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.

Forward-thinking: Avs defenseman Barrie chips in on offense

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DENVER (AP) — Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie has developed a reputation as forward thinking.

Easy to understand why: He’s constantly thinking as a forward.

His father was an NHL forward. As a kid, he was a forward. And now he’s chipping in on offense much like a forward.

Barrie has a goal and seven assists so far in the postseason. His first career playoff tally arrived Sunday in Game 2 at San Jose, helping the Avalanche send the second-round series back to Denver tied at a game apiece. Game 3 is Tuesday at Pepsi Center.

”I feel really confident in my all-around game right now,” the 27-year-old Barrie said. ”I like playing against other team’s top lines. I enjoy the challenge. The offensive part, I’ve got to keep trying to bring it.”

His first postseason goal Sunday showed off his offensive instincts: After Gabriel Landeskog‘s shot bounced off Sharks goaltender Martin Jones, Barrie jumped down low and sent a rolling puck into the corner of the net.

That’s Barrie being Barrie . He’s coming off a regular season in which had a career-high 59 points (14 goals, 45 assists), which was the most by an Avalanche defenseman since Ray Bourque had 59 in 2000-01.

”Tyson’s worked on his game over the last handful of years and gotten really good at creating offense, jumping up in the rush and making plays when he gets it in the O-zone,” Landeskog said. ”He’s also defending real well right now because first and foremost, that’s what a ‘D’ has got to do. No doubt, he’s got the skill of a forward and can make the plays.”

Pressing forward just runs in the family. Barrie’s father, Len, was a forward who played in 184 NHL games with Philadelphia, Florida, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles Kings. Len Barrie wound up his career with 19 goals and 45 assists.

Tyson Barrie actually was a forward until his teen years, which he credits for his moves now.

”If you grow up a defenseman your whole life, you’re not working on the toe drag or beating guys on offense,” said Barrie, who’s a native of Victoria, British Columbia. ”I always did that. I always made sure to really try to enjoy that part when I was playing hockey. I think it shows in the way I play. I like scoring and trying to beat guys one-on-one and stuff.”

Even with his switch to the blue line, his offensive skills remain firmly entrenched. He was the scoring leader among defensemen in each of his four full junior seasons with Kelowna of the Western Hockey League. The Avalanche selected the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Barrie in the third round of the 2009 draft.

He’s been assisting with the scoring load ever since. He became the highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history earlier in the season, passing John-Michael Liles. Barrie has 75 goals in the regular season along with 232 assists.

”He’s developed a skill-set to be an offensive threat on the ice,” Landeskog said. ”He’s getting rewarded for it.”

To be clear: Barrie doesn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities for the sake of sneaking into the offensive play. He’s developed a knack to know just when to rush into a play.

”Some of the plays he makes, they’re not high-risk plays, but he’s up the ice and making an impact offensively,” coach Jared Bednar said. ”Just good decisions on when to shoot, when to hang on. He’s getting pucks through to the net and been highly competitive on the defensive side of things, too, just his gaps and breaking up plays. He’s more physical down low.

”You can tell it matters to him – winning matters. He’s playing his hardest every night to make an impact in the game.”

Barrie had five assists against Calgary, including three in the series clincher. He also helped shut down Flames standout Johnny Gaudreau.

In Game 2 against San Jose, he had two assists to go with his goal.

”He’s been really good,” Bednar said. ”He’s certainly been a guy down the stretch that’s getting better and better. In the playoffs, he’s taken it to a whole new level.”

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

Culture Change: How an attitude adjustment has slowly begun to turn the Colorado Avalanche around

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WINNIPEG — Gabriel Landeskog knew. 

A change in the cultural fabric in Colorado is something the Avalanche had talked about for a couple seasons, and something that hadn’t happened.

The warning signs for the 25-year-old captain of the Avs were abundant, including a treasure trove of terrible that attached itself to a historically brutal season in 2016-17.

Like the natural phenomena they’re named after, those problems finally broke free early last season for the Avs. Unable to be controlled, they tore down the Colorado Avalanche, only coming to a halt at the end of the season at rock bottom. 

“You take it pretty personal,” Landeskog said on Saturday in Winnipeg, hours before his team would lose 3-0 to the Winnipeg Jets, a fourth loss in their past five games since winning 10 straight.

It was a far cry from the days of Forsberg, Sakic and Roy, when the team was dominating the Western Conference, not wallowing as the team others trampled over at will.

That winning culture was gone, replaced with mediocrity in recent years and then utter failure after last season.

Nothing looked quite like last year.  

Colorado’s 48 points was a franchise worst. They lost 56 games. They were last or close to last in numerous statistical categories.

“You’re not supposed to take it home with you, but I would,” Landeskog said. “This is our job, this is what we do. It’s something that is hard to put behind you, going home and trying not to think about the fact that you just lost six in a row.”

The Avs needed a core leadership group to emerge to start those changes. Landeskog said himself, Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Nathan MacKinnon and Blake Comeau came together to figure out how to begin to mend their ailing team. 

“It was really embarrassing for us,” Barrie said of the 2016-17 campaign. 

Barrie, along with the now-departed Matt Duchene, led the team with a minus-34. It’s a flawed statistic, sure, but one indicative one what was happening on the ice. Only four players that played some sort of role for the Avalanche were zero or better in that category. 

“It was a bad season and we knew we didn’t want to be back there. It was a long summer for us,” Barrie said.

With a core trying to steer this ship and a coaching staff in the same boat, Barrie said training camp prior to this season was the hardest and toughest he’s taken part in.

“Physical, testing, everything like that,” he said.

Landeskog said the leadership group assembled wasn’t a dictatorship, noting that every team has its core and it was a potential solution to the massive problem. 

“It’s easier said than done,” Landeskog said of changing the team’s attitude. “There were a lot of Xs and Os. We had a young team that maybe didn’t have to be accountable where they came from before. Maybe there was a different attitude. We had to establish one attitude here, and it started with the veteran guys.” 

Both Landeskog and Barrie agreed that there wasn’t a particular switch that was flipped this season. Hard work from training camp didn’t immediately translate as the Avs flirted with .500 in October.

But Landeskog pointed to the trip they took to Sweden as a possible turning point.

The Avs lost both games to the Ottawa Senators — close affairs — and were dealing with the departure of Matt Duchene, who had been traded days before they embarked to Landeskog’s homeland.

“You talk about team building and stuff like that. Some people might not believe in it, but I’m a strong believer in it,” Landeskog said. “That trip brought us a lot closer.”

The on-ice product started to follow suit. The work they had put in since the beginning of the season began to pay off and the Avs rattled off 10 straight wins to climb back into the playoff picture.

“We’re a different team this year,” Barrie said. “I think having some fresh, new faces in here, some guys who were really excited to be in the NHL and be a part of a team like the Avalanche, gave us some energy.”

MacKinnon has put himself in the Hart Trophy conversation with what many believe is his breakout season. A 2-to-4 week suspected shoulder injury has derailed that a little bit, but MacKinnon’s stellar play leading by example has helped the Avs to where they are, just outside the playoff line — something unimaginable at this point last season.

Mikko Rantanen has taken a step forward in his sophomore year and rookie Alexander Kerfoot has been a godsend down the middle, especially now that he’s tasked to help stem the bleeding in MacKinnon’s absence.

“There’s been a lot of turnover,” Barrie said. “You look at guys like (MacKinnon) taking the next step. And we’ve had guys just elevate their play and these young guys come in (who are) so excited to play. They’ve been a big part of our team… it’s really exciting for the future.”

It’s a start, Landeskog said.

“We’re growing together.”


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

Colorado Avalanche ’15-16 Outlook

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The Colorado Avalanche can be a tough nut to crack.

If you bounce around “Hockey Twitter” at all, the team very much stands as a guinea pig in the “stats vs. tradition” debate (or whatever you’d like to call it). That debate often gets a little weird and then overshadows the team itself.

When you look at the Avalanche, it’s an odd mix of old and new.

You have old ideas and old faces in management with Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic running the ship. They seemingly lean toward signing old veterans from Jarome Iginla to Francois Beauchemin.

The fresh faces make this squad awfully interesting, however. Gabriel Landeskog is still one of the NHL’s youngest captains at 22. With all the pressure on Nathan MacKinnon to make the next step, one might forget that he’s just 19. Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie remain in the meat of their primes at 24.

What if all four of those promising young players make significant strides that often come at such ages, particularly MacKinnon, who may just be scratching the surface of his skill set as people move onto to the next big thing in Connor McDavid? Could the Avalanche see earlier-than-expected results from still-blooming prospects like Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko?

Ryan O’Reilly is a tough player to let go – and he’s also just 24 – but when you look at that group, it’s quite a bit easier to stomach, isn’t it?

Yes, that defense looks pretty shaky beyond a handful of solid players such as Barrie and Erik Johnson, meaning the Avalanche will again lean heavily on Semyon Varlamov.

Still, with the abundance of talent at the forward position in particular, even the most ardent number-crunchers would shudder to dismiss the Avalanche outright.

It’s Colorado Avalanche day at PHT

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As the Colorado Avalanche enter their third year of the Joe Sakic-Patrick Roy front office era, they seemingly remain a lab test for the league’s stat debates.

The Avalanche were once again a squad whose possession stats peaked at “really bad, but at least not Buffalo Sabres bad” in 2014-15.

The difference between missing the postseason this past season and 2013-14’s triumphant run may have just been some combination of Semyon Varlamov being less superhuman and Colorado experiencing bad luck.

To the stat-leaning public, this was an example of a team playing over its head one year and then crashing to reality last season.

To Roy, it was a rare failure, as he explained to NHL.com.

“I’m here to win the Stanley Cup,” Roy said. “I’m not in Denver to see us missing the playoffs, I’m here to see us winning. I really want to make sure that’s the last time we’re missing the playoffs. It makes you very humble. First time I missed the playoffs as a coach in junior and the NHL.”

The Avalanche might be humbled, yet they’re also sticking to their guns by defying conventional wisdom as far as strategies and team-building go.

Off-season recap

A year after respectable possession player and scorer Paul Stastny left town, the Avalanche traded away their other forward best known for being a rare beacon of light on a team that’s a fancy stats nightmare: Ryan O’Reilly.

One cannot totally blame the Avs for parting ways with a player who seemed out the door for some time, yet it perpetuates the theme that the Avalanche are bucking growing trends around the league.

That said, Carl Soderberg isn’t chopped liver, although he – like O’Reilly – will fetch quite a bounty for his work next season.

Actually, the haul for O’Reilly is quite intriguing: could Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko pay immediate dividends for the Avs? Considering how often this franchise invests in fading veterans, nabbing a couple potential blue chips could be crucial.

Francois Beauchemin is a fine defenseman, yet at 35, many wonder if he’ll be a letdown along the lines of Brad Stuart. Again, many of these moves ultimately fit into Colorado’s M.O.

***

The Avalanche seem content to do things their way, which makes them polarizing for some. However you feel about management’s broader moves, it’s foolish to count out a team that still boasts fascinating prime-age talent in Varlamov, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie and more.