Colorado Avalanche: 2021-22 NHL season preview

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The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Colorado Avalanche.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 39-13-4 (82 points); first place in West Division, Presidents’ Trophy
• Postseason: Lost to Golden Knights in six games during Second Round
• Offensive leader: Mikko Rantanen (52 games, 30 goals, 36 assists).

• Free Agent Additions: Darcy Kuemper (trade from Coyotes), Ryan Murray, Darren Helm, Kurtis MacDermid, Jack Johnson (PTO), Artem Anisimov (PTO).
• Free Agent Subtractions: Philipp Grubauer (Kraken), Brandon Saad (Blues), Joonas Donskoi (Kraken expansion draft), Ryan Graves (trade to Devils), Conor Timmins (trade to Coyotes), Patrik Nemeth (Rangers), Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Lightning).

Biggest Question Facing the Avs

• Will the goaltending hold up?

A less calm-and-collected team might have given Philipp Grubauer the sort of contract that could’ve haunted the Avs down the line. Instead, the Avalanche made the painful decision to allow Grubauer to walk in a free-agent surprise to the Kraken.

Then, instead of making their own free-agent plunge for a goalie, they paid a pretty penny to trade for Darcy Kuemper. Making that swap may or may not have helped the Avalanche justify keeping Gabriel Landeskog around, which was by no means a sure thing.

In the grand scheme of things … not too bad by the Avalanche. Not when you consider the iffy contracts handed out to questionable free-agent goalie options.

Instead, the Kuemper – Pavel Francouz duo boasts potential to deliver great goaltending for the Avalanche in 2021-22. That said, they’re also far from a sure thing. Considering all of the firepower the Avs piled up, it would be gutting if goaltending caused everything to fall apart, much like what happened in an injury-ravaged 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

(About that: is Francouz really an option, platoon or otherwise, for the Avalanche in 2021-22 after missing all of last season? Pretty important question, there.)

Even a powerhouse like the Avalanche will need goaltending to come through from time to time. Can the Avs count on that to happen?

What’s the salary cap situation?

During the offseason, the Avalanche answered some of their most important salary cap questions.

Crucially, they locked down superstar defenseman Cale Makar to a six-year contract that carries a $9 million cap hit. Even with RFA leverage in mind, that was a steal out of context. But in the context of an offseason where other teams paid that much, or more, for players both older and far less promising than Makar? That’s an enormous win.

Will they feel as strongly about bringing back Gabriel Landeskog for eight years at a $7 million cap hit? No doubt, the 2021-22 Avalanche would have been worse off without their rugged, talented captain. Landeskog plays a gritty style that doesn’t always age well, though, and he turns 29 on Nov. 23. That could be a contract that eventually haunts Colorado.

(That said, it’s also easy to imagine Landeskog landing more than $7 million on the free-agent market. So maybe the contending Avalanche just hope that the contract doesn’t haunt them too soon?)

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

The Avalanche have key pieces of their core (and maybe a player or two outside that core) locked up for some time.

  • Again, Makar (22) and Landeskog (28) are now locked up for considerable term.
  • Mikko Rantanen, 24, is easily worth his $9.25 million cap hit, which expires after 2024-25.
  • Like Makar, Samuel Girard is in his prime, and signed through 2026-27. The 23-year-old carries a mere $5 million cap hit.
  • Even on the obvious upswing, the Avalanche took advantage of the Islanders’ salary cap plight last offseason. Devon Toews was clearly worth more than the two second-rounders he cost the Avs, and his $4.1M cap hit is a mega-steal. The only bummer is that the 27-year-old’s deal expires after 2023-24. (Colorado piles up enough bargains to get you greedy.)

Impressive stuff, right?

Still, a huge hurdle looms.

With Nathan MacKinnon‘s borderline-insulting $6.3 million cap hit, the Avalanche have enjoyed one of the league’s biggest bargains since the contract kicked in during the 2016-17 season. The 26-year-old superstar will need a new contract after the 2022-23 season, however.

[Back in late 2019, MacKinnon discussed possibly leaving money on table with next contract]

While MacKinnon indicated he might take less money to stay in Colorado, the Avs should still expect a big raise. Frankly, he deserves it.

Beyond MacKinnon, the Avalanche will need to figure out if Kuemper and/or Francouz will be part of the goaltending duo beyond 2021-22. Both 31-year-old goalies enter contract years.

Cap Friendly estimates the Avalanche to have about $2.3 million to work with for 2021-22. That said, one or both of Anisimov and Johnson could eat into that if they make the team on PTOs. This is, essentially, a cap ceiling team. That said, there might be a tiny bit of extra room to work with, and maybe that could make a difference during the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline?

Breakout Candidate

Bowen Byram

The Avalanche already roll out Makar, Toews, and Girard. Shouldn’t it be, like, illegal to also boast a prospect as promising as Bowen Byram?

That glut of high-end, high-skilled defensemen could make it tougher for Byram to truly breakout for the Avalanche in 2021-22. To an extent, Alex Newhook might be the safer pick.

Still, there’s absolutely room for Byram to flourish. The Avalanche lost some pieces on defense, including Ryan Graves. That could leave the door open just enough for Byram to bloom at just 20 years old. It’s also worth noting that the Avs seem like a team that’s less likely to overthink things with a young player. Where stodgier franchises will talk themselves out of trusting young talents, the Avalanche mostly set them loose.

Don’t be surprised if Byram has a huge season. It really might just be a matter of “when,” not “if.”

Best-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Avalanche

Close your eyes and picture the most dominant team next season. All due respect to the repeat champion Lightning … but for 2021-22, it’s got to be the Avalanche, right? In a salary cap age, it’s unusual to see a team with so many strengths. Just about every important Avalanche player sits in the meat of their most fruitful prime years. Would it be that outrageous if Kuemper — a goalie who thrived even when things were, at times, pretty dire in Arizona — ends up being a big upgrade? If everything comes together, the 2021-22 Avalanche could be a juggernaut. Honestly, they could be dominant even with some bad luck.

Worst-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Avalanche

Yes, there’s the more out-there worst-case scenario of missing the playoffs entirely. Let’s be more realistic about the 2021-22 Avalanche, though. It would be very bad if the 2021-22 Avalanche really end up the same as recent editions. Following another good-to-great regular season with a failed playoff push would be crushing. People have been reasonably patient with the Avalanche so far, but if they don’t sniff a conference final showing (or better), the “choker” label might start popping up. That’s often unfair, but it’s also the nature of the beast. A great collection of talent can inspire great expectations. If they fall short, people might start to get jumpy — and maybe make some foolish mistakes.

Please, don’t kill this beautiful thing in Colorado.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

    Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

    Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

    Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

    The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

    Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

    Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

    Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

    Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

    In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

    Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.


    Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

    Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

    Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

    Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

    Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

    Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

    The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

    The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

    Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

    He found a little of both.

    The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

    “I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

    Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

    His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

    The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

    “It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

    The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

    Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

    Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

    “That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

    Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

    Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

    “We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

    Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

    Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

    “It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”


    Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

    Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.

    Avalanche spoil Kuemper’s return, top Capitals 3-2 as Bednar sets mark

    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
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    DENVER – Artturi Lehkonen, Andrew Cogliano and Alex Newhook scored against former teammate Darcy Kuemper and the surging Colorado Avalanche held off the Washington Capitals 3-2 to give coach Jared Bednar his franchise-record 266th victory.

    Logan O'Connor added two assists, Nathan MacKinnon had an assist for his 700th point and Alexandar Georgiev made 37 saves in the Avs’ season-best sixth straight victory. They moved into third place in the Central Division, one point ahead of Minnesota.

    Bednar, coaching his 500th game for Colorado, improved to 266-185-49 and passed former Quebec Nordiques boss Michel Bergeron for the most coaching victories in franchise history.

    Alex Ovechkin returned from an injury to score his 31st goal for Washington. Conor Sheary also scored and Kuemper stopped 23 shots in his first game in Denver since helping the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in June.

    The crowd stood and applauded after a first-period video tribute for Kuemper, who won 37 games in the regular season and 10 more in the playoffs.

    The Avs chose not to re-sign Kuemper, who then inked a five-year deal with the Capitals in July.

    He had his moments against his former team, including nifty glove saves against Jacob MacDonald and Lehkonen in the second period to keep it a one-goal game. But Newhook’s goal with 4:21 left in the second made it 3-1.

    The depleted Capitals dominated the third period but still lost for the fifth time in seven games.

    Ovechkin’s one-timer at 9:44 of the third was his 811th goal after he missed his first game of the season Saturday with a lower-body injury. But Washington was without T.J. Oshie, who left to be with his wife for the birth of their fourth child. And Nicklas Backstrom was a late scratch with a non-COVID illness.

    Then Tom Wilson exited in the second period after blocking a shot and underwent an X-ray between periods.

    The Avalanche, who haven’t trailed during their win streak, solved Kuemper at 8:57 of the first when MacKinnon absorbed a big hit from Dmitry Orlov and fed Lehkonen for his 15th goal and sixth in six games.

    Cogliano redirected Kurtis MacDermid‘s shot 2:04 into the second to make it 2-0. Sheary cut the. lead in half when he tipped in Martin Fehervary‘s shot for his 12th goal just over two minutes later.


    It also marked the return of Washington’s Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who had 22 points in 67 games for the Avs in 2021-22, He’s remembered for dropping and denting the Cup during the on-ice celebration.

    “It’s part of my journey here,” a smiling Aube-Kubel said of his fumble, adding the season was “the best time of my life.”

    NOTES: Avs D Cale Makar (upper body) practiced Monday and took part in the morning skate, but missed his fourth straight game. … Avs W Anton Blidh cleared waivers and skated on the fourth line. … Aliaksei Protas centered Washington’s third line in his first NHL action since Jan. 5 and was robbed by Georgiev in the first period. … The Capitals have only four games left outside the Eastern time zone.


    Capitals: Host Pittsburgh.

    Avalanche: Host Anaheim.