Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Colorado Avalanche.
Let’s ponder three questions for the 2019-20 Avalanche:
1. Is Philipp Grubauer ready for prime time?
He certainly looked like he could shoulder the brunt of a full-time role in the final month of the season. But if you watched the first stretch of last season you’d have thought the exact opposite.
The reality is, if not for Grubauer, the Avalanche wouldn’t have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite struggling early on in the year, Grubauer was nothing short of money across his final 14 appearances of the regular season, posting a 9-2-2 record with a .956 save percentage and three shutouts.
Elite level goaltending was needed, especially with Colorado’s top line fizzling slightly in the scoring department down the stretch. Grubauer’s play earned him the nod in the playoffs and rightfully so. You’d be crazy not to run with the goalie stopping 96 percent of the shots he faced in the run-in to the postseason. And he was pretty stellar there, too, propelling the eighth-seeded Avs past the top-dog Calgary Flames in Round 1 before taking the San Jose Sharks all the way to Game 7 in Round 2.
With the departure of Semyon Varlamov, the crease is now Grubauer’s. Play as he did in March and April, and the Avs will contend for first place in the tough Central Division.
2. Will the offseason moves provide the depth scoring Colorado yearns for?
Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog combined for a whopping 261 points last season, including 106 of the team’s 258 goals (41 percent).
There’s nothing to suggest that those numbers won’t be there again this season, but the hope in Colorado is that they get a bit of help.
Each of the next three top point producers on the Avs last season (Tyson Barrie, Carl Soderberg and Alex Kerfoot) won’t be on the team for this coming season.
In their place are offseason acquisition Nazem Kadri, who came from Toronto in the deal that sent Barrie and Kerfoot the other way, and Joonas Donskoi, who was picked up in free agency, as well as Andre Burakovsky.
[MORE: Under Pressure I 2018-19 review I X-factor: Makar]
Kadri immediately becomes the team’s second-line center and has 30-goal potential, having done so in two out of the past three years. Last season’s 16 goals were a disappointment, but if Kadri can rebound in a new environment in an expanded role, Colorado can probably count on a total at least in the high 20s.
3. How long will contract negotiations linger for Mikko Rantanen?
At this point, there’s no reason to hit the panic button on the restricted free agent.
A quick glance around the league shows several big-ticket RFAs who have yet to sign. This has become standard practice and there are varying degrees when it comes to outcomes.
The biggest thing here for the Avs to avoid is reaching some sort of impasse in which Rantanen misses part or all of training camp. There’s no need to allow that to happen. Colorado has the cap space to give Rantanen what he wants — and what he deserves given his pedigree.
That likely comes in around the $10 million mark in annual average value and the Avs will want to get that sewn up in an eight-year pact.
It still seems like everyone is waiting for the first foot to drop (Mitch Marner) but that situation could also play itself out well into training camp itself.
The Avs don’t need a repeat of William Nylander (at least his on-ice performance after missing a bunch of time due to a contract stall out.) Sakic has gone ahead and made some moves to make this team better. An elongated contract dispute with Rantanen would only set the team back.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck