Joe Sakic

Penguins remain hot with win vs. Avalanche

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Brandon Tanev notched a shorthanded goal in overtime to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel also scored as Pittsburgh recorded its fourth straight victory. Matt Murray added 26 saves.

Matt Calvert and Nathan MacKinnon found the back of the net for the Avalanche but their six-game point streak to open the season came to an end.

Crosby continues to dazzle

The Penguins captain has clearly moved on from a disappointing playoff run last year, which ended in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Islanders. Instead, Crosby is off to a tremendous start, recording points in each of Pittsburgh’s seven games and leading the club on the ice to a 5-2-0 record.

Crosby netted a highlight-reel backhander to tie the game late in the first period and then assisted on a Jake Guentzel tally in the second.

The superstar center craftily tipped the puck around Erik Johnson, played the puck with his glove, and then somehow had the wherewithal to outlast goaltender Philipp Grubauer until an opening appeared for him to slide a backhander into the net.

Early in the second period, Crosby intercepted a pass at the blueline, then set up Guentzel to help the Penguins grab a 2-1 lead.

While several notable players remain sidelined, Crosby will be expected to lead the Penguins on the ice, and continue to improve the players around him. Pittsburgh will need Crosby to play at the top of his game until reinforcements return over the next few weeks.

Avalanche upcoming free agents

After the Mikko Rantanen contract issue this past summer, the Avalanche have several pending RFA’s for next summer.

Colorado is expected to be a legit Stanley Cup Contender with a great mix of dynamic playmakers, infusion of youth and seasoned veterans capable of leading the way during turbulent stretches.

However, Bob McKenzie offered that general manager Joe Sakic wants to see how the first part of the season plays out before engaging in contract talks.

Andre Burakovsky, Tyson Jost and Nikita Zadorov headline the pending RFA class and all presumably have a role to fill moving forward.

Is Lafferty here to stay?

The Penguins have been bitten by the injury bug early and have been forced to rely on their organizational depth to stay afloat during a challenging stretch.

During their Stanley Cup-winning years, the Penguins have always been able to call up a role player to fill a specific need. Is Sam Lafferty the next player to seamlessly fit in?

Lafferty was close to making the team out of training camp according to Bob McKenzie, but fell victim to the numbers game of a roster. However, injuries to five impact forwards — Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust and Jared McCann — created a roster spot for him to slide in.

“We always felt like Sam was close coming into this training camp this year. But I think he has a whole lot more confidence in himself that he belongs here,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “And that’s great for him, and that’s great for us.”

The 24-year-old originally from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, about two hours outside of Pittsburgh, Lafferty has taken advantage of the opportunity recording five points over the previous three games.

“He’s earned his playing time. He’s just playing terrific hockey,” Sullivan said. “He made a difference every game he’s been in. As a result, he’s getting more ice time. He’s a very good penalty-killer. I think he really understands his role and is taking pride in it. You can see it every shift. He’s gaining more confidence.”

The Penguins have done an excellent job in sliding players into appropriate roles, and Lafferty is just the latest example. Does the kid have what it takes to stick around for a full season and continue to make a difference? We will find out as the season goes on.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

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.

Examining Avs’ salary cap, Stanley cup window after signing Rantanen

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It took almost the entire offseason, but the Colorado Avalanche did it. They locked down the last big-name RFA remaining by signing Mikko Rantanen to a six-year deal that carries a $9.2 million AAV.

Initially, it brings to mind favorable comparisons to the Maple Leafs, as Mitch Marner received the same term at an expensive $10.893M cap hit.

But consider another comparison: Matthew Tkachuk and the Flames. In that case, a three-year deal with a $7M AAV opened a three-year window for Calgary to compete for a Stanley Cup, or at least on paper. (As we saw with the Washington Capitals, sometimes the breakthrough comes after you think you had your best chance.)

In the case of the Avalanche, you can look at a few different windows thanks to a few different factors.

The Mac Factor (through 2022-23)

The biggest window comes from getting Nathan MacKinnon, easily one of the most dynamic stars in the NHL, for what feels like close to a 50-percent discount at an absurdly low $6.3M cap hit. To the envy of basically the entire league, that almost larcenous deal runs through 2022-23.

The Avalanche getting four years of Rantanen and MacKinnon for a combined AAV of $15.5M provides an enormous competitive advantage. You could argue that “the rest is gravy,” but in a team sport like hockey, that gravy would be needed to complete a championship meal.

Other noteworthy contracts that last at least four more years include:

The Avalanche added some term with a few of these deals, and also made a key decision to move on from Tyson Barrie, exchanging him in a deal that brought in Nazem Kadri (28, $4.5M through 2021-22).

Decisions coming after 2020-21

Eventually, the Avs will need to decide who will remain a core player over the longer haul, who might be “the guy” in net, and how much they’ll pay key prospects.

While Ian Cole (30, $4.25M) strikes as less of an agonizing choice one way or another, not every decision will be easy. Captain Gabriel Landeskog often combines with MacKinnon and Rantanen to form one of the best bang-for-your-puck, top-heavy top lines in the league, and he’s dirt-cheap at $5.57M, but only for two more seasons. Despite it feeling like Landeskog’s been around forever, he’s only 26, yet the Avs will need to decide if he’d be worth handing what you’d assume would be a much bigger contract, even if he likely would fall behind Rantanen’s big deal.

Two years also covers the contract of Philipp Grubauer, 27, and his $3.33M AAV. Grubauer shook off early struggles to look promising, but will he be a franchise goalie? We’ll see.

With two years remaining on his rookie deal, Cale Makar could earn an astronomical raise from his $880K, considering the promise he’s shown already.

Colorado will also need to make choices regarding Andre Burakovsky and others entering contract years.

Strike soon

The Avalanche were fairly aggressive this offseason, although they didn’t land a big fish on the scale of a, say, Artemi Panarin.

With savings only lasting two years for Makar and four for MacKinnon, Colorado should be proactive in trying to take their best shots, and soon. Whether they try to do so by trade or free agency, the best time for blockbuster moves might be the 2020 offseason. They’ll no longer have $4.25M in dead money from retaining salary for Tyson Barrie and buying out Brooks Orpik, and so it’s not surprising there’s big space coming soon. Cap Friendly estimates their cap spendings for 2020-21 at about $57.136M with 13 roster spots covered, which would provide $24.37M to work with if the ceiling remained at $81.5M.

That’s a lot of money to work with, and now that they have cost certainty for a while with their biggest names, they can try to take a big shot. Maybe that would mean targeting the next Mark Stone like Vegas did: by identifying someone via trade, rather than free agency, and thus buying another playoff run from that player. They should have room to work with in 2019-20, although you never know if there’s a lower internal budget for spending …

***

There’s a lot to be excited about with the Avalanche, especially with Rantanen being 22, MacKinnon being 24, Makar being 20, and so on.

The instinct might be to sit back and relax, but the Avalanche should instead leap at this opportunity to make big leaps rather than more modest steps. As impressive as these bargains are, those coupons will eventually expire.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Analyzing the Avalanche after Colorado re-signs J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.

Sakic has Avs trending up after two straight playoff seasons

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Back in his Colorado Avalanche playing days, Joe Sakic’s approach was pretty much title or bust.

As the team’s general manager, a similar feeling is beginning to develop.

Sakic and the Avalanche took a little time for reflection following a Game 7 loss to San Jose in the second round. That page has been turned.

The Hall of Fame player turned executive has his full focus on improving a team that’s been to the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since he was on the ice.

High on Sakic’s to-do list: A deal for restricted free agent Mikko Rantanen and preparing for the draft, where the Avs possess the fourth overall pick (courtesy of Ottawa) and the 16th selection. There’s also a multitude of players to consider retaining , which includes unrestricted free agent goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

”You’ve got to keep building and getting better,” Sakic said Tuesday. ”As great as the end of the year was, we still didn’t accomplish the end goal. We’ve got to find a way to get better.”

In 2018, Colorado was simply content with getting into the playoffs and lost in the first round to Nashville. This season, the Avalanche expected to make some noise, which they did by upsetting Calgary, the top seed in the West. It was the first time since 2008 they had advanced out of a series. But their run came to a halt with a 3-2 loss to the Sharks.

”Someone had to lose that series – unfortunately it was us,” Sakic said. ”Our guys learned a lot in that series.”

It’s easy to see why securing Rantanen remains high for Sakic: The forward is coming off a regular season during which he set career bests in points (87), goals (31) and assists (56). Rantanen paired with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog to form one of hockey’s most lethal line combinations.

”We want to make sure we have him signed,” Sakic said.

Sakic plans to meet with the coaching staff to make evaluations involving players under contract, restricted free agents (Nikita Zadorov, J.T. Compher and Alexander Kerfoot head the list) and those with expiring deals (such as Derick Brassard, Colin Wilson, Patrik Nemeth and Gabriel Bourque).

As free agency approaches, the Avalanche already have some players in mind.

”We’ll be more aggressive this year with that, but if it doesn’t work out with the players we want to talk to, we’re not just going to go spend on anybody,” Sakic said. ”We want the right players and the right fit.”

Other topics Sakic addressed:

– On a possible extension for coach Jared Bednar, whose deal is up after next season: ”We’ll get to that at the appropriate time. … There’s a good respect and good relationship the way he handles the players and the way the players respond to him.”

– On Nathan MacKinnon banging into the boards with his shoulder early in Game 7 at San Jose: ”He’s getting better every day. He’ll be fine in a couple weeks.”

– On the possibility of bringing back Varlamov, who’s been with the Avalanche since 2011-12: ”We’ll see what happens July 1 with him. … We’ll be in communication.”

– On working out a deal with defenseman Tyson Barrie, who is a free agent after ’19-20: ”All I can tell you is he’s an incredible player. He was a driving force down our stretch and with what we saw with him, Cale (Makar) and (Samuel) Girard I’d be very, very comfortable starting the year with that group.”

As for the draft, Sakic doesn’t plan on dealing the No. 4 pick. Although, he’s open to offers.

The last time Colorado drafted at No. 4 was 2017 when they took Makar, who led Massachusetts to the Frozen Four final before signing with the Avs soon after and joining the team for Game 3 of the Calgary series. The rookie provided a big boost in the postseason with a goal and five assists.

”He’s going to be an incredible player,” Sakic said. ”There’s a lot of excitement about this team. We’ve got to keep building and try to get to the next level.”

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

Sakic’s patience pays off for Avs in Duchene trade

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All of a sudden, things look a lot more positive for the Colorado Avalanche, not to mention how people view Joe Sakic as a GM.

Now, that’s not to say it was easy. The Avalanche took a lot of heat before finally pulling the trigger in trading Matt Duchene, but with the monster deal involving three teams, Colorado was able to land a pretty staggering package of picks, prospects, and Hamburglar.

Prospects: Samuel Girard, Vladislav Kamenev, and Shane Bowers.

Picks: First-rounder from Senators (see details below for how it is briefly lottery-protected), second-rounder in 2018 from Predators, third-rounder in 2019 from Ottawa.

Hamburglar: Andrew Hammond

Phew, that’s quite the haul for the Avalanche. Here’s the thing: I don’t think any single player in this deal will end up better than Duchene (or Kyle Turris). If that’s the only way you’ll judge a trade, then after all this time, Sakic may still lose.

On the other hand, it was clear that Duchene needed to go. With two years left at $6M per pop, it’s plausible that he would have left eventually, and for nothing but cap space. Even if the Avalanche re-signed Duchene in an alternate scenario, are they truly primed to contend during his peak years?

[Breaking down blockbuster Matt Duchene, Kyle Turris trade]

This deal seems close to optimal for the Avalanche as far as realistic “gets” are concerned; such a choice only seems wiser when you consider that Travis Hamonic is struggling and injured with Calgary, as just one example.

The cooler element is that, for the first time in a long time, it feels like things are trending up for the Avalanche.

Consider the players who are leading the charge for the refreshingly respectable 8-6-0 Avs. Nathan MacKinnon has been on a tear lately, reminding us that it’s a little weird to be disappointed in a guy who’s still just 22. Tyson Barrie ties MacKinnon with a team-leading 14 points, and he’s old by Avs standards at 27. Mikko Rantanen is already looking great at 21. Alex Kerfoot could be a keeper at 23. J.T. Compher (22) and Tyson Jost (19) are showing intrigue. It’s hard to believe that Gabriel Landeskog is only 25.

Heck, the Avalanche may just revive Nail Yakupov, who’s been given up on a lot for a player who is just 24.

Add intriguing first-rounder Calle Makar to that group and the Avalanche were already enjoying some reasons for optimism. This mixture of picks and prospects just gives them more ammunition.

Girard, 19, is the gem of this group. To my eyes, he was already showing some real promise with the Predators, and he’ll almost certainly get more of a chance to show what he can do (and, yes, maybe also get exposed a bit more) on an Avalanche team that sorely needs defense.

Kamenev, 21, is one of those prospects who could go either way. The good news, though, is that he’s been putting up solid AHL numbers. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman broke down the trio (subscription required) in greater detail, arguing that Kamenev and Shane Bowers, 18, may ultimately be depth or mid-range guys.

In case you’re wondering, Girard (47th in 2016) and Kamenev (42nd in 2014) were second-round picks while Bowers went 28th overall in this past draft.

TSN’s Scott Cullen did a nice job breaking down how those draft picks might work out for the Avalanche:

The haul of draft picks increases the overall value of the deal for Colorado. Ottawa’s first-round pick could be in the middle of the round, give or take a few spots, and that should generally yield an NHL-calibre player. Second and third-round picks bring about a one-in-three and one-in-four chance, respectively of yielding an NHL player. For a team like Colorado, coming off a historically terrible season, obtaining five young assets (plus Hammond) for Duchene is the smart long-term play.

Ultimately, this deal could go in a lot of ways for the Avalanche. It’s important to remember that a significant element of all of this could very well be player development.

Possible value for the Hamburglar?

It’s fair to say that, from Ottawa’s perspective, trading Andrew Hammond came down to a pure “salary dump.”

I wonder if Sakic might be able to do something interesting here, though. At the moment, Semyon Varlamov is on a two-year deal at $5.9M per season, while backup Jonathan Bernier has a one-year, $2.75M contract.

If you’re a team hurting for a backup goalie, call Colorado. Sakic could conceivably make something work in a variety of ways, whether it be moving Hammond or maybe retaining some salary in a trade involving Bernier.

***

Yes, that’s a lot to digest for the Avalanche, but in the spirit of the Hamburglar, at least Sakic provided Avalanche fans with a rare trade that feels like a Happy Meal.

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.