J.T. Compher

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.

Sharks hope for Pavelski’s return before Game 7 against Avs

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Captain Joe Pavelski was getting staples put into his bloody head when the San Jose Sharks staged an epic comeback in Game 7 of the opening round against Vegas.

Now that the Sharks have been forced into another ultimate game after missing a chance to eliminate Colorado in an overtime loss on the road, they are hopeful of getting their leader back on the ice for the first time since then.

Perhaps the biggest question heading into Game 7 at the Shark Tank on Wednesday night (9 p.m. EDT, NBCSN) is whether Pavelski will be healthy enough to make a dramatic return against the Avalanche. Coach Peter DeBoer said that will happen as soon as doctors give him the OK.

”I’m not hiding anything,” DeBoer said Tuesday. ”He’s day to day. He’s getting better every day. We’re going to make a decision on game days whether he’ll be available or not.”

The winner of the game advances to play the winner of Tuesday night’s Game 7 between Dallas and St Louis.

Pavelski’s injury happened midway through the third period in Game 7 against Vegas on April 23 with San Jose trailing 3-0. He was cross-checked by Cody Eakin after a faceoff and then bumped by Paul Stastny before falling awkwardly to the ice head first. The impact of Pavelski’s helmet slamming the ice knocked him out briefly and caused him to bleed from his head.

A dazed Pavelski was helped off the ice by his teammates and then had eight staples put in his head to stop the bleeding. While that was going on, his teammates scored four power-play goals during the major penalty to Eakin that even Pavelski acknowledged was not warranted.

San Jose ultimately won the game on Barclay Goodrow‘s overtime goal to advance to the second round. Pavelski was unable even to travel to Colorado for Games 3 and 4 but got back on the ice while his teammates were away last week. He made an emotional appearance at the Shark Tank during the third period of Game 5 to fire up the crowd and traveled to Denver for Game 6 where he took part in the morning skate.

”It still really is day-to-day,” Pavelski said before Game 6. ”Wish I had a set-in-stone answer – go here, do this and be ready. We’re taking everything into play.”

No matter what happens with Pavelski, the Sharks will need better performances from several of their other forwards who have been mostly invisible this series. San Jose was supposed to have the better depth up front but that hasn’t been the case so far.

Joe Thornton and Kevin Labanc have gone five straight games without a point, Evander Kane and Marcus Sorensen haven’t recorded a point for four straight games and the fourth line has generated almost no offense.

Colorado has six forwards with at least two goals this series, including secondary options like J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost, Colin Wilson and Matt Nieto. The Sharks have just three with Couture’s three goals all coming in a Game 3 win, Tomas Hertl‘s two coming in a Game 5 victory and Timo Meier scoring one of his two into an empty net.

Compher scored twice in regulation in Game 6 and assisted on Jost’s goal as well as the Avalanche managed to get the game into overtime despite its top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen being on the ice for all three San Jose goals in regulation.

”They’ve been unbelievable all playoffs, all season,” Compher said of Colorado’s Big Three. ”The depth guys, we’ve got to step up when we can. Guys were stepping up all over the place and that’s why we’re in the spot we are.”

That spot is one win away from Colorado’s first appearance in the conference finals since 2002. Getting there hasn’t been easy. The Avalanche had to knock off the top seed in the West, Calgary, in the first round and has never led in this series with the Sharks taking all the odd-numbered games and Colorado answering after that.

Even the Game 6 win at home proved treacherous with the Avalanche blowing a one-goal lead three times before finally winning on Landeskog’s overtime goal.

”We knew it wasn’t supposed to be easy, nobody said it was going to be,” Landeskog said. ”For us we try to reload. As frustrating as it was to keep losing those leads we tried to reset and go back at it.”

Facing elimination isn’t a new feeling for the Sharks, who won three win-or-go-home games in the first round against Vegas when they overcame a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in franchise history.

This veteran team is playing its third Game 7 at home in the past four years, having beaten Nashville in the second round in 2016 and the Golden Knights two weeks ago.

”Instead of a fear or a nervousness there’s an excitement about them,” DeBoer said. ”We do have guys that have participated in them in the past. Does that count for anything? I don’t know. I’d like to think it does. I do know this. Our guys have a comfort level in big games.”

AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Sharks have historical edge; Holland’s philosophy

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Here’s the NBC Sports Stanley Cup playoff update for May 8

• The Sharks’ power play and the Avalanche penalty kill have been in a heated battle during their second-round series. (Fear the Fin)

• History tells us that the Sharks will have an advantage on the Avs heading into Game 7. (The Hockey News)

Joe Pavelski is still day-to-day for the Sharks heading into Game 7. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

J.T. Compher told Avs fans that he would be a difference maker for them, and he was in Game 6. (Mile High Sports)

• The Bruins and Hurricanes will kick off the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday night. (WEEI)

Tuukka Rask is performing at an incredibly high level for the Bruins right now. (NBC Sports Boston)

• Scott Walker has a lot of memories when it comes to battles between the Hurricanes and Bruins. (News & Observer)

• The Hurricanes aren’t just jerks. They’re hard workers that have found a way to get the job done in the playoffs. (Wralsportsfan.com)

• Now that we know he’ll be back with the Leafs, Mike Babcock has to find a way to make some changes to his coaching philosophies. (Sportsnet)

• Just how bad was Evgeni Malkin‘s “bad” season? (The Sports Daily)

• What can Oilers fans expect from a veteran GM like Ken Holland? (Oilers Nation)

• David Staples explains what Holland’s team-building philosophy is heading into his tenure with the Oilers. (Edmonton Journal)

• Holland admitted that a scouting trip with the Detroit Red Wings convinced him that he still had a desire to be a GM. (Detroit News)

• NHL players have a long love affair with iconic hair styles. Who can forget the Jagr mullet? (ESPN)

• Georges Laraque joined the Grand Stand Central Podcast to discuss veganism, politics and much more. (Grand Stand Central)

• Flyers fans are left wondering how Ian Laperiere still has a job with the organization. (Broadstreet Hockey)

• Rotoworld’s Corey Abbott breaks down what went wrong with the Los Angeles Kings this year. (Rotoworld)

• Does it make sense for the Canucks to present an offer sheet to a restricted free agent? (Vancourier)

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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Bruins advance; Avalanche survive

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  • The Blue Jackets were able to sweep the Lightning in front of their home fans in Columbus. Now their season is over as they fell in Game 6 against Boston at that same arena. The Bruins move on to face the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.
  • While the East half of Round 3 is set, the West side is still totally unsettled. The Sharks didn’t fall easily on Monday, but the Avalanche grabbed a gutsy OT win to send this series to Game 7.

Bruins 3, Blue Jackets 0 (Boston wins series 4-2)

Charlie McAvoy only receiving a two-minute minor for his hit on Josh Anderson was a big part of the Game 6 storyline, no doubt. But, really, Tuukka Rask strangled any chance for the Blue Jackets to rally around the anger of not getting a call they believed they deserved. David Krejci managed the lone goal of the first 40 minutes of this one, and Sergei Bobrovsky allowed two quick goals in the third period to sap any last-minute drama. Columbus has some things to build on going forward, even with Bobrovsky and others possibly leaving, but the Bruins get the upper hand.

Avalanche 4, Sharks 3 (Series tied 3-3; Game 7 airs at 9 pm. ET on Wednesday on NBCSN [stream here])

This was a fascinating game. The Avs managed leads of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2, yet the Sharks just kept fighting back. When Game 6 went to overtime, there was at least a faint feeling that San Jose was going to stun Colorado in its own building. Instead, Gabriel Landeskog scored the overtime game-winner, forcing a Game 7 in this series. Two unsung heroes loomed large in Game 6, and they follow Rask in the three stars below …

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask

Rask already turned heads with strong work during the Bruins’ Round 2 series against the Blue Jackets, but Game 6 might count as his best performance yet. While Rask enjoyed a little bit of luck from posts hitting his posts, he was still incredibly sharp for Boston, and thus outrageously frustrating for the Blue Jackets. Rask generated a 39-save shutout to close out Columbus, and the occasionally-criticized goalie is cementing his status as a true difference-maker for a Bruins team eyeing a glorious run.

2. J.T. Compher

Heading into Game 6 for Colorado, Compher had one three-point game to his career, yet he scored two goals and one assist at the most crucial time, with the Avalanche facing down elimination. Check these highlights and decide for yourself: is his assist to Tyson Jost to open scoring the best of Compher’s three points, or was it the 3-2 goal where he showed some pretty impressive hands?

That 3-2 goal sure seemed like it would be the game-winner, except an equally unlikely hero forced the issue for San Jose …

3. Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Again, Vlasic can be a “likely” hero for his work in his own end. And, really, Vlasic was his usual, defensive-defenseman-dynamo self against Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen, his most frequent opponents in Game 6. Yes, Landeskog scored an overtime game-winner, but generally speaking, the Sharks did a great job of limiting that dangerous trio’s chances. Vlasic was a big part of that.

Few would have expected Vlasic to be so prolific offensively, though.

Vlasic scored two goals for the Sharks while firing three SOG, blocking four shots, and managing two takeaways in Game 6. Impressive stuff, even if San Jose couldn’t quite close out Colorado.

Oh, by the way, this is only the second two-goal game of Vlasic’s career, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. Again, it was a rare night.

Factoids

TUESDAY’S GAME 7

Game 7: Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues (series tied 3-3; 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN [stream here])

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.