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What Can Edmonton Take From Colorado's Cup Win?

June 27, 2022, 2:12 PM ET [1 Comments]
Sean Maloughney
Edmonton Oilers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
First of all I would like to say congratulations to the Colorado Avalanche and their fanbase on winning the Stanley Cup. Colorado was an elite team all season and it's good to see "the team that deserves to win" actually win the Cup.

From top to bottom, the Avalanche had depth and high end skill in (almost) every position. MacKinnon, Landeskog, Kadri, Makar, Toews, Rantanen, Nichuskin... the list goes on. This victory is the result of Sakic and years of hard work and planning to develop the best team.

As we all know, the NHL is a copy-cat league. Over a decade ago when the LA Kings were winning Cups off of grit and physical play, we saw the entire league place higher value on those types of players. Since then, skill and speed have become more of the focus but the Avs win goes far beyond just those broad ideas.

Here are five things that Ken Holland and the Edmonton Oilers need to be focusing on this off-season to try and take their team to the next level.

1) Hire a Legitimate Analytics Department

It's ironic that the team that employed Jim Corsi, one of the guys behind the original push of analytics in the hockey community remains one of the few teams that does not have a proper analytics department. At this point, anyone who doesn't believe that analytics play an important role in team management simply doesn't understand the game of hockey. Teams that employ a robust analytics team have access to more information than those that don't, resulting in being able to make better informed decisions.

On the Avalanche, the evidence is there of the success of their analytics department. Valeri Nichuskin was bought out by the Stars after failing to score a goal in 57 games in 18/19 despite putting 65 shots on net, though he did have excellent underlying numbers in being a strong defensive player. Colorado signed him on the cheap and in his first two seasons he put up fine offensive numbers but was far more valuable as an excellent preventer at goals at 5 on 5. In 19/20, he finished 8th in Selke voting. We have all seen how the 27 year old took off this season and what he did for the Avs in the playoffs.

Another key move by Sakic was in the summer of 2020 when he traded two second round picks to acquire defenseman Devon Toews. The Islanders were dealing with some cap issues at the time and weren't sure if they could extend the RFA Toews and felt he was expendable with the emergence of the young Noah Dobson. The numbers highly favored Toews and he unsurprisingly took off with the Avs, becoming not only an excellent second pairing defender, but a lhegitimate top pairing player and part of arguably the best pairing in the NHL in Toews and Makar.

Lehkonen, Burakovsky, Cogliano to name a few more... these are moves that were all praised by the analytics community as excellent signings and were all in different ways, important cogs in the success of this team.

2) Hire Better Pro-Scouts

Before I get someone rushing to the comments to scream at me through their keyboard that there is more to hockey than just numbers; I agree. There is certainly value in "the eye test" if viewed properly through trained individuals who know the game. I am referring to pro-scouts, the individuals who assess NHL players, both on their own team and around the NHL. It is the pro-scouts who provide information to the General Manager on which players they believe should be targeted around the NHL. Analytics are a part of this but also looking at the toolset that these players bring and why teams may be undervaluing what they believe could be an important asset for their own team.

Let's look at some of they key trades that have been made by the Avalanche which led to the team that just won the Stanley Cup:

Trading Scott Kosmachuk, and a 2020 second and third round pick for Andre Burakovsky.
Burakovsky was a pending RFA that had put up 12 goals and 25 points in 76 games as a 23 year old, averaging about 11 minutes a game. Upon coming to Colorado, he got a boost in ice time and put up 20 goals and 45 in 55 games the following season and 19 goals and 44 points the year after. This season, he played 8- games and posted 22 goals and 61 points and will enter UFA as a highly sought after option.

Trading Matt Duchene for Shane Bowers, Andrew Hammond, a conditional 2018 1st and Samuel Girard

Shane Bowers remains in the AHL but the two key pieces of this deal were the picks which ended up turning into Bowen Byram and Samuel Girard respectfully. Both have become staples of the Avalanche's fast defensive core that transitions the puck better than any other group in the NHL and are top four defenders at worst with the potential to be even more. Bowen Byram in particular looked great in the last two games against the Lightning.

Trading Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot, and a 6th round pick to Toronto for Kadri, Calle Rosen, and a 3rd round pick.

Toronto got one year of Tyson Barrie, who had one of his worst seasons in his career as well as Kerfoot who has been a decent top nine player and found some more recent success in the top six. Kadri meanwhile became the physical, tough second line centre the Avalanche were looking for behind Nate MacKinnon. His first two seasons with the Avs were solid but this year he exploded, putting up a career high 87 points in the regular season, and coming close to matching his previous goal totals he had with Toronto back in 16/17 and 17/18.

3) Cap Management

How many players can you name on the Edmonton Oilers that you would say are overpaid? How many would you say there are on the Colorado Avalanche? Looking at the Avalanche, the only name that maybe comes to mind is Erik Johnson with one more year at 6 million but that is it.

Colorado has no buyouts, no dead cap space, and this summer while they are going to need to take care of some pending RFA and UFA options, they have over 25 million in available cap space. Contrast that to Edmonton who needs to find ways to shed cap and potentially give real assets away in order to get rid of certain contracts.

Another reason for their cap success is that Sakic has not overpaid for free agents and overall has not really used the UFA market to try and build his team.

Rantanen, Landeskog, MacKinnon, Newhook, Makar, and Byram were all drafted by the team.

Compher, Lehkonen, Burakovsky, Cogliano, Kadri, Sturm, Johnson, Girard, Toews, MacDermid, Manson, and Kuemper were all acquired through trades.

That leaves guys like Helm, Nichuskin (off waivers), Jack Johnson, and Ryan Murray as free agents that were signed. Sakic has not broken the bank to target UFA players that need to be bought out in the later years of their contracts.

4) Speed and Skill

There is a different between being tough to play against and throwing hits. The Colorado Avalanche are a tough team to play against but in the regular season they ranked 23rd in total hits and 20th in blocked shots. They did however give away the puck the second fewest amount (Tampa was first) and had the 12th most takeaways in the league. Colorado is not wasting roster spots on "toughness" and instead they have created a group that all skate extremely well and can quickly transition the puck out of their own zone.

The Oilers did a better job at bringing in depth last summer and we saw the results as this team made it to the Western Conference Finals. However they still have miles to go to be at the same level as the Avalanche. Specifically on defense, how many of the Oilers on the blueline would you say are above average skaters? Nurse, Broberg, and maybe Kulak? Bouchard has a great skill set but his skating ability isn't really one of them, Barrie isn't the most agile player, Keith is slow as molasses and Ceci is great defensively but that is more on positioning than actual skating ability.

Against the Avalanche, the Oilers were far too often hemmed in their own zone and much of that was the result of the inability of their blueline to skate with the puck. Broberg stepping in will help in this regard but if Holland is looking to upgrade the blue line, he needs to bring in someone who can help in this regard.

5) It isn't Just About the Goalie

Out of the final eight teams in the post-season, where would Kuemper rank? Closer to the bottom than the top. A hot goalie at the right time can give a team a chance to win when they have no business being there (hello Montreal and Carey Price) but the Avalanche just showed that a strong group in front that plays the right way means more than having an elite goalie.

Edmonton clearly needs an upgrade in net, you will not find many who will try to dispute that, but for argument sake let's say the Oilers bring in Kuemper, the same goalie that just won a Cup with Colorado. Kuemper on the Oilers and Kuemper on the Avalanche are two very different entities. There are very few goalies the Oilers could bring in to help them win a Cup without drastically changing some elements of their team game.

Jay Woodcroft certainly has helped this as under him the Oilers were able to drastically reduce their chances against and goals against but the team as a whole needs to continuously improve. Just adding a different goalie isn't going to be enough.

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In terms of raw skill I do think the Oilers have the ability to at the very least compete with the likes of the Avalanche. In order for the team to take the next step forward there are areas that need to be addressed. The key to addressing them correctly will come from a change in the mindset of management which is not something I currently have confidence in.

Ken Holland has GM'd for decades and there is a way that he does things and I don't see him suddenly changing who he is. The likely means we will watch him sell low on the likes of Puljujarvi, overpay for a veteran goalie or forward, and buyout players or overpay on trades while scratching his head at how teams like Colorado seem to always have so much cap space.

The Avalanche are proof that the game of hockey is growing and modernizing. Those who accept this fact and embrace it will continue to find success while those who don't will always be the runner up.

Thanks for reading.
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