What is the number one priority for the Colorado Avalanche this offseason?
Tom: For me, the number one priority isn’t any kind of addition to the roster, it’s to find growth and stability for Tyson Jost. The former 10th overall pick had a very disappointing rookie season. Many expected him to contend for the Calder, instead, he spent a lot of time out of the lineup and playing a bottom-6 role. Though the production never came, you could see something in him change as the season came to an end. His play improved drastically and we saw the talent we had been waiting for.
In an ideal world, he is the 2C behind Nathan MacKinnon for the next decade. Going into next season, Jost’s growth is going to be huge. Playing with Team Canada at the World Championship this spring should do wonders for his confidence. After that, getting the 20-year old comfortable and ready for next season should be at the top of the team’s list.
Hardev: Developing hockey players. There is lots of talent in this organization, lots of kids with skill and potential. If a handful of the young players can take another step developmentally, like Girard, Jost, and Kerfoot, it will be a bigger boost to this lineup than any outside acquisition this team can find. Save for Tavares, of course.
Jon: In my opinion, the number one priority is to just stay the course. Joe Sakic has made it clear that his plan is to continue to get younger and faster and I believe that is still the course to take. As attractive as a big name free agent signing would be, at this point it doesn’t make sense to spend a ton of money long term for one piece of the puzzle. Locking up a John Tavares, James van Riemsdyk, John Carlson or Calvin De Haan sounds good, but it could be detrimental to future contracts for guys like Jost, Kerfoot and Girard. This offseason should be focused on drafting guys that fit the mold and continuing to develop the talent that is currently in house.
Jackie: Fixing the development system should be the number one focus this offseason. Moving the AHL affiliate to Colorado and transitioning to a new coach for that team is a nice start but on its own won’t change much. This is an opportunity to overhaul the deep seeded philosophies and take a hard look at the personnel who have contributed to the poor development of prospects and the longest playoff drought for an affiliate at the AHL level. There will be talent in AHL Colorado next season, don’t let another year, or decade, of development slip by.
Cat: I’m with Jackie, but I’ll get a bit more specific: they need to fix their goaltending development depth chart. Pavel Francouz is a fun add, but there’s no guarantee that he’s got NHL-calibre talent at this point, and Spencer Martin remains one of the AHL’s goaltending prospects that I’m the most lukewarm on; I don’t foresee him hitting the NHL at all if he continues to develop like he has. Joe Cannata had a stellar year in the ECHL, but he’s an aging prospect at best; the team needs to add a few more names, ideally at least one more for the pros and one more through the draft to keep an eye on, before I’ll feel comfortable that they’ve got a future to look forward to.
What is your biggest fear or something the Avalanche must avoid in their offseason plans?
Jackie: The Avalanche should resist the temptation to use cap space on bringing in outside help. Regardless of the success of the season, this is not a win now situation. Even a commitment to a high-end player should take careful consideration if it takes high dollars or long term. The Avalanche also must absolutely avoid giving away any draft picks, it is their first year since 2010 that they have held an additional draft selection beyond seven picks.
Tom: Giving James van Riemsdyk a seven-year contract. JVR is incredibly good at what he does - being a presence in front of the net and scoring goals from just outside the crease. The problem is that he doesn’t contribute a ton else and is almost certainly going to get a contract that is WAY too long this summer.
Hardev: My biggest fear is a poor draft. The Avs have had extremely lackluster drafts over the years, and a season where the team is not drafting as high as they were in previous years (which is a good thing), they need to make sure they hit on at least one — hopefully two or all — of their three top-62 picks.
Jon: The Avalanche must avoid the temptation to go all in next season. 2017-18 was a pleasant surprise and there are a lot of teams in the NHL that would take this improvement to mean that their team is ready to take that next step. I believe that the Avalanche should continue to develop from within and avoid blowing money for a big name or trading away prospects or draft picks to try to take that next step in the upcoming season.
They should let some of their older free agents like Blake Comeau, Gabriel Bourque, Mark Barberio or Mark Alt go this summer to make room on the roster for some younger guys. This could very well mean a step backward next year, but I think it is the right course to take for the long-term success of this core group.
Cat: My biggest fear is that they won’t do enough to put the Eagles in a position to contend. It’s not a win-now time for the Avalanche themselves, but the culture in their development system has been embarrassingly poor for the last handful of seasons; at this point, they sorely need to do a 180 there and get things back on track. The Coyotes saw their affiliate in Tucson go from the bottom of the league to the top of their conference this season, so it’s certainly doable - but as they bring in more and more quality prospects, having a development team that actually wins games will be crucial.
With the obvious caveat that the Avalanche should select who they feel is the best player available in the draft, who or which position would you like to see targeted in the upcoming draft?
Tom: I have a couple favorites in the draft. If Joel Farabee is still available at #16, Joe should run up to the podium and select him. He’s the dynamic scoring winger the Avalanche need.
Of the guys more likely to be around at that pick, Rasmus Sandin is the one I’d want. He came over to the OHL from Europe early in the season and I’ve watched him grow into a legitimate top defenseman in less than a season - playing huge minutes alongside Conor Timmins. When Timmins was out of the lineup, Sandin stepped in as the driving force for the Soo. He’s a little undersized and isn’t a burner on his skates, but he is an incredibly smart defender that knows how to hide his weaknesses. There is a lot of Duncan Keith in his game.
That and they need to select a goalie at some point this year.
Hardev: When in doubt, pick the center.
Jon: Ideally, they would draft a talented winger who could grow into someone who can provide some secondary scoring. I think that they’re pretty confident with the future of the centers currently in the franchise. MacKinnon, Kerfoot, Jost, Compher and Kamenev can all play center and have bright futures. They could add another defenseman to the mix, but with Girard, Timmins, Meloche and Makar on their way, it’s not as immediate of a need as in the past few years. The focus should be to develop guys who can play wing on the second or third line and add some scoring depth. Guys who have the ability to kill penalties would be a nice addition to the future too.
Jackie: The Avalanche should take a bigger swing at some skill in this draft. They have very little luck turning out role players or those who need a longer development timeline as it is. Plus now they have enough prospects in the pipeline they don’t need to be particularly conservative. I’d like to see a skilled European forward, ideally a winger who can score goals, and especially if he is willing to come over to North America sooner than later. A two way left handed defenseman would also be nice to round out the pipeline.
Cat: A goaltender! Keegan Karki could be a really good reclamation project for North Dakota this upcoming year, as they’ve got a great summer goaltending consultant in JP Lamoureux. He’d make a great mid/late round selection with both potential upside and close development proximity; while European goaltenders can make absolutely phenomenal picks, the Avalanche need a guy they can keep an eye on here. They’ve been picking off the board with overseas prospects, and it hasn’t panned out; while other teams have managed to get the scouting of European goaltenders right, the Avalanche need to go with someone a little closer to home for now.
The Ottawa Senators announced they intend to keep their first round pick in the 2018 draft and send the Avalanche the pick in 2019 instead, do you prefer this or would you rather have fourth overall in this draft?
Tom: This is a tough one. The Sens have the possibility of being incredibly bad next season and the 2019 draft has Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko at the top of it. Hughes will be the most talented player to come into the NHL since Connor McDavid, and Kakko is a scoring winger that has been better than Patrik Laine at the same age. A spot in the lottery to win one of those two is huge.
That said, with the way this year’s draft order fell, there is a growing feeling that one of Carolina or Montreal is going to do something very silly. This year’s draft has a very clear top-3, fortunately for the Sens, it’s very possible that one of the teams picking ahead of them selects Brady Tkachuk. If one of Andrei Svechnikov or Filip Zadina falls to number four, it would be a huge win for Ottawa. Either one would instantly become Colorado’s best scoring winger.
Hardev: Of course I would rather have the 4th overall right now. However, it would be great to watch the Senators fail to meet expectations and fall to the bottom of the standings for a second straight season next year, this time without the safety cushion of potentially keeping their top pick. Laughing maniacally at the Ottawa Senators for a solid seven or eight months would be a treat.
Jon: Well this way, Avalanche fans have a good reason to root against the Senators next season. That being said, I don’t see it as necessarily a bad thing that Colorado didn’t get the pick this year. There are some talented wingers available around the middle of the first round that the Avalanche would be happy to take. It also takes a little pressure off Joe Sakic and the Avalanche front office. They don’t need to hit a home-run at the draft this year as they will have five picks in the first three rounds of the 2019 draft now.
Jackie: I’m torn but given the choice I would take the pick in 2018. It won’t take much for Ottawa to be better next season and I’m not sure I want the Avalanche to go an entire year with an extra pick burning a hole in their pocket. The fourth spot is a bit less appealing since I feel the draft drops after the first three (Dahlin, Svechnikov, Zadina) but the odds of winning next year’s lottery are still slim even if Ottawa is as poor again. I’d take the bird in the hand over the mystery box. Deferring to next year isn’t a large issue though.
Cat: Without knowing how the Senators will do next year, it’s easy to say that taking the fourth overall this year would be incredible.
Knowing that the Senators seem to still be operating with the same brain trust they had this year, though, it’s very easy to see a top-four pick in their future again next year.