The Avalanche are a force to be reckoned with. They may have been in a weak division, but they steamrolled everyone who they played not named Vegas. The Avs took home the Presidents Trophy before sweeping the Blues rather easily in the first round. But this team now needs to find out how to get over the hump. You see, they lost in the playoffs to the Golden Knights in a really disappointing six games. Locked in salary cap and expansion draft troubles, a change had to happen. The Avalanche were able to keep captain Gabriel Landeskog as he entered free agency. However, losses did happen. Is this team better than they were entering last year? Probably not.
Offseason additions: G Darcy Kuemper, D Ryan Murray, F Darren Helm, F Mikhail Maltsev, F Artem Anisimov (PTO), D Jack Johnson (PTO).
Offseason subtractions: G Philipp Grubauer, F Brandon Saad, F Joonas Donskoi, D Ryan Graves, F Pierre-Edouard Bellmare, F Matt Calvert, D Conor Timmins, D Patrik Nemeth, F Carl Soderberg, D Greg Pateryn.
While his 20 goals may have been a bit disappointing, Nathan MacKinnon put up yet another amazing season. He supplemented those 20 goals with 45 assists for 65 points in just 48 games. In the three seasons before that, MacKinnon hit at least 90 points in full seasons. He was nominated for the Hart trophy for the third time in the past four seasons last year, while also receiving Lady Byng and Selke votes. Surprisingly, he was not the team’s leading goal or point scorer. Mikko Rantanen rode a 16.9 percent shooting rate to a 30 goal season in just 52 games. He had one more point than MacKinnon, with 66. Sometimes it is forgotten that Rantanen is a year younger than MacKinnon, at age 24. The third part of the top line, which is a top-two line in hockey, is Landeskog. In what could have been his final season in Denver, Landeskog scored 20 goals with 52 points in 54 games. Former Capital Andre Burakovsky had 12 more points than any Avalanche forward not on the first line. He rode an 18.6 percent shooting rate to a 19 goal season, adding 25 assists for 44 points. Second line center Nazem Kadri was the only player to appear in all 56 regular season games, where he scored 11 goals with 32 points. Surely he performed in the playoffs, right? Yikes. Another first round suspension cost Kadri his chance to play in round two. For the fourth season in a row, JT Compher reached the double-digit goal mark. He scored ten times in 48 games. However, he had just a goal and an assist in the postseason. Since signing with the Avalanche before 2019-20, Valeri Nichushkin has established himself as a very good two-way winger. That is not reflected well in his scoring total, as his 10 goals with 11 assists last year was good but not great, but Nichushkin has received Selke votes in both seasons with the club. 2016 tenth overall pick Tyson Jost has yet to reach the promise of his draft position. In the last four seasons, he has scored exactly seven even strength goals per season. The bad news is that 2020-21 was the only one of those seasons when he did not score on special teams. A first-rounder in 2019, Alex Newhook debuted last year, with three assists in six games. He scored a goal with an assist in eight playoff games. This was coming off the back of seven goals and 16 points in 12 games at Boston College, and five goals with four assists in eight AHL games. Veteran Darren Helm has spent his entire NHL career with the Red Wings, but his fifteenth year will come for the Avalanche. The defensive-minded forward averaged nearly 15 minutes a night last year, with eight points in 47 games. After posting good numbers in the AHL, Logan O’Connor spent his entire season in the NHL. He got into 22 games, scoring three goals with a pair of assists. He should play more this year as the depth has shallowed out. Acquired for Ryan Graves from New Jersey, Mikhail Maltsev will try to earn a fourth line spot. In 33 games, the 23-year-old scored six goals with three assists. In that fight is Stefan Matteau, who has played in 91 career games. 18 of those came last year for Columbus, where he had just a point. Kiefer Sherwood is there as well. He had three assists in 16 games last year. Veteran Artem Anisimov can get the spot while in camp on a PTO.
Despite missing twelve games, Cale Makar was still great. He scored eight goals with 36 assists for a point-per-game 44 points. He is not a defensive liability like other offensive defensemen, and just finished second in Norris voting and 12th in Hart even though didn’t play in over a fifth of the season. He received a good amount of help from his new partner, Devon Toews. Toews made GM Joe Sakic look smart after Sakic traded for him in the offseason, scoring 31 points. Toews used to be a go-to offensive defender in New York, but is now allowed to use his full two-way abilities. Coming in between Makar and Toews in points was Sam Girard. The forgotten steal of the Matt Duchene trade, Girard had 32 points in 48 games. He is not a physical guy, and struggled a bit in the playoffs. With Graves traded, Ryan Murray was brought in to be the replacement. Murray has had a ton of injury problems in the past, which is not exactly what you want to hear considering the Avalanche dealt with those last year. When healthy, Murray has been a solid bottom-four two-way defender. The most physicality from the back-end will come from a healthy Erik Johnson. An upper body injury cost him all but four games last year. When healthy in 2019-20, Johnson had 16 points with 115 blocked shots and 97 hits in 59 games. After lighting up the WHL, Bowen Byram debuted in 2020-21. He had two assists in 19 games, with 23 penalty minutes and 33 hits. He was prohibited a bunch last year, but now twenty, Colorado should loosen the chains. A career AHLer aside from two games with the Panthers, Jacob MacDonald became an injury replacement and impressed. In 33 games, MacDonald showed off his smooth skating and posted nine points. Hard-nosed defenseman Kurtis MacDermid, the team’s third player with a name starting with “Mac” followed by a capital letter, comes in from Los Angeles via Seattle. MacDermid had four points in 28 games for the Kings last season.
After Vezina finalist Philipp Grubauer left to join the start-up Kraken, the Avalanche were almost all out of options for a starting goalie. They had to pony up a first-round pick for the only good remaining option, Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper has just a year left on his contract and did struggle a bit last year, with a 2.56 GAA, and a .907 save percentage. In 2018-19 and 2019-20, he had a .925 and a .928 save percentage, respectively. Pavel Francouz missed all of last year and his presence will be needed this year. In his first full NHL season in 2019-20, Francouz had a very good .923 save percentage in 34 games. Jonas Johansson was a fine backup after coming over from Buffalo, with a .913 save percentage and a 2.06 GAA in eight games.
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky – Nazem Kadri – JT Compher
Alex Newhook – Tyson Jost – Valeri Nichushkin
Mikhail Maltsev – Darren Helm – Logan O’Connor
Extras: Stefan Matteau, Kiefer Sherwood
Devon Toews – Cale Makar
Sam Girard – Ryan Murray
Bowen Byram – Erik Johnson
Extras: Jacob MacDonald, Kurtis MacDermid
Extras: Jonas Johansson
Yeah, this team is pretty good. Their depth has taken a substantial hit, but the core has stayed intact. They are strong in all three positional groups, especially their top unit. The question is whether or not they will be the division winners, not whether or not they will make the playoffs.