At the end of the 2020-21 second round, Nathan MacKinnon was defeated as can be as he spoke to reporters, telling them that he hadn’t won anything in his career. Now, MacKinnon can say that he has a championship under his belt. The Avalanche were far from a one man team. With stars all over the lineup, they cruised through the postseason with goaltending being the only thing close to a weakness. Now, their starter has left. Can they run it back with two fringe starters?
Offseason additions: G Alex Georgiev, F Lukas Sedlak, D Brad Hunt, F Anton Blidh.
Offseason subtractions: F Nazem Kadri, F Andre Burakovsky, G Darcy Kuemper, F Nic Aube-Kubel, D Jack Johnson, D Ryan Murray, F Nico Sturm.
Even before he scored 13 goals with 11 assists in 20 playoff games, 2021-22 was another amazing season for MacKinnon. Playing in just 65 games, he scored 32 goals with 56 assists for 88 points. MacKinnon has 648 points in 638 career regular season games and is well on his way to the Hall of Fame. His bargain of a contract at $6.3 million a season ends after 2022-23. It would be a shock if he didn’t break Connor McDavid’s current cap hit record. Mikko Rantanen led the team with 92 points while also scoring 36 goals. Remarkably, he still didn’t get a vote for any major awards. At five-on-five, Rantanen was on the ice for 4.36 goals for per 60 minutes. That led the team by roughly .4 goals, the difference between MacKinnon in second place and seventh place. Captain Gabriel Landeskog played in just 51 regular season games, but returned to have 22 points in 20 playoff games. He scored 30 goals for the second time with a total of 59 points.
The Avalanche received outstanding second line production from Nazem Kadri, which also priced him out of Colorado. They will need JT Compher to help patch up the loss. His 18 goals and 33 points were both career-highs last season. With four major pending free agents, Colorado could only afford to bring back one in Valeri Nichushkin. He upped his value in the playoffs, scoring nine goals with six assists in 20 games. This production wasn’t as much of a surprise to Avalanche fans, as he scored 25 goals with 52 points in 62 regular season games. Nichushkin also led the team with 3.14 xGF/60 and was eighth in xGA/60. There’s already a new Nichushkin-in-training on the team after Artturi Lehkonen came over at the deadline from Montreal. Lehkonen’s stint with the Canadiens had him record an expected goals plus-minus relative to his teammates of one, which was the best in the NHL (per Evolving-Hockey). He scored six times in 16 games following the deal.
Many expected Alex Newhook to be incredible in his rookie season, and he did deliver with a solid campaign, albeit not an Earth-shattering one. Newhook didn’t have a huge role on the team, but he did score 13 goals with 20 assists in 71 games. He dressed for 12 playoff games, with four assists. Logan O’Connor had a 2.13 xGA/60 last year, behind only Landeskog among team forwards. In his first full season, he added eight goals with 16 assists and had four more in the playoffs. There is still a competition for bottom-six roles, with 2018 first-rounder Martin Kaut in the thick of it. Kaut played in six NHL games last year, spending most of the year in the AHL. He scored 19 goals with 31 points in 46 games for the Colorado Eagles. Journeyman Jayson Megna is also a possibility. He had three assists in 20 NHL games, with 33 points in 38 AHL ones.
Former NHL iron man Andrew Cogliano came over from the Sharks at the deadline and had just one assist in 18 games. However, he played in 16 playoff matches, scoring three goals with three assists. He’d been to the finals before with Dallas, but Cogliano won his first Stanley Cup in the same year that he eclipsed 1100 regular season games played. Another veteran with a minor role on the team was Darren Helm, who had one already from his seven games played for Detroit in 2007-08. Helm had 15 points in 68 games, but a low PDO led to 38.57 GF%. However, blaming PDO with Helm doesn’t tell the full story. He hasn’t had a PDO of 100 in a season since 2014-15. Colorado signed the top college free agent in Ben Meyers, who played in five games at the end of the year. At the University of Minnesota, Meyers scored 17 goals with 24 assists for 41 points in 34 games. Another option is Lukas Sedlak, who had 27 points in 162 games for the Blue Jackets from 2016-17 to 2018-19. Playing for Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL last year, Sedlak had 43 points in 49 games.
It feels like it would be a shock if Cale Makar doesn’t win another Norris Trophy in his career. He scored 28 goals with 58 assists in 77 games. Not only that, but Makar had 29 points in 20 playoff games to take home the Conn Smythe as well. He was also great defensively, on the ice for only 1.95 goals against per 60 at five-on-five. The pair of Makar and Devon Toews was dominant all season long, as both had a GF% over 64 percent. Toews doesn’t have the offensive skill of Makar, but he still had 57 points in 66 games with 15 more points in the playoffs. Toews had a 2.1 xGA/60 while having a shot differential per 60 of nearly eleven.
The big player for the Avalanche to get right is Sam Girard, who had 32 points in 48 games in 2020-21, but had just 28 in 67 games last year. Girard also played in just seven games in the postseason. Girard has five years left on his contract, and the Avalanche reportedly looked at every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse for a trade including him. He is still a good skater with upside. With their limited cap space, Colorado chose to extend Josh Manson after getting him from Anaheim at the deadline. He had seven points in 22 games, then eight more in the playoffs. There is a ton of skill on the blue line, but Manson is part of the big, tough guy school of defense.
Girard’s injury gave a lane for Bowen Byram to succeed, and he capitalized. Byram had 17 points in 30 regular season games. He played in every playoff game, recording nine assists and a playoff-high plus-15 rating. Veteran Erik Johnson was finally healthy after missing almost all of 2020-21. He played in 77 games in the regular season, with 25 points. Kurtis MacDermid’s most famous moment from his first year with the team was him falling over with the Cup in his hands, but he did dress for 58 games, a career-high. He had 89 penalty minutes with 105 hits.
Without the money to bring back Darcy Kuemper or get a starter on his level, the Avalanche decided to go with a goalie split between Pavel Francouz and newcomer Alex Georgiev. Injuries have been a problem for Francouz, who missed all of 2020-21. In 21 games in 2021-22, he had a .916 save percentage and a 2.55 GAA. He got four starts in the playoffs and came into seven games total. Georgiev was the backup to Igor Shesterkin in New York, so he wasn’t needed often. He has his ups-and-downs, but his .898 save percentage was a career-low. The Avalanche have a better team in front of him, so his numbers can improve.
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Valeri Nichushkin – JT Compher – Artturi Lehkonen
Logan O’Connor – Alex Newhook – Martin Kaut
Andrew Cogliano – Ben Meyers – Darren Helm
Scratched: Jayson Megna, Lukas Sedlak
Devon Toews – Cale Makar
Sam Girard – Josh Manson
Bowen Byram – Erik Johnson
Scratched: Kurtis MacDermid