Alex Kerfoot

Avalanche offseason presents big opportunities — and challenges

The Colorado Avalanche don’t want to hear this – not after falling painfully short against the Sharks in Game 7 – but to many observers, that agonizing ending feels like just the beginning.

Just consider the players who spearheaded their surprising five-game steamrolling of the Calgary Flames in Round 1, and the players who pushed San Jose to the limit in Round 2.

  • Nathan MacKinnon‘s the headliner, and at 23 with a ridiculous bargain $6.3 million cap hit through 2022-23, he might be the best value in all of the NHL.
  • After a bumpy start to his Colorado stay, Philipp Grubauer sure looks like a legitimate No. 1 goalie. He’s 27 and cheap ($3.33M) though 2020-21, too.
  • Mikko Rantanen‘s not that far behind MacKinnon, and just 22.
  • It feels like Gabriel Landeskog has been around forever, but he’s just 26. His $5.571M cap hit doesn’t expire until after the 2020-21 season.
  • Cale Makar looked right at home in the pressure cooker of the playoffs, and he’s 20. Samuel Girard is another nice piece, and could improve since he’s just 20, too.
  • Tyson Barrie‘s like Landeskog in that he’s still young (27), and affordable ($5.5M through 2019-20).

Of course, it’s not just all that precocious youth that makes the Avalanche seem like a Team of Tomorrow.

Thanks to that brilliant Kyle TurrisMatt Duchene trade by GM Joe Sakic, the Avalanche didn’t just add Girard and other more immediate pieces; they also snagged what would become the Ottawa Senators’ first-rounder in 2019 (along with Ottawa’s third-rounder).

While Colorado didn’t enjoy the sexiest option of getting a shot at Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, you won’t see a ton of teams make two consecutive playoff appearances and land the fourth pick of the draft. That happened thanks to the Turris trade, and the Avalanche are also slated to pick 16th with their own selection, as confirmed by NHL.com.

[Sharks hold off Avs in Game 7]

Having two picks in the top half of the 2019 NHL Draft gives Sakic & Co. some fascinating options.

Most directly, they can stick with both picks. They could also move one or both of those selections for more immediate upgrades via trades.

Both options are tantalizing, but the latter scenario is fascinating because of the road ahead for the Avalanche. Let’s take a look at the decisions Sakic must make, both in the near and longer-term future. As always, Cap Friendly is a crucial resource for contract information and other details, and served as a great resource for this post.

Tons of cap space, but some big names to re-sign

Via Cap Friendly, the Avalanche have about $46.9 million in cap space devoted to 13 players, with few problem contracts (aside from, I’d argue, Erik Johnson‘s deal).

There’s some significant money coming off the books as this season ends, and it remains to be seen if Colorado wants to bring back any of veterans Semyon Varlamov (31, $5.9M in 2018-19), Derick Brassard (31, $3M after retention), and Colin Wilson (29, just under $4M). Honestly, the Avs would probably be wise to let both Varlamov and Brassard walk, and maybe see if Wilson would take a little less cash for some term.

Either way, a ton of money will be allotted to RFAs. Rantanen figures to come in at a big clip, and it wouldn’t be one bit surprising if he landed in double digits. Honestly, even if he did, his trio with MacKinnon and Landeskog could probably still be underpaid as a group.

Rantanen isn’t the only noteworthy RFA. Alex Kerfoot, 24, and J.T. Compher, 24, both need new deals, and each player is somewhat tough to gauge value-wise. (Kerfoot is sneaky-effective from a two-way perspective.) Nikita Zadorov is another interesting situation as a 24-year-old RFA.

A window opens

Considering how young this Avalanche core is, the instinct might be to take a zen-like, slow approach.

Yet, if the Avalanche look at cap-crunched teams like the Maple Leafs, they should realize they have an unusual advantage to know that a window is opening, and that they should seize opportunities when they come along.

MacKinnon’s contract represents the outer limits (2022-23) of that window, but Colorado should also consider more immediate “deadlines.”

  • Landeskog and Grubauer are eligible to become UFAs after 2020-21, and should expect hearty raises.
  • Tyson Barrie’s deal runs out after 2019-20, and could be pricey considering his offensive production.
  • Girard’s slated to be an RFA after 2019-20, while Cale Makar’s rookie deal ranks as another competitive advantage for Colorado.
  • Granted, there will also be moments of cap relief. Carl Soderberg‘s $4.75M cap hit ends after 2019-20, so that should come in handy. The Brooks Orpik buyout ends after 2019-20, too.

With all of that in mind, the Avalanche should strongly consider ramping up their aggressiveness by either landing a free agent (maybe recent opponent Erik Karlsson, if he springs free? How does Artemi Panarin feel about skiing?) or by trading for a big ticket player. It’s tough to imagine the Predators trading P.K. Subban in general, yet especially to a division rival where they’d face Subban multiple times per year, yet Subban might be the type of gamebreaker Colorado should try to land.

Again, this is where that fourth or 16th pick could make things that much more interesting. Colorado could sell a trade partner on receiving cap space and/or a high draft pick in exchange for taking a known quantity, and a player who’s already x number of years into their development.

Imagine the Avalanche team that battered the Flames and challenged the Sharks adding an All-Star-level player, or even two? It’s a scary thought for opponents, and the Avalanche shouldn’t wait forever to try to make big strides. MacKinnon’s contract gives them a lengthy advantage, yet other bargains will evaporate soon. Why not get a surplus of talent while you still can?

***

Whether you believe the Avalanche should go bold or take a more measured approach, it sure seems obvious that this team has a lot of potential.

If management makes the right decisions – and, honestly, gets a few lucky breaks – then the Avs might just reach that potential.

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

The Wraparound: Avs have ‘great opportunity’ to punch ticket to Western Conference Final

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Are you ready for another Game 7?

As if last night’s clash between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues wasn’t enough, hockey fans everywhere will be spoiled with another winner-take-all game for a spot in the Western Conference Final.

The Colorado Avalanche, who were the clear underdogs heading into this series against the San Jose Sharks, were able to fend off elimination thanks to captain Gabriel Landeskog‘s OT winner in Game 6. Now, they’ll have to find a way to get the job done on the road tonight (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream).

The most impressive thing about Colorado’s Game 6 win, is that their top line struggled during regulation, but they found a way to come up big in the biggest moment of the game. Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen were on the ice for all three of San Jose’s goals in regulation.

The reason the Avalanche kept pulling ahead, is because their secondary scoring came through in a big way. It all started with J.T. Compher, who scored two goals and added an assist. Compher picked the perfect time to take his game to another level. Tyson Jost and Alex Kerfoot also had solid performances for their team.

“I mean, their depth guys beat us tonight,” Sharks forward Logan Couture said after Game 6. “We got beat by J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost, their second and third lines. Our depth guys have to be better than their depth guys.”

Can the Avs’ depth players come up big again in Game 7? And can the Sharks find a way to keep Colorado’s top line quiet for 60-plus minutes? A spot in the Western Conference Final might depend on it.

“It’s a great opportunity for us… 60 minutes away from the Western Conference Final,” Landeskog said. “I mean, who would have thought [it] before the season, who would have thought [it] before this series or whatever so, for us, we keep believing, and you’ve just got to instill that doubt in that team on the other side, and at this point, I doubt the last thing they wanted to do was go back and play another one at home in San Jose.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TUESDAY’S SCORES
Blues 2, Stars 1 (2 OT)
The Buzzer has more on Tuesday’s action

PHT’s Round 2 previews
• Round 2 schedule, TV info
• Questions for the final eight teams
• PHT Roundtable
• Avalanche vs. Sharks

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Avs’ Cale Makar scores in playoff debut days after Frozen Four

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Cale Makar is having himself a week.

After falling just short of an NCAA title with the University of Massachusetts on Saturday, Makar signed a rookie deal with the Colorado Avalanche, and it probably would have been impressive enough that he managed to suit up for Game 3 against the Calgary Flames.

Makar decided that wasn’t enough. The 20-year-old defenseman scored a goal to put Colorado up 3-0 in Game 3, with assists from Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Kerfoot. (MacKinnon, remarkably scored two goals and one assist during the first period alone, carrying over his momentum from producing a thrilling overtime-winner in Game 2.)

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

You can watch Makar’s first goal in his first game (playoffs or otherwise) in the video above this post’s headline. Game 3 is airing on CNBC (Stream here).

Makar was the fourth overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. He logged 5:24 TOI during the first period, not much less than veteran defenseman Erik Johnson (6:06). That time could be inflated by some power-play work, but it’s an interesting show of trust from Colorado. Considering the Avs’ so-so defense, Makar could be quite a boost – not just in the future, but also the present.

More: Avalanche add Makar, who also won the Hobey Baker this season, by the way.

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

Oilers’ season captured in second-period meltdown

Associated Press
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If there ever was a seven-minute stretch that perfectly summed up the Edmonton Oilers’ 2018-19 season, it happened on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche.

Leading 2-0 nothing in the second period, and with a goal already in the bank by Milan Lucic — the $6 million man’s sixth of the season — the Oilers reverted to their true colors in a span of 7:08.

A promising looking contest, one day after Connor McDavid declared that he was “really, really” frustrated with how this season has gone in Edmonton, the Oilers forgot how to play hockey and Mikko Koskinen forgot how to stop pucks and the walls came crashing in. Again.

The result was four-straight goals from the Avalanche in an epic collapse for Edmonton, even by their own lowly standards.

Nathan MacKinnon walked through three Oilers who were just standing still for the 2-1 goal. The tying goal came when Koskinen, who was handed a silly contract extension earlier this season, whiffed on what should have been a routine save on Tyson Barrie.

Alex Kerfoot scored the go-ahead goal after he was left unmarked in front of Koskinen. The insurance marker came on a backhand from the high slot off the stick of Colin Wilson, another puck that needed to be stopped.

And then there was the defeated skate by 100-plus point man McDavid back to the Edmonton bench. It’s ugly in northern Alberta, and who knows how the Oilers — a cash-strapped team when it comes to the salary cap — get out of this mess. Two 100-point players (Leon Draisaitl being the other) and the Edmonton Oilers are going to miss the playoffs for the second straight season with the best player in the world in their lineup.

If nothing else, it’s a shame for hockey fans who want to see McDavid’s talents while he chases down a Stanley Cup.

Instead, they’re left with efforts like Tuesday night. As McDavid said on Monday, “It’s just not good enough.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Karlsson injury scare; Robbed by Lehner

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Three Stars

1. Robin Lehner

When it comes to the shocking success of the Islanders, a lot of credit’s going to Barry Trotz, and rightfully so.

When a head coach wins the Jack Adams by helping an underdog overachieve heavily, they almost always enjoy over-the-top great goaltending from their netminders. That’s been the case for the Islanders, as Lehner and Thomas Greiss have essentially been equally brilliant in 2018-19.

It becomes a chicken-and-the-egg situation when it comes to trying to meter out praise. How much is it Trotz’s system? How much of this comes from goalie guru Mitch Korn? And how much does it boil down to Lehner and Greiss stopping everything?

Other goalies had shutouts on Saturday, with Sergei Bobrovsky doing so not just in back-to-back games, but consecutive days. Lehner had to work the hardest for his, however, making 36 saves.

2. Sam Reinhart

With a small group of players generating three points on Saturday, it was difficult to determine who deserved to round out the top three.

At first, it seemed like Reinhart might be someone you’d surprisingly dismiss. While he generated a hat trick (the third of his career), that third goal came on an empty-netter. Kind of a cheat, right?

Well, check out where he shot the puck from:

OK, that seems like a worthy hat trick.

3. Nathan MacKinnon

Jakub Voracek deserves consideration, what with scoring with 20 seconds remaining to send the Flyers’ eventual, stunning win into overtime. MacKinnon’s teammate Alex Kerfoot also managed a three-point game.

But MacKinnon holds a few advantages. While Kerfoot and Voracek managed one-goal, two-assist games, MacKinnon generated two goals and one assist. Also, while Voracek scored a game-tying goal, MacKinnon had the GWG for Colorado. He managed six shots on goal, matching Voracek’s robust offering.

MacKinnon now has 32 goals and 80 points in just 62 games, lining him up with an opportunity to pass last year’s career-best 39 goals and 97 points (in just 74 games), and maybe hit 100 for the first time in his young career.

If you wanted Voracek in the top three

Enjoy these highlights from that wild Philly win.

Erik Karlsson hurt again?

It seemed like Erik Karlsson pulled or tweaked something in San Jose’s 4-0 loss to Columbus. It’s too early to know for sure, but Sharks coach Peter DeBoer seemed concerned.

If this is an issue, it’s been a tough one for guys who could finish high in the Norris voting, as Kris Letang was injured in Pittsburgh’s painful loss.

Highlights

Jordan Binnington continues to be quite astounding for the St. Louis Blues.

Matt Duchene‘s first Blue Jackets goal was as much about Artemi Panarin‘s slick moves as anything else.

We already covered Gritty’s entrance, but the true highlight might be how he was forced to exit the 2019 Stadium Series.

Factoids

  • This puts the strong start to Mitch Marner‘s career into perspective.

https://twitter.com/StatsCentre/status/1099548438168027136

Scores

BUF 5 – WSH 2
NYR 5 – NJD 2
STL 2 – BOS 1 (SO)
CAR 3 – DAL 0
FLA 6 – LAK 1
CBJ 4 – SJS 0
COL 5 – NSH 0
TOR 6 – MTL 3
PHI 4 – PIT 3 (OT)
NYI 4 – VAN 0
EDM 2 – ANA 1

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