Andre Burakovsky

What is the Colorado Avalanche’s long-term outlook?

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

The Core

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.

Long-Term Needs

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.

Long-Term Strengths

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.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche
Surprises and disappointments

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Colorado Avalanche: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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 surprises and disappointments for the Colorado Avalanche.

Pavel Francouz the surprising star in net

If you were to look at the Avalanche roster at the start of the season and had to pick out an area of concern, goaltending might have been the easy choice.

Philipp Grubauer is a solid starter, but is he a championship-caliber goalie? After him, their top backup was the relatively unproven Francouz who entered the season with just two appearances in the NHL and only one season of professional hockey in North American. Given his age (29) and lack of an NHL resume, there had to be at least a little bit of a question mark regarding their goaltending depth.

Francouz has, instead, turned out to be one of the single biggest surprises on this year’s roster.

In 34 appearances he owns a 21-7-4 record with a .923 save percentage and was outstanding as the starter when Grubauer was sidelined due to injury. His overall play has been so good that the Avalanche already signed him to a two-year contract extension. He and Grubauer have turned out to be an outstanding duo and the underrated star of this year’s team.

Injuries have been a major disappointment

When it comes to performance it is really difficult to find a disappointment on this year’s team. The stars have been great, the scoring depth was addressed in a meaningful way over the summer with some great additions, the goaltending has been better than expected, and the young defensemen have excelled and are already blossoming into stars.

Instead of anything relating to performance, the biggest disappointment this season has been the bad injury luck.

Obviously that is not anyone’s fault, but it has kept us from really getting a sense of just how good this team can be when it is at full strength.

The injury list this season includes…

That is not only a lot of games, it is a lot of games for significant players.

Even with all of that the Avalanche have still been one of the league’s best teams and certainly builds some excitement for what their ceiling is when everyone is in the lineup.

Tyson Jost has not really taken a big step forward

If you did want to reach for a performance related disappointment Jost might be the player to look at. It is tough to say that because on one hand he is still only 21 years old and has a ton of talent. So the potential is absolutely there. On the other hand, he has also already played 200 NHL games and has not really shown significant improvement. After that many games it might be time to start wondering if this is the player that he is — a 10-goal, 20-point depth forward. Not saying he can not be more than that, and players do develop at different paces, but we are no longer talking about a small sampling of games here.

He was mentioned in trade rumors leading up to the deadline and it definitely seems reasonable to conclude that he could be moved at some point in the future.

Ryan Graves has been a great complement for Makar

The Avalanche have the potential for an outstanding long-term defense with Makar (the current Calder Trophy front-runner as the league’s Rookie of the Year), Samuel Girard, and 2019 No. 4 overall pick Bowen Byram. That trio, their talent, upside, and contract situations help make them one of the most important parts of the team’s core moving forward and will be the foundation of a potential championship team in the very near future.

There is another player that has emerged as part of that defense this season, and that is the 24-year-old Graves.

He has spent a significant portion of his season playing alongside Makar to help form an outstanding pair.

In close to 500 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season the Avalanche have completely dominated the shot attempt and scoring-chance metrics and have outscored teams by a 31-17 margin with them on the ice. While it is easy to conclude that a lot of that is due to Makar carrying the duo, Graves has also excelled when playing next to Ian Cole.

Basically, no matter who he plays next to, it works.

For the season, Graves has nine goals and 26 total points and is a league-leading plus-40 while playing close to 19 minutes per game.

He may not be the impact player or star that Makar is, but his play has been an outstanding development this season.

MORE:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche
What is the Avalanche’s long-term outlook?

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Looking at the 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Colorado Avalanche.

Colorado Avalanche

Record: 42-20-8 (70 games), second in the Central Division
Leading Scorer: Nathan MacKinnon 93 points (35 goals and 58 assists)

In-season Roster Moves:

• Acquired Michael Hutchinson from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Calle Rosen.
• Traded a 2021 fourth-round draft pick to the Ottawa Senators for Vladislav Namestnikov.

Season Overview: 

Last season, the Avs were a young team that did some damage in the playoffs when they upset the number one seed, the Calgary Flames, in the opening round of the postseason.This year, there were higher expectations for them.

Despite having to deal with a number of different key injuries, the Avalanche have found a way to stay in the mix for the Central Division crown. That’s impressive when you consider the fact that Gabriel Landeskog missed more than month with a lower-body injury. Also, Mikko Rantanen missed two long stretches (he was on injured reserve at the time of the pause). Nazem Kadri missed 19 games of his own and the list goes on and on.

Of course, most of the heavy lifting offensively was done by MacKinnon, who had accumulated 93 points in just 69 games. His impressive combination of skill and speed are tough to beat. There’s no doubt that he’s in the mix for the Hart Trophy this year.

The emergence of rookie defender Cale Makar has also helped take the Avs to another level this year. The 21-year-old is averaging a shade over 21 minutes of ice time per game and he’s picked up 12 goals and 50 points in 57 contests. Rookie of the year? He was definitely one of the two main contenders for the award.

General manager Joe Sakic also found a way to surround his stars with some solid depth players. Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Valeri Nichushkin, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare have all been nice fits on their new team. The Kadri acquisition also helped solidify things down the middle.

The biggest question mark heading into the season was goaltending. But the duo of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz have held up.

Grubauer, who was expected to be the starter heading into the year, has missed significant time due to injury. In his absence, Francouz has done a really good job, as he owns a 21-7-4 record with a 2.41 goals-against-average and a .923 save percentage.

Whether we see a conclusion to the 2019-20 season or not is almost irrelevant for the Avs. They’re not one of those teams that will fade next season. This is a group with a young nucleus that should compete for quite a while.

Highlight of the Season: 

There were a lot of positive moments for the Avs, but Jan. 2, 2020 has to be right up there with the best of them.

Not only did the Avs beat the defending champion St. Louis Blues, they made a statement. Colorado built up a 3-0 lead, but the score was 3-2 heading into the third frame. That’s when they turned on the afterburners and left the Blues in the dust.

They scored three more times in the third frame and beat St. Louis, 7-3. MacKinnon had four points.

They went on to beat the Blues again less than a month later.

MORE:
• Avs’ biggest surprises, disappointments this season
Long-term outlook

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Parise, Laughton among this week’s top adds

Fantasy Hockey
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Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Dustin Brown, Kings – RW: With 17 goals and 35 points in 64 contests, Brown is probably going to end up falling behind his 51-point 2018-19 campaign. He might end the season on a pretty high note though. He excelled on Saturday, scoring a hat trick and registered an assist and has been pretty hot lately with eight points in his last six contests.

Zach Parise, Wild – RW: Parise had a really rough start to the season with three goals and no assists in his first 13 contests, but if you just ignore that then you’ll find that he’s otherwise had a pretty strong campaign. He has 22 goals and 43 points in 56 contests dating back to Nov. 2nd. Over that span he also hasn’t been held off the scoresheet for more than three games in a row, so he’s been pretty consistent. Despite that, he’s only owned in 37% of Yahoo leagues, so if you’re lacking on the left wing then he’ll probably be an option for you.

Alex Iafallo, Kings – LW: Iafallo has a goal and 10 points in his last 11 games, so he’s been very effective lately, but he’s been excelling for a while now. From Dec. 21st onward, he’s scored 11 goals and 26 points in 31 contests. It’s taken Iafallo a little while to get going, but he’s very underrated at this point given that he’s only owned in 6% of Yahoo leagues.

Scott Laughton, Flyers – C/LW: Like Iafallo, Laughton is another young-ish forward who is coming into his own. With 13 goals and 27 points in 48 games, this is by far his best campaign from a points-per-game perspective. He’s particularly hot lately, scoring three goals and nine points in his last seven contests. So he’s a decent player to gamble on right now, but he also isn’t such a bad player to hold onto for the rest of the season.

Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers – RW: The Rangers in general have been red hot lately and Buchnevich is among those leading the charge. He’s on a five-game point streak, scoring a goal and seven points over that span. He’s been a consistent for a while now too. Dating back to Jan. 21st, he has eight goals and 19 points in 19 games. This is his best season to date with 15 goals and a career-high 44 points in 66 contests, but that makes sense given his continued development and the fact that he’s averaging 16:52 minutes, which is a meaningful boost from his previous campaigns.

Andrew Mangiapane, Flames – LW/RW: Mangiapane had 10 goals and 19 points in 56 games through Feb. 12nd, but he only averaged 13:04 minutes over that span. The Flames have given him a much bigger role lately, putting him out there for an average of 16:38 minutes in his last 12 games. He’s rewarded them with seven goals and 13 points in those 12 contests. He’s an interesting pick up given how hot he is and how the Flames have been using him lately.

Luke Kunin Wild, C/RW: Kunin had a prolonged cold spell from Jan. 22-Feb. 15, registering just two assists over the span of nine contests. Lately though, he’s been a regular contributor with three goals and five points in his last six games. He has 15 goals and 31 points in 63 contests, which is decent, but not good enough to warrant owning him all the time in standard leagues. That said, he’s worth a situational pickup while he’s hot.

Richard Panik, Capitals – LW/RW: Panik will attempt to extend his four-game point streak when the Capitals face Buffalo on Monday. He’s scored two goals and six points over that run. He’s not a good player to hold onto at all times. He has nine goals and 22 points in 58 games this season, which is actually pretty solid given his average 11:20 minutes per game. So don’t hesitate to drop him once he slows down, but in the short-term he has some value.

Zack Kassian, Oilers – RW: Kassian has a goal and three points in his last four games, so he’s doing good right now, but that’s not the only reason to own him right now. First off, he’s a significant contributor in terms of hits with 152, so he brings more to the table than offensive contributors. The Oilers in general are also a solid team to have players for at the moment. Edmonton has four games slated for this week and they’ll play in eight contests from March 9-20. With that full schedule, there are a lot of opportunities for the Oilers players to contribute and he’s one of the better ones whose available in most leagues. Kassian is owned in just 19% of Yahoo leagues.

Jordan Staal, Hurricanes – C: While Staal has enjoyed some good offensive seasons, for the most part he’s been at best a solid secondary scorer. This season has been a step back for him though with just eight goals and 27 points in 67 contests. Perhaps he can finish on a positive note though. He’s certainly trending in that direction with a goal and eight points in his last 11 contests.

Players You May Want To Drop

Logan Couture, Sharks – C: This has been a disappointing season for Couture. After setting a career-high last season with 70 points, he’s been limited to 16 goals and 39 points in 52 games. Given that he only has center-eligibility, which makes him a rather borderline option in standard leagues. On Sunday he was unfortunately struck in the head and evaluated being evaluated for a concussion. Given his struggles this season and with him now potentially being injured with so little of the campaign left, I think it’s fair to drop him. That said, if your alternative centers are lacking, then it would be worth it to wait until more information about Couture’s injury comes out before coming to a decision.

Alexandar Georgiev, Rangers – G: Igor Shesterkin missed a couple weeks because of a ribs injury stemming from a car accident. During that time, the Rangers were leaning heavily on Georgiev, but now that Shesterkin is back, Georgiev is going to be used significantly less. Georgiev has been an okay, but not great goaltender this season with a 17-14-1 record, 3.05 GAA, and .910 save percentage in 33 contests.

Andreas Athanasiou, Oilers – C/LW/RW:  When Athanasiou was acquired by the Oilers, the hope was that he would be a good match for Connor McDavid. Athanasiou is a speedster and the prospect of pairing McDavid up with someone who can actually keep up with him was an exciting prospect. Perhaps that will still work out next season, but it seems that pairing hasn’t found chemistry early on. Athanasiou has just a goal and an assist in seven games since being acquired by Edmonton while averaging a mere 12:36 minutes. He did get a chance with McDavid, but at this point he’s primarily skating on the third line.

Nick Foligno, Blue Jackets– C/LW/RW: Foligno was great from Feb. 20-March 4, scoring four goals and seven points in seven games. He’s been held off the scoresheet in each of his last two contests though and he hasn’t scored a goal in five straight games, so the hot streak is probably over. Foligno isn’t an ideal player to hold onto when he’s not hot. His 10 goals and 31 points in 67 contests is fairly mediocre when it comes to standard fantasy leagues.

Andre Burakovsky, Avalanche – LW/RW: Burakovsky hasn’t played since Feb. 28th and it’s not clear when he’ll return. He missed his sixth straight game on Sunday and he wasn’t even with the team in San Jose. Because he hasn’t been traveling with the Avalanche, he obviously won’t play on Monday in Los Angeles either. He was enjoying a breakout season, but without much time left and no clear timetable for his return, it might be best to investigate your other options.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

Goaltending surprising strength of this year’s Avalanche team

Avalanche
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Colorado Avalanche’s rise to the top of the Western Conference is not unexpected.

They have been an emerging superpower for more than a year now given their top-end talent and the salary cap flexibility they had to work with around them. The trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog are all stars, with the former being a now yearly MVP contender.

They added to that core over the summer by strengthening their scoring depth with the additions of Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, and Joonas Donskoi, while they also have potential superstar on defense in Cale Makar (and perhaps another one on the way in 2019 No. 4 overall pick Bowen Byram).

When all of them are healthy (which is kind of a problem right now) it is one of the most impressive and talented rosters in the league.

They enter Sunday’s game (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) against the San Jose Sharks just two points out of the top spot in the Western Conference and are one of the league’s top Stanley Cup contenders.

But what really makes them a force right now is the fact their goaltending — which was probably the one question mark they had at the start of the season — has been outstanding.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Goaltending is the X-factor for any team. Great play at the position can turn an average team into a contender and a great team into a champion. Poor play at the position can sink a contender. The Avalanche’s opponent on Sunday night — the Sharks — knows that side of it all too well.

Colorado, though, has a chance to really do something special this season thanks in large part to the surprising emergence of its goaltending depth with Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz.

Together, they have been one of the league’s most productive duos.

The Avalanche enter Sunday’s game in the top-four in both all situations save percentage and even-strength save percentage.

Colorado always had high hopes for Grubauer after they acquired him from Washington more than a year ago, but the play of Francouz has been the especially surprising development. After spending most of his professional career in Europe, Francouz made the jump to North America last year and won the backup job at the start of this season. He has not only probably been more than the Avalanche expected, but he has been crucial for them in recent weeks with Grubauer sidelined by injury.

For the season, Francouz owns a .924 save percentage. Among the 57 goalies that have appeared in at least 20 games, that is fifth best in the league. Most recently, he is 7-1-2 in his past 10 starts since Grubauer’s injury and has helped the Avalanche keep pace with the equally white hot St. Louis Blues at the top of the Western Conference.

The Avalanche’s talent at forward and on defense is what makes them a contender.

The play of their goalies is what gives them a chance to be champions.

Randy Hahn and analyst Jamie Baker will call the action at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. Kathryn Tappen will host Sunday night’s studio coverage alongside analyst and three-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist Jennifer Botterill.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.