Tyson Barrie

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.

Youthful Girard-Makar pairing playing like experienced vets for Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche didn’t make a big splash at the 2019 NHL trade deadline (unless you wanted to count Derick Brassard as a big splash) but they did get some significant help for their postseason run during Round 1 when Cale Makar, the 2018 No. 4 overall pick and 2019 Hobey Bakey Award Winner, decided to turn pro and sign his entry-level deal.

It has not taken him long to start looking like the real deal and become a significant part of the Avs’ rapidly improving young core.

Entering Game 7 of their Round 2 series against the San Jose Sharks Wednesday night (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream), Makar has already recorded six points in his first nine NHL games and has been even more impressive with the eye test given his confidence, skating, and willingness to make plays with the puck. He just looks exciting, and so far he has the results to back it up. He has been sheltered a little with his overall ice-time and with a lot of offensive zone starts, but he is still only 20 years old and getting what is literally his first taste of NHL action on the biggest possible stage.

It is a huge jump and a big test, and so far he is passing it.

What stands out about the Avs’ usage of Makar against the Sharks is that even though they are sheltering him in terms of where they start him on faceoffs, they are not sheltering him with a veteran partner.

Instead, they have been using him over the past four games almost exclusively with their other young standout defender, fellow 20-year-old Samuel Girard.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It is not only the youngest defense pair any team has used this postseason, Makar and Girard are just two of the six defensemen who have appeared in a playoff game this season who are age 20 or younger. And they are not only playing together, they have been great together. In more than 56 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together against the Sharks the Avalanche have scored four goals with the Makar-Girard duo on the ice and are dominating territorially, controlling more than 56 percent of the shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger chances.

Some of that, again, is due to the deployment as they are being put into situations where they are expected to create offense, and it is very clear how head coach Jared Bednar wants to utilize his three defense pairings. The Tyson BarrieNikita Zadorov and Erik JohnsonIan Cole duos are getting almost all of the defensive zone starts and being leaned on in any defensive situations, which is very understandable given the inexperience of the third pairing.

The Makar-Girard duo, on the other hand, is almost always being put into offensive situations. But there is still something to be said for taking advantage of those situations, especially when it is two of the youngest players in the playoffs playing alongside one other.

What has to be exciting about this for the Avalanche is that no matter what happens in Game 7, or in the rest of the playoffs should they advance, these two will be together for the foreseeable future as a key part of this core’s development and the foundation of their blue line.

The Avalanche are an extremely young team in terms of who is carrying the workload this season and are positioned to become one of the dominant teams in the Western Conference given their current star power at the top of the lineup, the salary cap space they have at their disposal, and the fact they have two first-round draft picks in 2019, including another No. 4 overall pick thanks to the Matt Duchene trade, which was the deal where they acquired Girard.

MORE: Avs in position to build on current success

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.

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.

Sharks’ Vlasic looking for apology from NHL

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Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic is looking for an apology from the NHL.

Why is he looking for an apology? Well, there’s probably two reasons for this.

First, he felt like icing should’ve been called moments before Avs defenseman Tyson Barrie scored in Game 2 to give Colorado a 2-1 lead late in the second period. Secondly, he might be a little annoyed because the NHL made a point to apologize to the Vegas Golden Knights after they handed the Sharks a five-minute power-play in Game 7 of their first-round series.

But does Vlasic have a case here?

As you can tell from the above video, Vlasic and Avs forward Mikko Rantanen are racing back into Sharks territory for the loose puck. Vlasic beats Rantanen to the dots, but that isn’t the criteria for judging icing.

Here’s what rule 81 in the NHL rulebook has to say about icing:

The Linesman must first determine that the puck will cross the goal line. Once the Linesman determines that the puck will cross the goal line, icing is completed upon the determination as to which player (attacking or defending) would first touch the puck. This decision by the Linesman will be made by no later than the instant the first player reaches the end zone faceoff dots with the player’s skate being the determining factor.

The “would first touch the puck” part is the key here. Being the first player to the dot doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the call will go your way. If we apply the rule in this case, it’s still a close call but the official decides to give Rantanen the benefit of the doubt because he’s getting to the dots with a full head of steam.

“It was the exact same as the icing here the other night, when [Erik] Karlsson had the inside track on [J.T.] Compher,” Avs head coach Jared Bednar said after the game, per ESPN. “They’re in a race. They blow it down for icing because Karlsson had the inside path. To me, on this one, I’m watching Mikko [Rantanen] go up the ice, he’s got a head of steam, he’s getting to the right area, he’s got the inside path on Vlasic on the post. It looks to me like Mikko’s going to get their first, so they let it go. To me, it’s similar plays: The guy on the inside got the call. One was against us. One was in our favor.”

Whether you agree with the call or not, you can’t dispute that this is a judgement call that needs to be made in a split second. Whatever happens below the dots almost becomes irrelevant because the call needs to be made once the players get to the dot on the ice. At that moment, the official decided that Rantanen was close enough to negate the icing.

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: McElhinney saves day for Hurricanes; Barrie dominates for Avalanche

  • A surprising star came off the bench to help the Carolina Hurricanes steal another win on the road.
  • Tyson Barrie was the difference for the Colorado Avalanche.
  • The Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen duo do something for the Avalanche that have not been done since Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic.

Carolina Hurricanes 2, New York Islanders 1 (CAR leads series 2-0)

The Carolina Hurricanes entered Sunday’s game without three of their regular forwards (Andrei Svechnikov, Micheal Ferland, and Jordan Martinook), lost a defender on the first shift and had to play the entire game with only five players on their blue line, then lost starting goalie Petr Mrazek halfway through the second period. On top of that they entered the third period, on the road, trailing on the scoreboard. All they did after that was score two goals in 48 seconds and held on for a 2-1 win to take the first two games of the series to head back home with a 2-0 lead in the series. Pretty impressive stuff.

Colorado Avalanche 4, San Jose Sharks 3 (Series tied 1-1)

When you are the underdog starting a best-of-seven series on the road your goal for the first two games is to win one of them to steal home-ice advantage. The Colorado Avalanche accomplished that on Sunday evening with a 4-3 win that was highlighted by a dominant performance by Tyson Barrie and a controversial goal in the second period. Barrie’s goal late in the period gave the Avalanche their first lead and came on a play that appeared as if it should have been whistled for icing. It was not, and the Avalanche capitalized with a goal that turned out to be significant. The Sharks had a controversial call go their way in Round 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of the series, and this time they were on the other side of it. That is how it goes sometimes in sports. Nathan MacKinnon’s empty-net goal in the third period proved to be the game-winner after Brent Burns scored two late third period goals to close the deficit to one goal.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Curtis McElhinney, Carolina Hurricanes. Before Sunday the 35-year-old McElhinney had played just 81 minutes of postseason hockey in his NHL career, and none this season. He still ended up being the star of the game for the Hurricanes as he came off the bench, with his team already trailing, to replace Mrazek and stopped all 17 shots he faced to help lift the Hurricanes to a 2-1 win over the Islanders. It was McElhinney’s first ever postseason win and it is one he definitely earned given the difficult circumstances he was thrown into.

2. Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche. He was incredible for the Avalanche on Sunday night by not only scoring a goal and adding two assists, but also by helping to dictate the pace of the game when he was on the ice. He was their best player in Game 2 and the biggest reason they were able to even the series. He has been one of the most productive blue-liners in the NHL for six years now and was at his absolute best on Sunday night. 

3. Warren Foegele, Carolina Hurricanes. One of the most surprising developments in these playoffs has been the offensive emergence of Foegele. There were 10 players on the Hurricanes’ roster that scored more goals than him during the regular season. Through nine playoff playoffs there are zero Hurricanes with more goals than him. His game-tying goal early in the third period on Sunday was already his fifth of the playoffs. He only scored 10 during the regular season.

Highlights Of The Night

All of the offense for the Hurricanes on Sunday came in less than 60 seconds. Here it is.

This sequence in the third period of the Avalanche-Sharks game is a goaltending clinic.

Devon Toews thought he had a goal to give the New York Islanders a 2-0 late in the second period on Sunday, only to have the goal disallowed because of a kicking motion. It did not count, but it is still a play worth watching just because of how important it turned out to be.

Cool play, but the rule on this (Rule 49.2) is very clear: “A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who kicks a puck that deflects into the net off any player, goalkeeper, or official.”

Still a play worth pointing out just because it does not happen very often.

Factoids

  • McElhinney made some NHL history on Sunday by becoming just the fifth goalie in league history to record his first postseason win at age 35 or older. [NHL PR]
  • During Joe Thornton‘s rookie season his current linemates were five and two years old, respectively. [NHL on NBC]
  • Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen both have six-game point streaks for the Colorado Avalanche. This is the first Avalanche teammates have had simultaneous playoff points streak of six games or more since Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic did it during the 2004 postseason. [NHL PR]

Monday’s Schedule

Game 3: St. Louis Blues at Dallas Stars, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, (Series tied 1-1) (Live Stream)

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.