This 31-part series chronicles why each team is going to be competitive in the 2018-19 NHL season. Progressing alphabetically, three teams will be featured weekly during the off-season. A compendium 31-part series will be published by Hockey Troll (@HockeyTrollin) on www.BeerLeagueTalk.com on why your team is trash in the 2018-19 NHL season.
2017-18 Regular Season: 95 Points (8th in West)
2017-18 Playoffs: Lost in first round to Nashville (2-4)
The Colorado Avalanche were a powerhouse upon relocating from Quebec City in 1995, qualifying for the playoffs in their first ten seasons and winning two Stanley Cups (1996, 2001). But since 2006, they have only made the playoffs four times, failing to get past the first round on three occasions. After years of poor cap management and the Patrick Roy coaching debacle, the Avalanche will continue to trend upward in 2018-19.
The Avalanche roster construction is truly a sight to behold. Since assuming the reins in 2014, GM and Hall-of Fame player Joe Sakic doesn’t get enough credit for the masterful job he’s done of not overpaying players. As someone who gets way-too-giddy about taking advantage of market inefficiencies and getting the most value out of contracts, the Avalanche are the model franchise for contract negotiation. Their highest-paid player, Nathan MacKinnon, only has a cap hit of 6.3 million. To put that in perspective, MacKinnon was the 55th highest paid player in the NHL and finished second behind McDavid in P/GP (.865). The only other teams in the NHL with their highest-paid player making less than MacKinnon are Carolina, Detroit, New Jersey, New York Islanders and Vancouver.
There’s a new sheriff in town
Good cap management does not guarantee success on the ice, but it gives Colorado a massive advantage in cap flexibility compared to other teams that face difficult decisions every off-season. This is even more pivotal considering the plethora of young talented players currently on entry level contracts (Kerfoot, Compher, Rantanen, Jost and Girard). The next few off-seasons are going to be crucial, as they have seven players who will be RFAs in 2019-20. The Avalanche already have a solid core locked into extremely team-friendly deals and still have the remaining funds to retain their promising young players. Not to belabour the point, but Sakic managed to move Duchene to the Sens for their 2018/2019 1st (Ottawa chose to keep their 2018 first-round pick, because they are going to be so much better next year), 2018 2nd round, 2019 3rd round picks AND Sam Girard. Maybe Sakic had some insider intel about the drama brewing in Ottawa or he was the real puppet master behind the Monika Caryk burner account. It’s probably more likely that Sakic just wanted rid of a locker room cancer and was banking on Guy Boucher to fall on his face. Either way, the Avs scored a ton of assets, most notably a 2019 lottery pick. I hope the league rigs the lottery for them just to spite Ottawa believing that they would do better next year.
When you realize that you just got traded to the Senators
The Avalanche have adopted the Chicago Blackhawks blueprint that netted them three Stanley Cups. Their forwards are not built for the dump-and-chase, physical, heavy fore-checking type of game. Instead, nearly all of their forwards are scoring threats. The top-line of Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen is one of the best in the league. Having depth scoring from guys like Colin Wilson, JT Compher, Matt Nieto and Matt Calvert in the bottom-6 is a luxury. The hope is that Jost takes another step forward in his development and centres the second line with Andrighetto. If it doesn’t work out, they still have the assets to make moves at the deadline. Their defense is really tough to get a read on, because they don’t have a bona fide defensive star. Tyson Barrie and Sam Girard are their most promising offensive defensemen, but their defense is quite atrocious. Erik Johnson and Ian Cole should provide some balance, or at the very least some warm bodies to throw in front of the puck.
The Avalanche will be deploying the goalie tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer in 2018-19, both graduates from the Kolzig school of goaltending. The Avs know what they have in Varlamov – an average NHL goaltender over his career – who is getting paid like a star (5.9 million). With only one year remaining on his contract, the trade for Grubauer and subsequent three-year contract (3.3 million AAV) offers a more reasonable solution from a more unknown quantity. Grubauer hasn’t had a starting goaltender workload since 2014-15, when he backstopped 49 games for the Hershey Bears. The past three seasons on the Capitals, he showed promise as the backup to Braden Holtby. Over the 81 games started, he posted a 2.23 GAA and .922 SV%. This past season he bailed out the Capitals when Holtby was experiencing Mitch Korn withdrawal symptoms. At only 26 years old, Grubauer has real potential to be a quality starting goaltender. All he needs is for Cole and Johnson to do their best Orpik impression and eat some pucks for him.
Plus, the Avs recently made a great decision with their jerseys when Adidas took over. Find out more about it here.
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