Colorado Avalanche 2020-21 Season Preview

       It\’s pretty crazy how good Joe Sakic is at his job. Years ago, people were highly skeptical of him, and some thought that his trade of Matt Duchene to Ottawa was bad. Now, the Avalanche are still reaping the benefits of that deal, with a stable cap situation and no bad contracts. The team is primed for Cup contention, led by a top-two player in the NHL. 

Additions: D Devon Toews, F Brandon Saad, D Dennis Gilbert, F Miikka Salomaki, F Mike Vecchione. 

Subtractions: D Nikita Zadorov, F Vladislav Namestnikov, F Matt Nieto, F Colin Wilson, D Anton Lindholm, G Michael Hutchinson.

Best Move: Acquiring Brandon Saad and Dennis Gilbert from Chicago for Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm.

Worst Move: N/A

One Move I\’d Make: Upgrade at 3rd line center

Best Contract: Nathan MacKinnon, three years left with a cap hit of $6.3 million. 

Worst Contract: Erik Johnson, three years remaining with a $6 million cap hit.

New Division Rivals: Anaheim, Arizona, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, St. Louis, Vegas.

Pending UFAs: Gabriel Landeskog, Brandon Saad, Philipp Grubauer, Ian Cole, Matt Calvert, Pierre-Edouard Bellmare.

Pending RFAs: Cale Makar, Tyson Jost, Dennis Gilbert, Conor Timmins.

Current RFAs: Vladislav Kamenev.

Forwards

No one carried their team like Nathan MacKinnon did last year, not even Connor McDavid. MacKinnon scored 35 goals with 93 points in 69 games. No other forward had even half of that. Thanks to his defensive value, people have been arguing that MacKinnon is the best player in the NHL, not McDavid. This was MacKinnon\’s third consecutive season of over 90 points, and his 1.35 points-per-game were a career high. While his linemates didn\’t come close to him point-wise, injuries played a part in that. Mikko Rantanen, the team\’s highest payed player (MacKinnon is on a steal of a contract), appeared in just 42 games, and scored 19 goals with 22 assists for the almost point-per-game final tally of 41 points. Rantanen was over that point-per-game mark in the previous two seasons. Gabriel Landeskog started out his Avalanche career with a Calder trophy and being the league\’s youngest captain ever, and this could be his final season in Denver. He is a UFA after the season, although you would think he\’d like to stay in Colorado. In 54 games, Landeskog scored 21 goals with 44 points. The second line will all consist of recent successful trade acquisitions. The only one of the three acquired this offseason is Brandon Saad. Saad scored 21 goals in 58 games for Chicago last year, reaching the 20 goal plateau for the 5th time in the past six seasons. Nazem Kadri scored 19 goals, three more than he did in 2018-19, playing in 22 less games. He especially showed up in the playoffs, an area that he was criticized in when he played for Toronto. Kadri scored nine goals with nine assists for 18 points in a 15 game run. Andre Burakovsky brought his game to a new level in Colorado. Despite playing in just 58 games, only five more than his career low, Burakovsky set career highs in goals (20), assists (25) and of course points (45), while getting more ice time per game than he ever did in Washington. Joonas Donskoi came to Colorado on a questionable four year deal, and scored a career high 16 goals and reached the 30 point mark for the third consecutive season. JT Compher has cemented himself as the third line center for now, scoring 11 goals with 20 assists. I would like to see the Avs explore going after a second line center who could be their third line center, like the Penguins would often do. After an embarrassing return to the NHL, not scoring a goal in 57 games, Valeri Nichushkin broke out in Colorado, scoring 13 goals with 27 assists, getting 8th place in Selke voting, and becoming an analytics darling, with a 14.7 GAR. Nichushkin also had a 55.6 CF%. Defensive center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored nine goals with 22 points, both career highs at age 34. He averaged over two minutes a night on the penalty kill. So did linemate Matt Calvert, who scored 12 goals with 25 points. He\’s hit at least 20 points in the past six seasons, and has double digit goals in five of those years, which isn\’t bad for a fourth liner. Tyson Jost wins the award for least job security on the team. The former 10th overall pick is only 22, but his career high point total is 26, and he had 23 last year in 67 games. Logan O\’Connor, who scored two goals in 16 games and played in five playoff games, and former first rounder Martin Kaut, who had three points in nine games last year, are options to replace Jost.

Defensemen

Cale Makar might have been the league\’s top prospect entering the season, and he took the league by storm, scoring 12 goals with 50 points in 57 games, finishing second on the team in point. Makar took home the Calder Trophy and finished ninth in Norris voting. Makar found a partner in Ryan Graves, whose +40 rating led the league. Graves scored nine goals with 17 assists in 69 games, and had an 8.8 GAR. Entering his fourth season at age 22, Sam Girard set a career high in points, with 34. His 21 minutes and 19 seconds on ice a night was a career high by over a minute. Erik Johnson may be the least famous first overall pick of the last 15 years, but hey, at least Colorado didn\’t draft him. Johnson has been serviceable for the Avalanche for the past decade, and he had a CF% right in the middle, at 50% last year. The Avalanche traded their next two second round picks to the Islanders for Devon Toews, then signed Toews to a four year extension so he could be their third pairing defenseman. Toews has shown promise on both offense and defense, although the defensive side could be a product of Barry Trotz\’s system. Toews is nearly 27 but is a two year veteran, and posted a career high 28 points in 68 games last year. Ian Cole can play both sides, and he had a +21 rating with a GAR of 9.0. 2017 2nd rounder Conor Timmins played in two games last year, and he had 27 points in 40 games. Top prospect Bowen Byram has a chance at making the team. The 19 year old has dominated the WHL, as he scored 14 goals with 52 points in 50 games for the Vancouver Giants in 2019-20. 

Goalies

The Avalanche have a goalie dilemma on their hand. Both Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz played well while splitting time last year, and they also were both injured in the postseason, leading to Michael Hutchinson leading the team to Game 7 of the second round. Grubauer is the more experienced of the two, Entering his 9th NHL season, but his sixth as a full-time backup or starter. Grubauer posted a .916 SV% last year, which was actually a career low, with a 2.63 GAA. A 29 year old rookie last year, Francouz played in two less games than Grubauer, but a had a .923 SV% with a GAA of 2.41 and a GSAA of 13.06.

Projected Lines

Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen

Brandon Saad – Nazem Kadri – Andre Burakovsky

Valeri Nichushkin – JT Compher – Joonas Donskoi

Tyson Jost – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Matt Calvert

Extras: Logan O\’Connor, Martin Kaut

Ryan Graves – Cale Makar

Sam Girard – Erik Johnson

Devon Toews – Ian Cole

Extras: Conor Timmins, Bowen Byram

Philipp Grubauer

Pavel Francouz

Projection

The Avalanche have a deep team. But, they also have an insane top line with the reigning Calder winner on the blue line. In the West Division, the Blues, Golden Knights and Avalanche should all easily make the playoffs, but the question is who will finish first. I think that will be the Avs. 

Published by carterhud

Carterhud.com. SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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