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Colorado Avalanche 2022 Offseason Predictions: Unrestricted Free Agents

Arizona Coyotes v Colorado Avalanche - Game Two Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

For Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche the 2021 offseason was filled with re-signings, rather than new additions, and the 2022 offseason won’t be much different. There are many big names Colorado has to re-sign before they hit the open market. Obviously we’re a whole regular season, and hopefully playoffs, from this being a real conversation but I will be analyzing what Sakic and the front office are likely to do when the 2022 offseason rolls around.

As far as key players who are unrestricted free agents that will go into the open market if they are not re-signed, there are several. Andre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin, Pavel Francouz, and recent acquisitions Darcy Kuemper will all become UFAs after the 2021-22 season. The team also has a few smaller name free agents to worry about after this season, Darren Helm, Ryan Murray, and Kurtis MacDermid. One of the biggest challenges facing the Avalanche when it comes to re-signing these five players is the salary cap. Colorado will have around $28.5 million in cap space to work with to re-sign these players, restricted free agents, and to sign any free agents the team wants to bring in. Chances are high that the Avalanche won’t be able to bring back all eight free agents next summer, but they should be able to bring back the big ones.

Andre Burakovsky is the biggest priority for the Avalanche to re-sign after this upcoming season. After putting up 20 goals and 25 assists in his first season with the Avalanche the team rewarded him with a two year $4.9 million bridge contract and he didn’t disappoint in his first season with his new contract. Burakovsky showed he could be a consistent, top six, goal scorer for the team, putting up 44 points in five less games during the shortened 2021 season. Burakovsky has shown an ability to produce anywhere in the top six. Burakovsky provides the most impact to the Avalanche when he has the puck in the offensive zone. He has one of the best shots in the NHL, both in terms of accuracy and power. However, like any second line player, Burakovsky will have the occasional dry spell, stretch of bad luck, or poor performance, but he has shown a propensity to limit these and bounce back strongly after. Andre won’t have to do anything unrealistic to get the Avalanche to re-sign him next year. Even if he has a bit of a down year compared to his previous seasons with the Avalanche he has fit in and produced with the team so well in his first two season that the only things that could keep him from not coming back in 2022 are him pricing himself out of Colorado’s range or him getting a serious injury.

My prediction: Burakovsky will take a slight pay cut to stay in Colorado on a 4 x $6.5 million contract.

Burakovsky’s most common linemate, Nazem Kadri, has a significantly smaller chance to be re-signed by the team. Him potentially coming back depends on a few things. Whether or not he can bounce back from last year, if he can stay disciplined, how well Colorado’s center prospects do, and whether or not he is willing to take a pay cut. After a very productive regular season and postseason with the Avalanche in his first season Kadri had a fairly disappointing season with the team last year. He put up just 32 points in 56 games in 2021, with most of them coming through multipoint games. This was disappointing compared to his 36 point campaign the previous season, but not that bad. What really put his future with the team in question was him showing a glimpse of the discipline problems he had in the playoffs during his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs when he laid a high, blind sided hit on Justin Faulk in Game 2 of Colorado’s first round series against the St. Louis Blues. Kadri has shown an ability to produce for the team and stay disciplined and if he can do that he will likely get one last pay day from another team in the open market. Chances are Colorado won’t be willing to pay him too much due to the promise Alex Newhook has shown in his short time with the team so far, but if he can stay disciplined and wants to take a pay cut he may come back to the Avalanche in 2022.

My prediction: Kadri will re-sign a 2 x $3.5 million contract to stay in Colorado.

Valeri Nichushkin rounds out the UFA’s who have experience with the team. If you read my piece on Avs in the Olympics you would know I have a high opinion on Nichushkin and his defensive abilities, but he is objectively one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL. Nichushkin’s high end forechecking ability, elite defensive play, and slightly below average ability to produce offensively make him a valuable part of Colorado’s middle six and he, much like Burakovsky, was given a bridge deal after the 2019-20 season to prove that these abilities were legit, and he did just that. Nichushkin put up 21 points, five less than his total in 2019-20, but in ten less games. Unfortunately for Colorado Valeri might have shown a bit too much. His defensive game is held in such high regard league-wide, that with the solid improvements to his offense he has likely priced himself out of Colorado’s range and the team has enough up and coming bottom six prospects that they will feel no pressure to spend more money to bring Nichushkin back than necessary.

My prediction: Nichushkin gets a 4 x $4-5.5 million contract in the open market.

What will likely be Colorado’s second highest priority come the 2022 offseason is re-signing newly acquired Darcy Kuemper. It’s hard to really say what Colorado will do with Kuemper in the 2022 offseason, because everyone has yet to see Kuemper play a game in an Avalanche sweater, but we can speculate. Kuemper has a chance to be Colorado’s best goalie since Patrick Roy. The talent alone already puts him in the running but as most, including me, have already mentioned he must stay healthy. If Kuemper manages to stay healthy and performs like he showed he could in Arizona then Colorado will almost definitely re-sign him. Even if he struggles with some injury problems during the course of the season there’s a strong chance the Avalanche could re-sign him to get a consistent presence in net, or due to pure lack of high end goaltending talent available next offseason. However, much like Nichushkin, there is a very real possibility that Kuemper prices himself out of Colorado’s range, although I believe Colorado will be willing to spend more money on Darcy because of a combination of the reasons given previously, track record, and unwillingness to let another high end goalie walk.

My prediction: Kuemper will re-sign in Colorado on a 5 x $5 million contract.

The other half of Colorado’s goaltending tandem, Pavel Francouz, will also become a free agent after the 2021-22 season. Francouz’s path is a bit more predictable than Kuempers. It is hard to see him return to Colorado after the 21-22 season. Francouz showed well in his only 36 games of NHL regular season experience, posting a 2.40 GAA and a .923 SV%, however he got very good goal support and some soft starts, but that’s often the case with a backup goalie on a contender. If he does prove that his lone season wasn’t a fluke, that he can stay healthy, and that he is more than a product of luck and good defense he will guarantee that this season will be his last in an Avalanche sweater. However, Francouz’s fate doesn’t lay solely in his hands. The biggest factor in Francouz’s fate with the team is the performance of Colorado’s goaltending prospects. With Juustus Annunen and Trent Miner both making their professional debuts with the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate the Colorado Eagles during the and the emergence of Jonas Johansson as a potential NHL goalie (although he’s not really a prospect) in the 2021 season, Francouz has become much more expendable. Even if the prospects don’t perform well enough to take Francouz’s job he, similar to Nichushkin, has likely made himself too expensive to stay in Colorado, due to his performance in the 2019-20 season.

My prediction: Francouz will get a 3 x $3.5 million contract in the open market.

Darren Helm, Ryan Murray, and Kurtis MacDermid have much less to go off of to determine their future with the Avalanche, considering they all have yet to play with the team. Each of them have something to prove to show they should stay with the team, rather than being replaced by the many prospects who are chomping at the bit to get into NHL games. Helm has much less to prove then the two defenseman because he has more NHL experience than both MacDermid and Murray combined. Throughout his 744 NHL games Helm has proven himself as one of the best bottom six forwards in the league and during his time with the Avalanche only needs to show that he can still compete at an NHL level, but will still likely move on after the season, like many vets do. Murray’s biggest question mark in his game is his health. Murray has only played one full season in his NHL career and has only played more than 60 games three times, all before 2017. As far as actual hockey ability goes Murray is a proven bottom pairing defenseman with a top four upside due to his high hockey IQ, good skating, and strong defensive game, so the Avalanche would likely want to bring him back as far as he proves he can stay healthy, doesn’t make himself too expensive, and doesn’t get his job taken by Colorado’s 2020 first round pick Justin Barron. MacDermid’s situation is much more straightforward, he needs to prove he can do more than punch faces. In my article covering the three best additions for the Avalanche this season I stated that he could provide some good to the team by being an enforcer, but he still needs to prove that he can hold his own in the other aspects of the game. MacDermid’s defensive game is his biggest weakness that he must improve on this season after posting extremely poor underlying numbers last season for the Los Angeles Kings, one of most shocking being his 36.03 xGF%, so he will have to improve on that, even if it’s not any major improvement.

My prediction: Helm gets a 1 x $2 million contract in the open market, Murray re-signs in Colorado on a 2 x $2.5 million contract, MacDermid gets a 2 x $1.25 million contract in the open market.

What are your predictions on what Colorado will do with their UFAs in the 2022 offseason? Comment them down below.