Samuel Girard

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.

The Buzzer: Voracek leads Flyers to fifth straight win; Wild remain in wild-card race

Kevin Hayes #13, Jakub Voracek #93, and Scott Laughton #21 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrate
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Three Stars

1) Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

Voracek dished out four helpers in the Flyers’ 5-2 win against the New York Rangers Friday. Philadelphia picked up their NHL-leading 23rd home victory and improved its current winning streak to five games in addition. Voracek had several pretty passes throughout the evening to set up his teammates. In the opening period, he fed Sean Couturier while Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith broke his stick and was unable to break up the pass. Late in the second period and early in the third, Voracek helped Claude Giroux score twice to seal the victory in favor of Philadelphia. All of a sudden, the Flyers only trail the Washington Capitals by three points for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

2) Alex Stalock, Minnesota Wild

The odds were stacked against them, but the Wild are not giving up on their pursuit of a spot in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Stalock made 24 saves and picked up his fourth shutout of the season as Minnesota blanked the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-0. Stalock has quietly put together an impressive season with an 18-9-4 record, 2.60 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. Only two points separate the Wild from the top wild card spot in the west.

3) Tyson Jost, Colorado Avalanche

With Mikko Rantanen sidelined, the Avalanche need more offensive production from everyone in the lineup. Jost stepped up with two goals as Colorado defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 and extended its winning streak to five games. The first-round pick from the 2016 NHL Draft opened the scoring 6:34 into the first period when his shot whizzed past Anton Forsberg. Jost took a bouncing puck away from Jake Gardiner prior to the goal. He gave the Avalanche a two-goal lead when he tucked a shot past Forsberg halfway through the middle frame. Colorado has two games in hand on the division-leading St. Louis Blues and only trail by three points. Home-ice advantage in the Western Conference will be awarded to the eventual winner of the Central Division.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Pavel Francouz made 45 saves and would be in the Calder Trophy conversation if not for the outstanding play of defensemen Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes.
  • Teuvo Teravainen scored twice in the Hurricanes’ 3-2 loss and Sebastian Aho extended his point streak to 14 games.
  • Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala each recorded a goal and an assist as the Minnesota Wild won their third straight game.
  • Jason Zucker recorded two goals but the Penguins fell in regulation for the fifth consecutive game.

Highlights of the Night

Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog delivered a pretty cross-ice pass to set up Samuel Girard for the third-period go-ahead goal.

Artemi Panarin extended his point streak to 12 games with this jaw-dropping stretch pass to set up Jesper Fast.

Golden Knights forward Nicolas Roy converted this slick deke to even the score at 1-1.

Giroux pushed the Flyers lead to two goals with this one-timer that clanked off the crossbar before finding the back of the net.

Stats of the Night

https://twitter.com/PR_NHL/status/1233588561666039809

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 5, New York Rangers 2

Minnesota Wild 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 0

Colorado Avalanche 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2

Vegas Golden Knights 4, Buffalo Sabres 2

Anaheim Ducks 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2


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

The Buzzer: Ovechkin remains red hot; Beauvillier lifts Islanders in OT

Three Stars

1) Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

The Russian superstar is on an incredible pace and added his third hat trick of 2020 on his quest to reach 700 career goals. Ovechkin recorded a natural hat trick in the final six minutes and 10 seconds as the Washington Capitals erased a one-goal third-period deficit in a 4-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings. Ovechkin became the second player in NHL history to reach the 40-goal mark for the 11th time in his career, trailing only Wayne Gretzky’s record of 12 seasons. Players have often struggled when approaching a momentous milestone in their career, but Ovechkin has 14 goals in the previous seven games as he prepares to join an illustrious group.

2) Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders

The 22-year-old forward opened and closed the scoring in the Islanders’ 4-3 overtime victory against the Dallas Stars Tuesday. Beauvillier started the night with a beautiful backhander 90 seconds into the game. Jordan Eberle delivered a perfect pass which allowed Beauvillier to get behind the Stars defense. In overtime, Brock Nelson forced a neutral-zone turnover and set up Beauvillier for the overtime winner. No. 18 has five goals and four assists in the previous seven games.

3) Andre Burakovsky, Colorado Avalanche

Burakovsky has proven to be a wise offseason acquisition by Joe Sakic and continued his strong season with a career best four-point performance in the Colorado’s 6-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres. Burakovsky picked up his 17th of the season with a wicked wrist shot in the opening period. He also dished out three assists including a deft pass to set up Nikita Zadorov in the second period. The Avalanche were looking to add scoring depth to complement their top line and Burakovsky has helped fill the void.

Other Notable Performances

  • Joe Thornton became the 14th player to score 1,500 NHL point with two assists.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy made 27 saves and improved to 14-0-2 in his last 16 starts.
  • Kieffer Bellows recorded his first career point in his NHL debut.
  • Tuukka Rask picked up his fourth shutout of the season as the Boston Bruins extended their winning streak to four games with a 4-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks.
  • Cale Makar set the record for most points by a rookie defenseman in Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques history with 27th assist and 38th point this season.
  • Antti Raanta recorded his second shutout of the season in the Arizona Coyotes’ 3-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers.
  • Ilya Kovalchuk netted the only goal in the shootout in the Montreal Canadiens’ 5-4 win against the New Jersey Devils.

Highlights of the Night

It is hard enough to control a bouncing puck off the boards, but Mathew Barzal was able to place his stick between his legs and score a third-period equalizer in the process.

Zach Werenski fired a wrist shot past his former teammate Sergei Bobrovsky to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 1-0 overtime victory against the Florida Panthers.

Bloopers of the Night

Samuel Girard knew where the puck was, but nobody else on the ice had any idea until it was too late.

Anybody have an idea where Alex Stalock was going early in the first period? Fortunately, the Wild survived the phantom delayed penalty.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Boston Bruins 4, Vancouver Canucks 0

New York Islanders 4, Dallas Stars 3 (OT)

Colorado Avalanche 6, Buffalo Sabres 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Vegas Golden Knights 2

Montreal Canadiens 5, New Jersey Devils 4 (SO)

Washington Capitals 4, Los Angeles Kings 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 1, Florida Panthers 0 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 3, Ottawa Senators 2 (SO)

St. Louis Blues 6, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Minnesota Wild 3, Chicago Blackhawks 2 (OT)

Nashville Predators 2, Winnipeg Jets 1 (OT)

San Jose Sharks 3, Calgary Flames 1

Arizona Coyotes 3, Edmonton Oilers 0


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

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Hintz, Stepan highlight this week’s top adds

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

Samuel Girard, Avalanche – D: Girard has quickly risen in importance with the Avalanche, averaging 17:43 minutes in 2017-18 after being acquired from Nashville, 19:54 minutes in 2018-19, and now 21:42 minutes this season. He set a new personal best last season with 27 points, but the 21-year-old blueliner already has 22 points in 42 contests this season. That total is somewhat misleading though because an incredible eight of those points have come in his last three games. It’s worth noting that he did have four assists in eight games prior to this outburst, so he had been heating up for a bit even before this. At any rate, he’s at least worth a short-term pickup, but the rising defenseman might also have a strong enough second half to justify holding onto him for the rest of the season. If you do pick him up, I’d recommend exercising some patience with him rather than dropping him at the first sign that his hot streak has fizzled out.

Derek Stepan, Coyotes – C: Stepan had between 53-57 points in five straight campaigns from 2013-14 through 2017-18, but he dropped to 35 points last season and has just seven goals and 16 points in 44 contests in 2019-20. So to say that he has largely disappointed over the last year-and-a-half would be accurate, but he is doing a bit better lately with a goal and four points in his last three games. It’s too early to say if this will prove to be anything more than a hot streak, but one bit of good news for him is that after the Coyotes experimented with pairing Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall, the duo has been broken up with Kessel now playing alongside Stepan instead. Stepan is a gamble, but there’s enough upside here to at least make him worth keeping a close eye on right now.

Elvis Merzlikins, Blue Jackets – G: Earlier this season Merzlikins couldn’t seem to buy a win, then Joonas Korpisalo suffered a torn meniscus and suddenly the Blue Jackets needed Merzlikins to step up. Merzlikins has largely answered the call, stopping 36 of 37 shots on Dec. 31 and 25 of 26 shots on Jan. 2 to collect his first two career NHL victories. He fell short against the Sharks on Jan. 4, but he mostly held his own, saving 25 of 28 shots. With Korpisalo likely out for at least another three weeks, Merzlikins will have value for the next little while.

Filip Hronek, Red Wings – D: Hronek is having a really good season with just one glaring exception. He started the season alright with three points in eight games before really taking off with four goals and 10 points in 14 contests from Oct. 22-Nov. 21. That led into the aforementioned exception where he had no points and a horrendous minus-11 rating in six games, but he’s bounced right back with three goals and 10 points in his last 13 contests. Given that he’s been more hit-than-miss this season and consider his recent success, he’s a pretty solid defenseman to own. He’s only taken in 27% of Yahoo leagues so the chances of you being able to claim him are rather good.

Ondrej Palat, Lightning – LW: Palat is having a hot-and-cold season with his latest drought coming from Nov. 27-Dec. 17 when he was limited to a goal and no assists in 11 games. Since then he’s scored three goals and nine points in nine games. Feel free to pick him up while he’s producing, but given how 2019-20 has gone, it wouldn’t be surprising if those who grab him end up dropping him in a couple weeks.

Dominik Kahun, Penguins – LW: The loss of Jake Guentzel for the remainder of the season was a major blow to the Penguins, but they have no choice but to move on and attempt to fill the void. Kahun is one of the players who has an opportunity with Guentzel out. The Penguins have been experimenting with using Kahun on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust, which was Guentzel’s spot prior to the injury. Kahun’s new role hasn’t resulted in any points yet, but he has been a solid contributor this season with 21 points in 41 contests despite being limited to 13:14 minutes per game. With increased responsibilities, he could be a pretty solid fantasy option in the second half of the season.

Sami Vatanen, Devils– D: Vatanen has been a silver lining in what has been a largely disappointing campaign for the Devils. With five goals and 22 points in 37 games, he’s bounced back nicely from his 17-point 2018-19 campaign. He’s hot right now with a goal and nine points in nine games, but he was doing alright even before that. I’ve said before that I see him more short-term pickup and I’d still lean more towards classifying him as that, but I don’t he’d be a bad defenseman to hold onto if you are hurting in that position.

Roope Hintz, Stars – C/LW: The Stars are on a four-game winning streak and Hintz has done his part with two goals and five points in that span. His ice time has been all over the place this season and what’s interesting that he’s averaged just 12:55 minutes over his last four games, but he’s still be used with the man advantage. That power-play ice time has been critical to his recent success. He has three power-play points and one shorthanded assist over his last four games, leaving him with just one even-strength point. The Stars next two games are against Los Angeles and Anaheim, which rank 28th and 21st respectively when it comes to killing penalties, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see Hintz find more success on the power play in the near future.

Patric Hornqvist, Penguins – RW: Hornqvist is a known entity at this point. He’s a not spectacular, but reliable scorer. This season injuries have gotten in the way, but he’s been solid when healthy with nine goals and 15 points in 25 contests. Now that he’s healthy, he’s worth grabbing if you have a hole in RW that needs plugging because while he’s not exciting, he’s fairly safe.

Dominik Kubalik, Blackhawks – LW/RW: Kubalik had six goals and 10 points in 27 contests to start the season, which is solid for a rookie, but nothing particularly special by fantasy standards. Lately he’s stepped up though with six goals and 12 points in his last 14 contests. His increase in production also corresponds with his growing role. He’s averaged 14:28 minutes over his most recent 14 games, up from 12:29 minutes prior to that. Kubalik has routinely played alongside Jonathan Toews lately, which helps matters. Although it’s rarer, occasionally the third player on that line is Patrick Kane. In other words, Kubalik has been handed a pretty good opportunity lately and he’s taken advantage of it.

Players You May Want To Drop

Alex Galchenyuk, Penguins – LW:  I mentioned above that Kahun is filling in for Guentzel on the Malkin line, but Galchenyuk was also tried on that line. That didn’t last long though. Galchenyuk logged just 9:22 minutes on Jan. 4 and 10:29 minutes on Jan. 5 and unsurprisingly had no points over that span. He’s been a big disappointment this season and if you grabbed him after Guentzel’s injury in the hopes that Galchenyuk would play a bigger role, you can drop him again.

James van Riemsdyk, Flyers – LW: van Riemsdyk has been hot-and-cold this season with his latest hot streak being particularly good. He had eight goals and 14 points in 13 contests from Nov. 27-Dec. 23. That the problem that he hasn’t recorded a single point in the five games that have followed. He’s worth keeping an eye on so you can scoop him up when he starts scoring again, but for now you may as well drop him.

Christian Dvorak, Coyotes – C/LW: Dvorak scored three goals and 14 points in 17 contests from Nov. 18-Dec. 22, but he’s otherwise been pretty underwhelming this season. Lately, he’s recorded just a goal and an assist in six games. He’s a pretty borderline player in standard leagues under normal circumstances, having never recorded more than 37 points in a single season. If you picked him up while he was hot, you may want to re-evaluate your options.

Calle Jarnkrok, Predators – LW/RW: Jarnkrok was a great option from Nov. 21-Dec. 17 with six goals and 13 points in 13 contests. He hasn’t done much since then though. Over his last eight games he’s registered just two assists. Given that he’s usually not a great offensive force, it’s reasonable to drop him now that he’s cooled down.

Justin Faulk, Blues – D: Faulk was typically good for at least 30 points per season when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes, but he has just three goals and 12 points in 43 contests in his first season with St. Louis. It doesn’t help that Faulk has averaged a modest 1:21 power-play minutes this season. By contrast, he averaged 2:56 power-play minutes in 2018-19 with Carolina. As a result, Faulk has just two power-play points this season, which is part of the reason for his underwhelming production this season. He did record two goals and five points in seven games from Dec. 12-27, which likely led to an uptick in people picking him up during that span, but he’s cooled down again and probably won’t be a major contributor going forward.

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.