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: Panarin, Hintz help respective teams even up Round 2 series

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  • A three-goal first period led by Roope Hintz helped the Dallas Stars snag home-ice advantage vs. St. Louis
  • Artemi Panarin had his hand in all three Columbus goals as the Blue Jackets evened their series with the Boston Bruins in double overtime

Stars 4, Blues 2 (Series tied 1-1)

Hintz scored twice and added an assist as the Stars leaned on secondary scoring to level their Round 1 series with the Blues. The game featured a crazy first period where three goals were scored in 1:12 as Miro Heiskanen‘s goal was quickly answered by Colton Parayko, whose goal was immediately canceled out by Mattias Janmark‘s.

Blue Jackets 3, Bruins 2 [2OT] (Series tied 1-1)

Panarin had an identical stat line to Hintz above, scoring twice — two-second period goals — and then added the helper in double overtime as the Blue Jackets found a way back to their game from Round 1 and found a way to bounce back from their first loss of the playoffs. Columbus is a scary team when their forecheck is running like it was on Saturday.

Three stars

1. Artemi Panarin, Columbus Blue Jackets 

Panarin had two goals, scoring twice in the second period to tie up the game two occasions and then set up the game-winning goal in double overtime after his bomb from the point couldn’t be corraled by Tuukka Rask, allowing Matt Duchene to slot home the round. Panarin has been a beast so far in the playoffs with four goals now and five assists in a six-game point streak. The risk the team took in keeping him is paying off in a major way.

2. Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars

What a stud Hintz is turning out to be in these playoffs. He’s got four goals and three assists now, including two goals and a helper as the Stars evened their series with the Blues on Saturday afternoon. Hintz opened the scoring and then potted the empty netter with three seconds to go to make sure the Blues wouldn’t come back. The Stars catch heat (and losses) when their top line isn’t scoring. This secondary scoring is a massive boon to their playoff hopes.

3. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets 

Both Bob and Rask deserve some recognition in this one as both played very well, especially in the first OT period. Bob got the win, however, and it’s no small thanks to his spectacular saves in the first extra frame that made sure Columbus even got a chance to win it when they did. Bob’s criticism has always been how poor he plays once the playoffs hit. We’re seeing now what he can accomplish when he plays like the Vezina-calibre goalie he is.

Highlights of the night

Panarin’s two:

Rask’s unbelievable glove save:

Zuccarello and Hintz at work:

Factoids

Overtimes aplenty:

Hintz putting himself into Stars folklore:

Sunday’s games

Game 2: Hurricanes at Islanders, 3 p.m. ET, NBC (CAR leads 1-0) (Live stream)
Game 2: Avalanche at Sharks, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (SJS leads 1-0) (Live stream)


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

The Wraparound: Bruins’ Coyle making impact felt in playoffs

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.

From the start, the Ryan Donato-Charlie Coyle swap in February paid immediate dividends for the Minnesota Wild. The 23-year-old Donato was squeezed out in Boston, but found a home with the Wild recording seven points in his first five games with his new team.

Coyle, meanwhile, took a little while to heat up. It took him eight games to record his first point with the Bruins and 10 games to score his first goal. In 21 regular season games in Boston, the 27-year-old forward scored twice and recorded four points. Donato had four goals and 16 points in 22 games, so there was some wonder when this move was going to pay off for Don Sweeney.

It took until the playoffs, but Coyle has become a big piece of the Bruins’ secondary scoring. His two goals Thursday night, which included the overtime winner, helped Boston take a 1-0 series lead against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“Secondary scoring is something we need,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We lacked it at times this year and we’ve found it and it’s really helped us. He’s been a big part of that. Very happy for him. He’s a hard working guy.”

Through eight games, Coyle leads the Bruins with five goals and is second on the team in points with nine. The Weymouth, Mass. native made his biggest impact in Game 1 in front of the hometown fans. It was a dream come true.

“I think in Minnesota they didn’t have much luck getting to the second round so he’s probably excited,” said Cassidy. “He’s advancing. Now you’re at home. Now you’re the hero. I think it’s awesome. Good for him. Great story.”

Game 2 of Bruins-Blue Jackets is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC (Live stream).

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TODAY’S SCHEDULE
Game 2: Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues, 3 p.m. ET. (Blues lead 1-0) Despite being down in the series, the Stars were pleased with how they played in Game 1. They didn’t get to capitalize on many big chances, and when they had them Jordan Binnington was in the way. Now they eye a series split before heading home for Games 3 and 4. “I thought we penetrated middle ice well, I thought we had depth to our attack,” said Stars head coach Jim Montgomery. “They did a good job of blocking shots and getting some sticks on some passes, but for the most part, we were better offensively than I expected in Game 1, and we have to continue to get better, because tonight wasn’t good enough.” (NBC; Live stream)

FRIDAY’S SCORES
Hurricanes 1, Islanders 0 (OT)
Sharks 5, Avalanche 2

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Blue Jackets vs. Bruins
Hurricanes vs. Islanders
Blues vs. Stars
Avalanche vs. Sharks

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Tarasenko takes over, Blues snag Game 1 vs. Stars

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If you needed a star player to score a big goal in a playoff game, who would you pick?

Most hockey fans would tab Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and other players who’ve already won at least a Stanley Cup. Maybe you’d lean toward Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, or Nikita Kucherov, if you wanted to mix things up.

St. Louis Blues fans would insist that Vladimir Tarasenko should be on the tip of your tongue, and in a tight 3-2 Game 1 win (and 1-0 series lead) for the Blues against the Dallas Stars, he added to his robust big-game resume.

(Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday; stream here.)

While Ben Bishop will be haunted by allowing the Blues 1-0 goal early in Game 1 via Robby Fabbri, you wonder if there’s only so much anyone could do to stop Tarasenko on both of his goals. In particular, Tarasenko showed why his nickname is “Tank” on his second goal, as he absolutely powered his way past Miro Heiskanen and roofed a fantastic goal by Bishop. Tarasenko simply would not be denied:

At the time, Tarasenko’s second goal of Game 1 made it 3-1, but with Jamie Benn scoring a strange 3-2 goal that survived a goal review after an ill-timed whistle, the Blues needed every one of those Tarasenko tallies. Tarasenko’s nicest goal of the evening ended up counting as the game-winner.

With this result, Tarasenko now has an outstanding 26 goals in his last 50 playoff games. That ties Tarasenko with Sidney Crosby for the fourth-most postseason goals since 2013-14, and Crosby hit that mark in 82 playoff contests. None of that is meant to insult Crosby; instead, the point is that Tarasenko’s been an absolute superstar in the postseason.

Interestingly, Tarasenko was pretty quiet in Round 1, only managing two goals in six games against the Winnipeg Jets. The Blues were carried by other players like Jaden Schwartz with Winnipeg’s top line carrying the way, but on Thursday, it was the Tarasenko show.

***

While it was a tough night at times for Bishop (who took a scary puck to the head), Jordan Binnington was a mix of brilliant and a touch scrambly. Binnington also felt some content during Game 1, as this scuffle began when the rookie goalie was bumped by Blake Comeau:

Binnington gave up a juicy rebound or three in Game 1, yet he really locked it down when Dallas tried to wage a comeback; Binnington stopped 16 out of 17 shots in the third period alone.

This loss stings, but the Stars can feel comfortable that they weren’t merely facing a struggling Predators team. Dallas was absolutely able to hang with a St. Louis squad that was a buzzsaw at times down the stretch this season, and honestly, the Stars sometimes looked flat-out better.

The Blues found a way to win Game 1, which in this case, meant riding Tarasenko’s dominant scoring and Binnington’s brilliant netminding. If this one was any indication, more wins against Dallas won’t come easy, so the Blues might need more of that from their biggest star, and their rising star in net.

The Stars will try to even up the series against the Blues as Game 2 takes place at the Enterprise Center on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET (NBC; 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.

WATCH LIVE: Blue Jackets-Bruins, Stars-Blues kicks off Round 2

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Game 1: Columbus Blue Jackets at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
NBCSN
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
Series preview

Stream here

Game 1: Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues, 9:30 p.m. ET
NBCSN
Call: Brendan Burke, AJ Mleczko, Pierre McGuire
Series preview

Stream here

Pre-game coverage begins tonight on NBCSN at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live.

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app – NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and Connected TVs – will live stream all games airing on NBC, NBCSN, USA Network, and CNBC, via “TV Everywhere” throughout the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1