Philipp Grubauer

Avalanche offseason presents big opportunities — and challenges

The Colorado Avalanche don’t want to hear this – not after falling painfully short against the Sharks in Game 7 – but to many observers, that agonizing ending feels like just the beginning.

Just consider the players who spearheaded their surprising five-game steamrolling of the Calgary Flames in Round 1, and the players who pushed San Jose to the limit in Round 2.

  • Nathan MacKinnon‘s the headliner, and at 23 with a ridiculous bargain $6.3 million cap hit through 2022-23, he might be the best value in all of the NHL.
  • After a bumpy start to his Colorado stay, Philipp Grubauer sure looks like a legitimate No. 1 goalie. He’s 27 and cheap ($3.33M) though 2020-21, too.
  • Mikko Rantanen‘s not that far behind MacKinnon, and just 22.
  • It feels like Gabriel Landeskog has been around forever, but he’s just 26. His $5.571M cap hit doesn’t expire until after the 2020-21 season.
  • Cale Makar looked right at home in the pressure cooker of the playoffs, and he’s 20. Samuel Girard is another nice piece, and could improve since he’s just 20, too.
  • Tyson Barrie‘s like Landeskog in that he’s still young (27), and affordable ($5.5M through 2019-20).

Of course, it’s not just all that precocious youth that makes the Avalanche seem like a Team of Tomorrow.

Thanks to that brilliant Kyle TurrisMatt Duchene trade by GM Joe Sakic, the Avalanche didn’t just add Girard and other more immediate pieces; they also snagged what would become the Ottawa Senators’ first-rounder in 2019 (along with Ottawa’s third-rounder).

While Colorado didn’t enjoy the sexiest option of getting a shot at Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, you won’t see a ton of teams make two consecutive playoff appearances and land the fourth pick of the draft. That happened thanks to the Turris trade, and the Avalanche are also slated to pick 16th with their own selection, as confirmed by NHL.com.

[Sharks hold off Avs in Game 7]

Having two picks in the top half of the 2019 NHL Draft gives Sakic & Co. some fascinating options.

Most directly, they can stick with both picks. They could also move one or both of those selections for more immediate upgrades via trades.

Both options are tantalizing, but the latter scenario is fascinating because of the road ahead for the Avalanche. Let’s take a look at the decisions Sakic must make, both in the near and longer-term future. As always, Cap Friendly is a crucial resource for contract information and other details, and served as a great resource for this post.

Tons of cap space, but some big names to re-sign

Via Cap Friendly, the Avalanche have about $46.9 million in cap space devoted to 13 players, with few problem contracts (aside from, I’d argue, Erik Johnson‘s deal).

There’s some significant money coming off the books as this season ends, and it remains to be seen if Colorado wants to bring back any of veterans Semyon Varlamov (31, $5.9M in 2018-19), Derick Brassard (31, $3M after retention), and Colin Wilson (29, just under $4M). Honestly, the Avs would probably be wise to let both Varlamov and Brassard walk, and maybe see if Wilson would take a little less cash for some term.

Either way, a ton of money will be allotted to RFAs. Rantanen figures to come in at a big clip, and it wouldn’t be one bit surprising if he landed in double digits. Honestly, even if he did, his trio with MacKinnon and Landeskog could probably still be underpaid as a group.

Rantanen isn’t the only noteworthy RFA. Alex Kerfoot, 24, and J.T. Compher, 24, both need new deals, and each player is somewhat tough to gauge value-wise. (Kerfoot is sneaky-effective from a two-way perspective.) Nikita Zadorov is another interesting situation as a 24-year-old RFA.

A window opens

Considering how young this Avalanche core is, the instinct might be to take a zen-like, slow approach.

Yet, if the Avalanche look at cap-crunched teams like the Maple Leafs, they should realize they have an unusual advantage to know that a window is opening, and that they should seize opportunities when they come along.

MacKinnon’s contract represents the outer limits (2022-23) of that window, but Colorado should also consider more immediate “deadlines.”

  • Landeskog and Grubauer are eligible to become UFAs after 2020-21, and should expect hearty raises.
  • Tyson Barrie’s deal runs out after 2019-20, and could be pricey considering his offensive production.
  • Girard’s slated to be an RFA after 2019-20, while Cale Makar’s rookie deal ranks as another competitive advantage for Colorado.
  • Granted, there will also be moments of cap relief. Carl Soderberg‘s $4.75M cap hit ends after 2019-20, so that should come in handy. The Brooks Orpik buyout ends after 2019-20, too.

With all of that in mind, the Avalanche should strongly consider ramping up their aggressiveness by either landing a free agent (maybe recent opponent Erik Karlsson, if he springs free? How does Artemi Panarin feel about skiing?) or by trading for a big ticket player. It’s tough to imagine the Predators trading P.K. Subban in general, yet especially to a division rival where they’d face Subban multiple times per year, yet Subban might be the type of gamebreaker Colorado should try to land.

Again, this is where that fourth or 16th pick could make things that much more interesting. Colorado could sell a trade partner on receiving cap space and/or a high draft pick in exchange for taking a known quantity, and a player who’s already x number of years into their development.

Imagine the Avalanche team that battered the Flames and challenged the Sharks adding an All-Star-level player, or even two? It’s a scary thought for opponents, and the Avalanche shouldn’t wait forever to try to make big strides. MacKinnon’s contract gives them a lengthy advantage, yet other bargains will evaporate soon. Why not get a surplus of talent while you still can?

***

Whether you believe the Avalanche should go bold or take a more measured approach, it sure seems obvious that this team has a lot of potential.

If management makes the right decisions – and, honestly, gets a few lucky breaks – then the Avs might just reach that potential.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

What to watch for in Sharks-Avalanche Game 7

Getty
1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. No advantage for anyone six games in

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

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

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

2. Both goalies have been really good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. The Joe Pavelski factor

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

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

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

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Wraparound: Can Grubauer shut down Sharks again?

2 Comments

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

After Avs goalie Philipp Grubauer produced an absolutely sensational Round 1 against the Flames, it seemed like the Sharks might have solved him — at least enough.

San Jose managed a 2-1 series lead through the first three games against Colorado, scoring 10 goals combined against Grubauer. For some context, consider that Grubauer only allowed nine goals total as the Avalanche stunned the Flames in five games.

It seemed like the Sharks solved Grubauer … until Game 4. Grubauer was sturdy, and the Avalanche used their speed and fresh legs to slow San Jose down enough for Colorado to win that contest 3-0, tying the series 2-2 heading into Game 5 on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN; stream here).

That Game 4 win echoes the Avalanche’s stretch to earn a bid in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. While Nathan MacKinnon grabs the headlines, Grubauer makes those crucial saves that brings it all together.

“He’s making everything look easy,” Avs defenseman Erik Johnson said, via the Denver Post’s Kyle Frederickson. “When you have a goalie that’s doing that, I think it just trickles down your lineup. I can’t say enough good things about him and how well he’s played. … We believe in him.”

The Sharks believe that they need to make things tougher for Grubauer in Game 5, which seems fair, since he’s clearly making it tougher for San Jose to score goals.

 [NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 5: Columbus Blue Jackets at Boston Bruins (Series tied 2-2) After struggling through the first three games of this series, Boston’s first line came alive in Game 4, and Tuukka Rask made enough big saves to earn the win. The scene switches back to Boston for Game 5 after we’ve seen both Rask and Sergei Bobrovsky befuddle opponents with big saves, and Artemi Panarin show that Columbus’ top line can make noise, too. It’s tough to forecast which team will win, but you can bet on some nastiness. 7:15 p.m. ET on NBC (stream here)

FRIDAY’S SCORES
Hurricanes 5, Islanders 2 (Carolina wins series 4-0)
Stars 2, Blues 1 (Dallas leads series 3-2)
The Buzzer has more on Friday’s action.

PHT’s Round 2 previews
• Round 2 schedule, TV info
• Questions for the final eight teams
• PHT Roundtable
• Blue Jackets vs. Bruins
• Blues vs. Stars
• Avalanche vs. Sharks

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.

Grubauer shuts out Sharks to lead Avs in hard-fought Game 4 win

3 Comments

The San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche feature two high-powered offenses and up until now the series has reflected it. Game 4 on Thursday was a far more defensive-minded contest though and in the end it was the Avalanche that edged out with a 3-0 final to even the series.

The first half of the game went by without a single goal. The Sharks and Avalanche were largely even in play as well on the scoresheet to that point, but Nathan MacKinnon finally gave Colorado an edge at 10:34 of the second period. Appropriately for this game, the goal was the result of persistence. MacKinnon tried to whack a rebound twice before it finally got by Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.

Special teams also worked in the Avalanche’s favor. They successfully killed two San Jose power plays, including one that trickled into the start of the third period. Meanwhile, Colin Wilson scored a power-play goal at 3:11 of the third to give Colorado some breathing room. At 18:51, Erik Johnson fired a shot from the other end of the ice that went into the empty net to push the game to 3-0.

Certainly Jones had a rough regular season and he’s struggled at times during the 2019 playoffs, but this loss wasn’t his fault. Neither of the Avalanche’s goals on him made him look bad and Jones also made some big saves. Philipp Grubauer really stepped up Thursday night though, stopping 32 shots.

Obviously, the Sharks couldn’t do enough offensively, but their penalty problems in the third certainly didn’t help. San Jose was assessed four minor penalties in the third period. At one point in the middle of the period, the Sharks were briefly down two men. It’s hard to turn a game around when you’re spending so much time shorthanded.

This is the second time San Jose has been shutout in the 2019 playoffs. The last time came in Game 4 against Vegas, which put the Golden Knights up 3-1 in that series. The Sharks aren’t in as much trouble in this series, but they can nevertheless take comfort in the fact that they bounced right back with a 5-2 win against Vegas in Game 5.

Avalanche-Sharks Game 5 from SAP Center will be Saturday night at 10:00 p.m. ET on 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.

Sharks need the very best of Jones vs. Avs

Getty Images
3 Comments

Martin Jones can’t have a repeat of Round 1.

The San Jose Sharks could certainly use a few snippets from that seven-game series against the Vegas Golden Knights. Jones allowed just five goals across Games 1, 5 and 6, including a 58-save performance in the penultimate game that ended in double overtime.

It’s Games 2 thru 4 that Jones and the Sharks can’t afford. Going from 1-0 up in a series to 3-1 down. Being the scapegoat for your team’s misfortunes. That sort of thing.

It’s safe to say Jones wore a lot of hats in Round 1.

Getting pulled twice in a playoff series and allow six goals in another game where you weren’t given a mercy tug probably should have ended exactly how you might think — crashing out of the playoffs because bad goaltending doesn’t win championships.

Instead, Jones was able to rally, composing himself after getting benched in Game 4. San Jose did eventually win the series in controversial fashion, and Jones in Game 7 still wasn’t all that great (four goals allowed on 38 shots) despite getting the ‘W’ in an insane 5-4 overtime thriller. But he was able to pull himself back from the dead in Games 5 and 6 to put San Jose in a position to win, and that stroke of luck San Jose got in Game 7 was enough to

Jeykll and Hyde are thrown around too often in sports, but truly, it was Jones’ series to a T.

Games 2-4

• Record: 0-2 (pulled twice with one no-decision)
• .796 save percentage
• 7.62 goals-against average

Games 5-7

• Record: 3-0
• .946 save percentage
• 1.83 goals-against average

Jones is certainly going to have his hands full. The Avalanche put up an NHL high 41 shots per game in Round 1 and were fourth in goals per game at 3.40. Conversely, San Jose gave up the third-most number of shots per game, so the rubber is coming whether Jones likes it or not.

Jones’ five-on-five save percentage was a .924 in the Vegas series. To put that in perspective, it was good for ninth best among goalies in the round. Philipp Grubauer, who Jones will duel in the series, held a .964 save percentage in 5v5 situations — best in the league.

It should be noted that Jones’ expected save percentage was much worse at .913.

Jones’ goals-save above average also got a nice boost from being much worse after Game 6. Grubauer was the best in the category in Round 1, saving 4.74 more goals than what was expected when compared to the average.

And it should be noted that Jones will be facing one of the best lines in hockey in Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. Jones had his hands full with Mark Stone and Co. against Vegas and there will be no let up in this series.

Colorado walked all over the Calgary Flames, who got slightly better goaltending in that series.

Then there are the tangibles that can’t be calculated on a spreadsheet. Getting pulled twice in three games doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Letting in bad goals is deflating. That said, the Sharks were able to rally around massive bounceback efforts in Games 5 and 6, particularly.

If the Sharks go on to win the Cup, no one will be talking much about Jones’ first-round performance. But given that San Jose is still a long way from that, and they’re getting ready to face one of the – if not the — best line in the NHL, it’s rather timely.

The deeper the Sharks go, the harder the going gets. Jones simply needs to be at the top of his game.


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