With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Colorado Avalanche.
Pending Free Agents
- Andre Burakovsky (RFA)
- Vladislav Namestnikov (UFA)
- Matt Nieto (UFA)
- Tyson Jost (RFA)
- Valeri Nichushkin (RFA)
- Vladislav Kamanev (RFA)
- Nikita Zadorov (RFA)
- Mark Barbiero (UFA)
- Kevin Connauton (UFA)
- Ryan Graves (RFA)
- Michael Hutchinson (UFA)
- Colin Wilson (UFA)
It might be the best long-term outlook in the entire NHL. They are young, they are good, and they have a ton of salary cap space to work with. At the top of the lineup is the three-headed forward monster of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. Each player is a star on their own, and when they are put together on a line they form the most dominant offensive trio in the league. All three are signed through the end of next season at a combined salary cap hit of around $20 million. For the production they get out of those three it is an absolute steal against the cap.
MacKinnon is the foundation and still has three more full seasons remaining at $6.3 million per season. It makes him one of the most valuable players in the entire league because he not only gives them MVP, superstar level production to carry the offense, but his contract is so far below market value that it creates additional flexibility under the salary cap.
The same is true with Landeskog who has one year remaining at just a little more than $5.5 million.
Rantanen is the big-money player for now at over $9 million per season for the next five years.
The big question after them was their secondary scoring, but that was addressed over the summer with the additions of Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, and Valeri Nichushkin. Kadri and Donskoi are both signed long-term, while Nichushkin — very pleasant surprise this season — and Burakovsky will still be restricted free agents after this season with plenty of salary cap space to work with to re-sign them.
Beyond that, the Avalanche are set on defense with the quartet of Cale Makar, Samuel Girad, Bowen Byram, and Ryan Graves.
While the goaltending duo of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz has been outstanding this season, with both signed through at least next season at a very manageable salary cap number, it might still be the one position that gets a second-look from outsiders as a weakness.
Even that is probably a stretch because it is not really a true weakness right now, and if anything has been one of their biggest strengths this season. But given the contract situation beyond next season for Grubauer, and the fact Francouz is already 29 years old with less than 40 games of NHL action on his resume, it could be something that needs to be addressed over the next year.
A lot of it probably depends on how Grubauer plays when he returns this season and in the playoffs (we are still hoping for the remainder of this season and the playoffs) and through next season.
The obvious answer here is the top trio of forwards, and especially MacKinnon. Superstar talents are the toughest pieces of a championship team to acquire, and the Avalanche not only have those players, they are still in the prime of their careers — or just entering their prime — and signed long-term for team-friendly salary cap numbers.
What really starts to separate the Avalanche is the makeup of their defense.
Cale Makar looks like he is going to be a star and might have a Norris Trophy in his future. Samuel Girard is a fine No. 2 or 3 on a contending team. Bowen Byram, the No. 4 overall pick from this past year as a result of the Matt Duchene trade, is loaded with potential. Ryan Graves has been a huge development this season and only adds to the strength of that young blue line. Out of that quartet Graves is the only one over the age of 21, and even he is still only 24 years old.
The other big strength is simply the fact they are still swimming in salary cap space, even with the new long-term contracts for Rantanen and Girard (which begins next season). Having a team that is already among the best in the league and still having more salary cap space than almost every other contender is going to give them a significant advantage over their biggest competition, not only when it comes to keeping their secondary players, but also adding to their core.
No team is ever guaranteed a championship, but the Avalanche have everything in place to be a top Stanley Cup contender for the foreseeable future.