21 season over Zadarov or Graves.
With the amount of depth the Avalanche have at defense it seems unlikely that Tory Krug would come to the Mile High City. Yet it’s not really that wild of an idea. Ian Cole is an unrestricted free agent next year and is unlikely to get a contract from the Avs when the team will be paying Cale Makar that year as well. So for the Avalanche to acquire and sign Krug to a long term deal this year and let Ian Cole walk the next isn’t too bad of an idea. Makar would have a couple of seasons under his belt and then Bowen Byram could be the next stud rookie defensemen for the Avalanche. Kind of a dream come true scenario, but it could happen. If Tory Krug is signed by the Avalanche this year it’s going to be interesting to see which one of the RFA defensemen the Avalanche brings back to the roster, Zadarov or Graves. If Krug isn’t brought in to play for the Avalanche, Zadarov and Graves will most likely be back on the roster.
If I were to give a legitimate guess to what’s going to happen with these rumors I’d say the one with the most traction is Taylor Hall. Signing the former MVP left winger makes the most sense for the Avalanche as they lack scoring depth at the winger position and have already tried to trade for Hall in the past. Where the team doesn’t lack depth is defense, so while adding Krug would be an awesome addition it likely doesn’t fit in to the Avalanche’s long term plans. So I don’t see Krug coming to Denver, I also can’t see the goalie tandem changing either. Then again, I’m not Joe Sakic, so what do I know. I just miss Avalanche hockey and need something to look forward to. Right now the thing I have to look forward to the most in terms of Avalanche hockey is an offseason that helps bring us a cup next year. This offseason is going to be very interesting for the Avalanche and I’ll keep you updated on all the signings and trades once they actually happen.
Pat Maroon is a free agent as well and he just won back to back cups with the Blues and Lightning. Seems like the easiest formula to winning a cup is to just sign that guy. Just saying Avalanche.