Colorado Avalanche Disappoints
Early NHL playoff exits are not always telltale of a terrible future. The race for the Stanley Cup is a highly contested one, and upsets are more common in hockey than in most other sports. And yet, big decisions await the Colorado Avalanche after their Stanley Cup playoff exit because of sky-high expectations they were facing, and the circumstances under which they vacated the postseason.
Granted, there is no shame in losing to the Vegas Golden Knights. Most considered them to be one of the NHL's top-three teams.
But the Avalanche, according to metrics and analysts, was the league's absolute best squad. There is bound to be fallout from their second-round collapse that impacts their immediate and long-term future.
Colorado Avalanche NHL Offseason Outlook
Leading into the offseason, many people are left wondering: Where did it go wrong for this team? After all, they finished the regular season with the NHL's best offense and third-best defense. They weren't just Stanley Cup contenders. They were Stanley Cup favorites.
Colorado's situation is made all the more puzzling by how they lost. They jumped out to a 2-0 series lead against the Golden Knights, outscoring them by a total of 10 to three through those initial contests. And then, poof. They lost four in a row, a span in which Vegas outpaced them 17-8.
Vegas' defense deserves a lot of credit. More than that, though, Colorado's lack of depth was exposed. They are wildly dependent on two or three lines to generate a ton of their offense. When they run into defensive units that can stop combinations that star center Nathan MacKinnon is captaining, they're going to be in trouble.
Many are all of a sudden more pessimistic about their outlook as a result. Interviews that took place after the season from the organization conveyed an unsettling sense of ambiguity. Heck, if we had to guess right now, the top online sportsbooks won't even list them as one of the five most serious candidates to win the 2022 Stanley Cup.
And that begs the next question: What now?
Avalanche Face Tough Free-Agency Decisions
Part of Colorado's success is owed to roster flexibility. They had a bunch of quality players on ultra-team-friendly contracts who, in turn, allowed them to spend elsewhere.
But not anymore.
Incumbent free agents abound for the Avalanche. Captain Gabriel Landeskog, 28, is an unrestricted free agent. Ditto for starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer, 29, who just received his first nomination for Goalie of the Year. Forward Brandon Saad is also an unrestricted free agent.
We're not done. Forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Carl Soderberg and defenseman Patrik Nemeth are also headed for the open market. And then, of course, there is Colorado's most important free agent of all: Cale Makar, the stud 22-year-old defenseman coming off his rookie-scale deal.
Fortunately for the Avalanche, Makar is only a restricted free agent. They will have the right to match any offer he receives. But they also clearly messed up by not extending him before this season. His place in the race for the Norris Trophy, which is given to the NHL's best defender, not between the posts, means he'll fetch a prettier penny now.
Experts around the league are using the recent contract of Thomas Chabot, a defenseman for the Ottawa Senators, as a benchmark. He received an eight-year, $64 million contract. Makar might cost more.
Difficult Calls In Advance Of Seattle Expansion Draft
Each team will need to have a list of players eligible in advance of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. Like everyone else, the Avalanche can protect 11 of their contributors. But who will they choose?
Cap implications from the above contract situations might play a role. Looking at their most likely off-limits choices, they're probably going to unprotect defenseman J.T. Compher or winger Valeri Nichushkin—if not both.
Some have even speculated the Avalanche will unprotect center Nazem Kadri. The 30-year-old center is not only entering the final year of his contract, but he was suspended, yet again, during their postseason push.
Of course, if the Kraken takes him, the Avalanche will be without their sixth-highest point-totaler and have no realistic means of replacing him. On the flip side, if they keep him, they risk having to pay him a bunch of money after reinvesting heavily in the rest of the roster.
Will Colorado Remain Stanley Cup Contenders Next Year?
Our answer to this question is a hesitant yes.
Despite all the expensive and difficult decisions awaiting the Avalanche, we don't expect a ton of overhaul. They might work the trade market in search of a higher-scoring center behind MacKinnon, but doing so would be a buy-now move. The implication among some is they will tear it down and declare this one-year title window closed. We're not prepared to go that far.
Colorado's reluctance to pay the luxury could result in some cost-cutting moves on the margins. But any penny-pinching will result in a contract dump or losing a lower-level free agent like Soderberg. The Avalanche are not going to let Makar, Landeskog, or Grubauer walk for nothing.
If anything, it will be a lack of change that holds the Avalanche back. Returning the current core ensures they remain serious contenders, but without the infusion of an impact scorer or two, they'll be facing the same limitations that betrayed them this past postseason.
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