Philipp Grubauer

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.

What to watch for in Sharks-Avalanche Game 7

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For the second time this postseason the San Jose Sharks find themselves in a winner-take-all Game 7 on home ice.

After a miraculous comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights in Round 1, they are back at it on Wednesday night (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) where they will try to knock out a young, upstart Colorado Avalanche team that is starting to position itself as a major player in the Western Conference.

The winner moves on to play the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Final.

Trying to predict which team that will be is a difficult proposition because this has been an incredibly tight series where no team has anything close to the upper hand.

Let’s take a look at what to watch for and some of the factors that could determine the winner.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. No advantage for anyone six games in

Whether you’re looking at traditional numbers like wins and losses or goals for and against, or shot-based advanced analytics no team has carried the play in this series.

The Sharks lead the goal department by the slimmest of margins, outscoring the Avalanche by a 17-16 margin overall and 13-12 during 5-on-5 on play.

The Sharks have had a slightly bigger advantage when it comes to the possession game and total shot attempts (53 percent to 46 percent) but the Avalanche have actually done a better job generating scoring chances (52 percent) and high-danger chances (54 percent). On one hand, the Sharks have to like that they have been able to control the territorial edge, but they can’t like the fact they are giving up as many chances as they are. One mistake or breakdown against Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, or Gabriel Landeskog and there is a very good chance it is going to end up in the back of your net.

2. Both goalies have been really good

This was probably the big question mark for both teams coming into this season (or at least one of them). Martin Jones had a terrible regular season for the Sharks and struggled early in the playoffs against Vegas before catching fire late in that series and continuing that play into Round 2.

Philipp Grubauer had a tough start to the season for the Avalanche but played lights down the stretch and has been one of the team’s best players in the playoffs. But it probably wouldn’t have been unfair to wonder about him entering the postseason just because he has such a limited track record as a starter in the NHL and flopped in his first playoff experience with the Washington Capitals a year ago. But he has definitely risen to the challenge for the Avalanche.

Usually in a Game 7 you throw everything out the window and just go with the team that has the better goalie, but even that mindset kind of makes this game a huge toss-up because it’s hard to see which team has the advantage.

Neither goalie has a track record of being one of the NHL’s elite, and their performance through the first six games has been fairly similar as they have mostly matched each other save for save.

3. What will the Sharks’ power play look like?

The Sharks’ power play was the driving force behind their Game 7 comeback in Round 1, but it has gone cold in Round 2 against the Avalanche. One strategy that Peter DeBoer and the coaching staff has utilized has been splitting up Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, a decision that seems to be a little unconventional given how the two of them are among the best offensive defensemen in the league and are both dynamite on the power play.

The mindset behind it is that it allows DeBoer to limit Burns’ minutes so he can play more during 5-on-5 situations and be matched up against the Avalanche’s top line that is centered by MacKinnon. I get the strategy behind it, but the Sharks’ power play has struggled mightily in this series and has had its most success when the two of them have been on the ice together. And by “most success,” I mean their only success.

Karlsson and Burns have played just four minutes together on the power play in this series with the Sharks scoring two goals. They have zero power play goals in 22 power play minutes with them split up.

I know the Sharks want to keep Burns fresh to go against MacKinnon, and power plays are often hard to come by in a Game 7, but when the Sharks do get the man-advantage they should not be holding anything back. This is Game 7, and one power play or one goal could be the difference between an extended postseason run and an extended summer.

4. The Joe Pavelski factor

It is still not yet known if Pavelski will return to the Sharks’ lineup, but if he does you know there is going to be an emotional lift for the crowd and the team.

More importantly, there’s an on-ice hockey lift, too.

Remember, this is a player that scored 38 goals during the regular season and the Sharks haven’t had him for a single game in this Round 2 series. And they still made it to Game 7 without him. Getting him back would be a huge addition with your season on the line.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Bruins, Sharks get Game 5 wins

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  • Things were under wraps for most of Game 5 between the Bruins and Blue Jackets, but when they unraveled, they really unraveled. The two teams traded goals in a dizzying stretch, yet Tuukka Rask and David Pastrnak did just enough for Boston to take a 3-2 series lead. Then John Tortorella essentially guaranteed that we’ll see a Game 7. *rubs hands together in excitement*
  • Philipp Grubauer shut out the Sharks in Game 4, and almost kept San Jose off the board for two more full periods in Game 5. Tomas Hertl ended up breaking through with 20 seconds left in the second, however, and also scored the game-winner to give San Jose a 3-2 series lead.

Bruins 4, Blue Jackets 3 (Boston leads series 3-2; Game 6 airs at 7 p.m. ET on Monday on NBCSN [stream here])

Boston’s top three drew criticism for difficulties through the first three games of Round 2, but they’ve come up big during Games 4 and 5. The Bruins built a 2-0 lead early in the third period, and it looked like this might be a relatively easy win during a series where few victories happened easily. Then the two teams combined for four goals in 3:25 and five goals in just under 8 minutes to leave fans living on a prayer. Despite that score, both Tuukka Rask and Sergei Bobrovsky were fantastic. Ultimately, Columbus’ season is on the brink after the Bruins came through on Saturday.

Sharks 2, Avalanche 1 (San Jose leads series 3-2; Game 6 airs at 10 p.m. ET on Monday on NBCSN [stream here])

Through two periods, the Sharks managed 29-15 advantage in shots on goal, yet Philipp Grubauer found a way to keep things tied 1-1. The two teams struggled to find daylight, even on the power play, with Colorado going 0-for-3 and the Sharks scoring once on five chances. Tomas Hertl came through there, and for both of the Sharks’ goals, and you’ll find out more about his night with just a little bit of scrolling.

Three Stars

1. Tomas Hertl

After failing to score a goal and settling for two assists through the first four games of this series, the beefy Sharks forward scored both of San Jose’s goals, including (naturally) the game-winner.

He was a rugged presence even beyond the obvious goals. Hertl fired eight SOG, enjoyed a +1 rating, went 14-7 on draws, and delivered one hit in 24:01 TOI in Game 5. The Czech forward really started to take over against the Golden Knights in the Sharks’ memorable Round 1 series win, and if this output is any indication, he could give Colorado all it can handle down the stretch.

Hertl’s all-around game gets him the nod, but you could make a great argument for …

2. David Pastrnak / Brad Marchand

Your preference might depend on how much you weigh points totals versus other contextual factors.

Marchand had more points with three, scoring one goal and collecting two assists in Game 5. Pastrnak scored two goals, with one being the game-winner, had a better plus/minus (+3 to Marchand’s +2), and was really firing the puck (seven SOG for Pastrnak; two for Marchand). Patrice Bergeron was strong in his own right, but only had an assist, so we can at least cancel him out.

Let’s call it a tie, then. Speaking of giving one spot to multiple people …

3. Basically all four goalies

For most of Game 5 between the Bruins and Blue Jackets, Tuukka Rask and Sergei Bobrovsky engaged in one heck of a goalie duel. Their numbers suffered from that late scoring spree, yet if you check out the highlights in the videos above, you’ll see that both goalies made some incredible stops. Bobrovsky even managed a miraculous save right before it was spoiled when Marchand followed it up with a goal. Rask made one more save (33) than Bob (32), and that ultimately made the difference, but Rask and Bob were pretty spectacular on Saturday.

Grubauer is the main reason why Sharks – Avs went down to the wire, as he stopped 37 out of 39 shots against San Jose. Martin Jones only needed to make 21 saves to win Game 5, but quite a few of those were very difficult, so he deserves at least a mention with these other three.

 [NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Factoids

Sunday’s game

Game 6: St. Louis Blues at Dallas Stars (Stars lead series 3-2); 3 p.m. ET on NBC (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.

Hertl comes up huge as Sharks squeak by Avs in Game 5

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For an uncomfortable stretch of Round 2, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Philipp Grubauer. Leave it to the Sharks most snake-bitten star to get it done in their tight 2-1 win in Game 5.

Tomas Hertl managed two assists through the first four games against the Colorado Avalanche, but for plenty, his lack of goals were glaring. Maybe he’s simply the hearty type of player who takes over a series during its later stages, because Hertl came up huge with both of the Sharks’ goals in that 2-1 win on Saturday, taking a 3-2 series lead against the Avs.

(Hertl scored four goals and one assist for five points in the last three games of that thrilling seven-game series against the Golden Knights, in case you were wondering.)

Both of Hertl’s goals were huge, naturally. Normally you’d fixate on the game-winner more than anything else, yet the first goal had to have taken a heavy weight off of San Jose’s shoulders. Hertl scored with just 20 seconds remaining in the second period to make it 1-1, giving the Sharks their first goal since late in Game 3.

 [NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Both goalies were pretty fantastic overall. Grubauer was especially impressive in making 37 out of 39 stops in defeat, yet while Martin Jones wasn’t anywhere near as busy, he was frequently called upon to make some high-difficulty saves among his 21.

Maybe the first bullet point for Jones is that he kept Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie, and Cale Makar off of the scoreboard. This ended MacKinnon’s remarkable run of playoff points at eight games.

The scene now switches to Colorado with the Avs’ impressive season on the line. MacKinnon, Grubauer, and the rest of the Avalanche sure aren’t playing like they’re just “happy to be there,” not with how hard they’re working. They’ll almost certainly need to play even better against the Sharks to force a Game 7, however.

Game 6 takes place on Monday at 10 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.

Scoring-starved Sharks see goal nullified by penalty

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Goals haven’t been easy to come by for the San Jose Sharks, so seeing a would-be Joe Thornton to Kevin Labanc beauty nullified by a high-sticking penalty really hurt. Their fans certainly haven’t been happy about it, either.

Some were especially annoyed that Tim Peel seemed to make the call of high-sticking by Timo Meier on Mikko Rantanen, rather than an official closer to the scene of the crime. There was also some confusion regarding what seemed to be a review period, but the officials might have just been checking to make sure the time was right.

To add some salt in the Sharks’ wounds, the goal wasn’t just nullified; they also had to kill a penalty. San Jose did so, as the first period ended 0-0. In also-bad news for the Sharks, Meier seemed to possibly be injured late in the opening frame.

Philipp Grubauer shut out the Sharks in Game 4, so San Jose hasn’t scored a goal since Logan Couture scored an empty-netter with 30 seconds remaining in Game 3. San Jose also hasn’t beaten Grubauer specifically since Couture scored his second of three goals in Game 3 12:50 into the third period of that contest. So, yeah, it’s been a while.

Can the Sharks finally solve Grubauer going forward, and find a way to take a 3-2 series lead? Will Colorado stay hot and snag that 3-2 edge instead? Tune in to Game 5 on NBCSN, and/or stream the action 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.