Joonas Donskoi

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.

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.

Rangers’ Brendan Lemieux to be suspended for hit on Donskoi

Getty Images

The NHL Department of Player Safety announced on Friday afternoon that Brendan Lemieux will be suspended for his Wednesday night hit on Joonas Donskoi.

The only twist? We won’t know how long the Rangers forward will sit until the NHL resumes playing games following the coronavirus pandemic.

After Friday’s hearing, the DoPS Tweeted the following:

Following a hearing today, the DOPS has determined that Brendan Lemieux will be suspended for his hit on Joonas Donskoi Wednesday night. The precise parameters of the suspension will be determined and announced once resumption of play guidelines have been established.

Lemieux was called for an interference minor on the Avs forward following a hit up high.

Donskoi did not return to the game.

This isn’t the first time Lemieux has been punished this season. He was fined $2,000 in December for elbowing Golden Knights forward Cody Glass.

MORE:
Hockey leagues following NHL’s lead
Uncertainty awaits as NHL puts season on ice — for now
How grassroots hockey has been affected by COVID-19
Where the NHL left off with 2019-20 season in limbo

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Where the NHL left off with 2019-20 season in limbo

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Here we are, into the unknown…

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the NHL to put the 2019-20 season on “pause.” When will see hockey again? How will the rest of the season play out? Will the Stanley Cup be awarded? Those are questions that will remain unanswered for the moment.

As we wait for hockey’s return, let’s remember where we left off after Wednesday night’s NHL action.

The standings

The Capitals, Bruins, Blues, and Golden Knights are your four division leaders and the Flyers, Penguins, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Avalanche, Stars, Oilers, and Flames are your No. 2 and No. 3 divisional seeds. Rounding out the playoff picture we have the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Jets, and Predators as the four wild cards.

Eager to find their way into a playoff spot, the Islanders, Rangers, Panthers, Canucks, Wild, and Coyotes are just a few points out.

The NHL could contemplate several options if there’s a timely return to playing games again. 

• The remainder of the season could be played with the beginning of the playoffs being pushed back beyond the original April 8 start date. 

• Cut down from 82 games to something in the 70’s and go from there. 

• End the regular season and use points percentage to determine the 16 playoff teams and seeds.

• Remember all that talk about “play-in” games like the NCAA basketball tournament? If there will not be a resumption of the regular season, teams can play a mini tournament to determine the final two playoff spots in each conference.

This situation is obviously very fluid and the NHL is contemplating a range of situations as they hope for a green light to play again.

There is the sense, though, that if the season extends into summer, it won’t affect the start of the 2020-21 schedule. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Sportsnet that he expects 2020-21 to be a “normal season.”

[RELATED: NHL decides to ‘pause’ regular season due to coronavirus]

That Brendan Lemieux hearing

The Rangers forward was scheduled to have a Friday hearing with the Department of Player Safety for his hit on Joonas Donskoi of the Avs.

Will we hear that announcement on Friday? Or will Lemieux have a long wait to not only learn his fate?

UPDATE:

The scoring races

Leon Draisaitl holds a 13-point lead over Oilers teammate Connor McDavid for the Art Ross Trophy:

Leon Draisaitl – 110 points
Connor McDavid – 97
David Pastrnak – 95 
Artemi Panarin – 95
Nathan MacKinnon – 93

Draisaitl is also in the mix for the Rocket Richard Trophy, but is five goals behind David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin, who each have scored 48 this season:

David Pastrnak – 48 goals
Alex Ovechkin – 48
Auston Matthews – 47
Leon Draisaitl – 43
Mika Zibanejad – 41

If there was a Gretzky Award for most assists, Draisaitl would have an edge there with 67, four more than McDavid and Artemi Panarin.

Leon Draisaitl – 67 assists
Artemi Panarin – 63
Connor McDavid – 63
John Carlson – 60
Brad Marchand – 59

The draft lottery picture

Here’s where the race to draft Alexis Lafreniere No. 1 overall stands:

Detroit Red Wings — 18.5 percent
Ottawa Senators  — 13.5 percent
Ottawa Senators* — 11.5 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 7.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 6.5 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 6 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 5 percent
New Jersey Devils** — 3.5 percent
Minnesota Wild  — 3 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 2.5 percent
Nashville Predators — 2 percent
Florida Panthers — 1.5 percent
Calgary Flames — 1 percent

(* SJ’s 2020 first-round pick owned by OTT)
(** ARZ’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick owned by NJ. If top three, moves to 2021)

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told Pierre LeBrun on Friday that a decision on the draft and scouting combine has not been made at this point. He did add, “The only thought to conducting an on-line draft (or one conducted telephonically/technologically) would be if there would be a need to do so.”

The post-lockout 2005 NHL Draft was held in an Ottawa ballroom and featured no fans and only the top 20 prospects in attendance.

Bettman said on Thursday that he “expects” the league to resume at some point and he wants to award the Stanley Cup this season. TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported on Thursday that the league has reached out to teams to get arena availabilities through the end of July as part of preparing for what could happen next.

Then you also have the questions about what to do about free agency and when player contracts expire if the season goes beyond July 1? How is the 2020-21 salary cap, which was expected to rise, affected by this potential hit on revenue?

So many questions, and we don’t know when we’ll have any answers.

MORE:
Hockey leagues following NHL’s lead
Uncertainty awaits as NHL puts season on ice — for now
How grassroots hockey has been affected by COVID-19

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Avalanche hold off Sharks as Colorado keeps close to Blues

The Avalanche were able to hold off a late push from the Sharks to win 4-3 on Sunday.

San Jose received a late opportunity after Evander Kane was struck by a high stick, and while the Sharks narrowed Colorado’s lead, the Avs ultimately won. With that, the Avalanche remain within striking distance behind the Blues (90 to St. Louis’ 92 points) while holding a game in hand.

[Read up on the Blues’ win here]

As is often the case, Colorado’s top guys delivered for the win.

MacKinnon, Landeskog key in Avalanche finding a way to hold off Sharks

Nathan MacKinnon looked especially dangerous while generating one goal and two assists. Gabriel Landeskog matched that production (1G, 2A), too. It’s not easy to push too much optimism about Mikko Rantanen being injured, but if Vladislav Namestnikov (1G, 1A) can fit in with MacKinnon like he once did with Nikita Kucherov in Tampa Bay, the Avs might be onto something. J.T. Compher also collected two assists, including on Joonas Donskoi‘s game-winner.

To some surprise, the Avalanche have enjoyed strong goaltending this season, even as Philipp Grubauer is on the mend. In Sunday’s case, Pavel Francouz merely needed to survive, getting the win while making 22 out of 25 saves.

If you need to sprinkle in some dopey humor into your Sunday night/Monday, consider that Joe Thornton reached the often unspoken milestone of 420 goals in this loss. The puns, they’ll probably be a little hazy.

Those who observe the Avalanche being powered by the usual suspects may believe that the team hasn’t come that far in 2019-20. On the contrary, they’ve shown quite well in rolling with various punches, and could be quite impressive if Rantanen can return close to full speed.

But, yes, make no mistake about it: MacKinnon is still the high-horsepower engine that still runs this team, and few moments in hockey are as exciting as when he’s in the driver’s seat.

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.