Mikko Rantanen

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Return on Duchene trade will help shape Avalanche’s defense for years

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Two years ago the perception of the Colorado Avalanche was very, very, very different than it is today.

At the start of the 2017-18 season they had missed the playoffs three years in a row and six of the past seven, while one of their best returning players, Matt Duchene, wanted out.

It was a wish that the Avalanche management eventually granted him early in the season.

It has turned out to be one of the franchise-altering moments over the past two years that has seen the Avalanche become one of the best young teams in the league, one that looks to be on the verge of becoming a fearsome Stanley Cup contender.

Nothing has played a bigger role in that rapid improvement Nathan MacKinnon turning into a top-5 player in the league and Mikko Rantanen becoming a star right alongside him. But do not overlook the importance of the Duchene trade given how much value they were able to squeeze out of that deal.

Just for a refresher on how it looked at the time, it was a three-team trade that saw Duchene to go to the Ottawa Senators, Kyle Turris go to the Nashville Predators from the Senators, and a collection of young players and draft picks from both teams going to the Avalanche.

That return for the Avalanche included.

  • Samuel Girard, at the time a 19-year-old defender and a top prospect in the Predators’ organization
  • Shane Bowers, the Ottawa Senators’ first-round pick (No. 28 overall) in the 2017 NHL draft
  • Vladislav Kamenev, at the time a 20-year-old forward and No. 42 overall pick from 2014
  • Goalie Andrew Hammond
  • Two draft picks that turned out to be Ottawa’s first-round pick (No. 4 overall) in 2019 and Ottawa’s third-round pick in 2019

With the 2019 NHL draft having taken place this weekend, the return on that trade continued to grow as the Avalanche used both selections on Friday and Saturday.

They used the first-round pick to select defender Bowen Byram from the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, and the third-round pick (the first pick in that round) to select center Matthew Stienburg.

The number of young, premium assets alone makes it an incredible haul for an excellent, but not quite great, player that clearly wanted out of Colorado.

It is also a return that should have a substantial impact on the future of the Avalanche blue line for the next decade.

First you have Girard, who just turned 21 back in May, that took a pretty big leap forward this past season for the Avalanche, playing close to 20 minutes per night and demonstrating some of the offensive flare that made him such a key piece of the trade. When the playoffs rolled around the Avalanche had no reservations about throwing him on the ice with Cale Makar, another of their top prospects and the Avalanche’s own No. 4 overall pick in 2018. When that duo was on the ice together they looked like they had the potential to take over games.

Because the Senators immediately went in the tank after acquiring Duchene and eventually began a two-year fire sale, the Avalanche were in a position to pick Byram at the top of the 2019 draft and add yet another dynamic, offensive blue-liner to their roster.

Between him, Makar, and Girard the Avalanche will have three potential (potential being the key word) top-pairing defenders in their organization that are all age 21 or younger.

This also plays a role in allowing the Avalanche to have more salary cap flexibility than almost any other team in the league, and especially among potential Stanley Cup contenders. When combined with the fact that MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog are playing on long-term contracts that are laughably below market value, getting three talented defenders on entry-level contracts is a huge advantage for them.

This is an admittedly rosy outlook that assumes everything works out exactly as planned. It does not always work out the way when talking about 18 or 19 year old players. But based on what we have seen from Girard and Makar in their brief samplings, and the potential that Byram brings to the organization, there is every reason to believe the Avalanche have the chance to build a dangerous blue line over the next decade. They have the Duchene trade to thank for two of those three key pieces.

It is, at this point, abundantly clear that the Avalanche worked this situation as perfectly as they could have and no doubt came out ahead among the three teams in that trade.

The Senators did not even get two full seasons out of Duchene before trading him for less than they gave up to get him.

Turris has been a massive disappointment so far in Nashville and carries a substantial contract over the next few seasons.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, have several young, talented assets that could be the foundation of a powerhouse team in the NHL, especially with the salary cap space they still have to use this summer and in future seasons.

It is usually difficult to get fair value in a trade of that magnitude, and often times when you give up what is, at the time, the best player in the trade you often times come out on the losing end of it. The theory in these situations is that the trading team can get a kings ransom of players and picks that will one day re-shape the look of the franchise. It almost never works out that way.

The Avalanche made it work.

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.

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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Pavelski returns for Game 7 to lead Sharks past Avs

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Joe Pavelski made his series debut and was a major impact player right out of the gate.

The Avalanche thought they battled back from a 2-0 deficit, but their second goal was taken away because Gabriel Landeskog was ruled as being offside during a line change.

Colorado out shot San Jose 15-2 in the third period, but the Sharks held onto the lead.

San Jose Sharks 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (Sharks win series 4-3)

The Sharks didn’t confirm until nearly the last minute that Joe Pavelski would play, but the captain certainly made it worth the wait. He scored the opening goal and assisted on Tomas Hertl‘s marker to give San Jose a 2-0 lead by 11:35 of the first period. Meanwhile, Nathan MacKinnon left the contest early after crashing into the boards. Everything seemed to be trending towards a clean Sharks victory, but momentum swung to the Avalanche’s side when MacKinnon returned late in the first period and Mikko Rantanen scored with just seven seconds before intermission. Colorado seemed to tie the contest in the second, but the goal was overruled due to an odd offside call on Gabriel Landeskog. To add insult to injury, Joonas Donskoi scored a stunner midway through the second to put the Sharks up 3-1. Tyson Jost put the Avalanche back within one again early in the third period, but San Jose held on despite being out shot 15-2 in the third period.

Three Stars

1. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks. This one is easy. Not only did Pavelski manage to rejoin the Sharks after suffering a scary injury in Game 7 of Round 1, but he was a huge factor in this game. He had a goal and an assist while logging 19:49 minutes of ice time. Only two Sharks forwards were used more in Game 7.

2. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks. One of the two forwards who was used more. Hertl recorded 24:01 minutes of ice time, which is incredible for a forward in a game that didn’t go to overtime. No one on the Avalanche — forward or defenseman — matched Hertl in terms of minutes played. A big part of it was Hertl’s work on special teams. He got 4:39 power-play minutes and 2:42 shorthanded minutes. Of course, it wasn’t just how much work Hertl got in. He also contributed a goal and an assist.

3. Joonas Donskoi, San Jose Sharks. His goal proved to be the game-winner. It was his first marker of the playoffs after he scored 14 goals during the regular season. It wasn’t just how important the marker was though, it also was an amazing goal to cap a great sequence for San Jose.

Highlights of the Night
Pavelski’s deflection goal early in the game gave the Sharks an edge early on. The game had so many twists and turns so it might be a stretch to say that this marker defined the game, but it certainly made a big impact.

Factoids

  • The Sharks are the sixth team in NHL history to start their run with two Game 7 victories at home. [TSN’s StatsCentre]
  • This will be Peter DeBoer’s third trip to the Conference Final as a head coach. The other two times he got this far, his team ended up losing in the Stanley Cup Final.
  • The Western Conference Final will be a rematch of the 2016 series between the Sharks and Blues. San Jose won that one in six games.
  • Mikko Rantanen’s playoff run ends with him recording six goals and 14 points in 12 games.

Thursday’s Schedule

Game 1: Carolina Hurricanes at Boston Bruins, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Pavelski makes quick Game 7 impact, MacKinnon shakes off injury

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Joe Pavelski‘s return for Game 7 has already proven to be huge for the San Jose Sharks. Meanwhile, the Avalanche lost Nathan MacKinnon for a chunk of the first, but the news for them isn’t as dreary as it initially seemed.

Pavelski’s fingerprints were all over the first period. He set the tone, scoring the opening goal on a deflection just 5:57 minutes into the game.

He also got the primary assist on Tomas Hertl‘s goal to make the game 2-0 and drew a penalty from Ian Cole. So it’s fair to say that Game 7 could have gotten off to a very different start if Pavelski wasn’t able to make his series debut.

The Avalanche weren’t nearly as fortunate early on. Less than two minutes into the game, MacKinnon ran into the boards during a power play and immediately left with what looked like a shoulder or arm injury.

Amazingly, he was able to return late into the first. We can’t know if he’s playing hurt or not, but for what it’s worth, he still managed to come close to scoring. To make matters better for the Avalanche, Mikko Rantanen scored in the dying seconds of the period, so at least they went into the intermission down by just a goal.

This is shaping up to be a wild Game 7.

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

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.