Avalanche Season Over; 6 questions going into the Summer
The Avalanche season ended in a game 7 loss against the Kraken in a game where the team (or what was left of it) left everything on the ice. They did their best, but there was a limit to how much adversity the team could take. Players like Cogliano, Helm, Manson, Landeskog, and others had to watch from the sidelines as the teams stars tried to carry them to the 2nd round, but fell short.
As a long time fan of this team, I felt.... less upset about this series loss.
Maybe its because we won the Cup last year. Maybe I had a better understanding of the amount of adversity they went through all year. Perhaps a combination of the two.
There's a lot to be proud of this team for this year. Nathan MacKinnon set new career highs in points in the regular season, and broke the 100 point mark all time for playoff points. Mikko Rantanen led his team through severe injuries in the middle of the season, and set a career high in points and goals. Alexandar Georgiev proved he could be a capable starter in the NHL. We learned that Andrew Cogliano might be part cyborg. Bowen Byram had a solid season with a new career high in games played (ok... it was only 42 games, but progress is progress!)
Now, what do we have to look forward to in the offseason?
1. Some clarification on the status of Val Nichushkin
We don't need to hear about his personal life. As Avs fans, we'd like to know... Is Nichushkin coming back? Is he OK? After signing a long term contract, the team has committed a lot of money to this player, and most of us enjoy his board play, skill, size, and compete level he brings on the ice when he's healthy. Can we depend on him moving forward? I certainly hope so... but some clarification would be good.
2. Clarification on the status of Gabriel Landeskog
Even more important, how is the captain? Does he need another surgery? Is he coming back to hockey? I don't feel like he's going to call it quits, but what's the next step? Time will tell on this one, and we just have to be patient.
3. What are the Avs going to do about their 2nd line center hole?
JTC is a solid bottom 6 player. In spurts, he did well this year stepping above his role, but in my opinion, the last quarter of the season and playoffs showed to me that Compher is not ready (and is probably in that tweener range as his ceiling) to be a full time top 6 player. He is not effective long term in that role, and I feel like someone is going to overpay for his services this offseason. I don't think it should be the Avs.
4. Do the Avalanche move a defenseman to get the 2nd line center hole filled?
There's a lot of money spent on the backend. Less now with Erik Johnson's contract coming to a close, but that money is rerouted to pay for Nathan MacKinnon's giant raise. Do we see the trade of Samuel Girard to fill that gap? Devon Toews? It's unlikely to be Josh Manson for a few reasons (newly signed last year, M-NTC kicking in next year). We'll see what happens here.
5. Do the Avalanche bring back any of the expiring contracts from this year?
There are a few of them:
Darren Helm, Lars Eller, Andrew Cogliano, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, JT Compher, Evan Rodrigues, and Matt Nieto are all UFAs, and who knows what their status is? Have we seen the last of Erik Johnson in the NHL? He's aged, and there were rumors of him being close to hanging them up in the past few seasons. His game isn't where it used to be, but the Condor has been a staple on the Colorado blueline for so long... It will be strange to have him gone when that happens. Jack Johnson played solid hockey for the Av's, and if we brought him back on a low cap hit contract, I would be ok with that in the proper role. Are Helm and Cogliano done as well? Helm couldn't stay healthy this year, and there are some questions on his longevity in my eyes. Andrew Cogliano actually had one of his best seasons since 2017-2018 with the Ducks. He played in the most games (79), scored the most goals (10) and his highest point total since that season (19), and was a leader for the team as he has been since he joined last year. I would have suggested he'd be back next year as long as he wanted to, but after his fractured neck in the playoffs, nobody is quite sure what his next step is.
Lars Eller took a bit to get used to the team and play style, but he seemed to really start to fit in, and played some solid games. If he came back (at a reasonable cap hit), that would be OK for me as well. Evan Rodrigues had some solid spurts of good play, and some spurts of inconsistency (which is really a microcosm of his NHL career thus far), but at a reasonable cap hit, I'd love to see him back in a 3rd line/PP specialist kind of role. He has a solid shot, but I feel like he'll be looking for the payday he missed out on last summer.
6. What do Alex Newhook and Bowen Byram's next contract look like?
Alex Newhook had a disappointing year, in my opinon. The 2C job was there for the taking, and the coach gave him plenty of time to establish himself there, but he just couldn't do it. He showed sparks of his talent, which he certainly possesses, but he just didn't have consistency. When he went cold, he went real cold. He did set a career high in goals with 14, (up 1 from last year), but not enough steps forward in my books. I would imagine a bridge deal is in his future, maybe a low cap hit 2 year prove it type of deal, maybe around 1.8 million, which is pure speculation at best.
Bo Byram was solid this year, in the games he played. It was good to see him get a good stretch of games in, take some hits, and still keep going. He played 42 games, and scored 10 goals (a 20 goal pace over a full season) and paced for 47 points over a full season, which are solid numbers if he can keep going and stay healthy. There are a few ways both team and player can look at this. Does Byram look for a longer term deal and take a lower cap hit to get some guaranteed money if his health is a concern? He hasn't proven his health issues are behind him to pay him a big cap hit deal yet. Who says no to a 5 million for 5 year type deal? There also could be a short term deal if the player wants to bet on himself to cash in after next year and prove that his health is good. 3 million for 1-2 years? It's hard to predict without a crystal ball, but time will tell.
There are more questions going into the offseason, but these are a few I've been pondering as I recover from the realization that Avalanche hockey is done for the year.
It'll be interesting to see what happens, and I will be here to discuss through the summer and into next year!