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MHH Roundtable: Grading the Colorado Avalanche offseason

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How did Joe Sakic do this summer?

St Louis Blues v Colorado Avalanche - Game Two Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

A lot has happened in the last month as the Colorado Avalanche get ready for the 2021-22 season. From the draft to free agency and re-signing some key players those decisions helped shape the season to come. With now likely all their offseason business taken care of now is time to evaluate how the Avalanche did during this crucial time.

How do you feel the Avalanche made out with their four picks in the NHL Entry Draft?

Luke: I really like what they did with the Oskar Olausson and Sean Behrens picks. I think both players will have solid NHL careers. The doubling down on smaller but effective defenders is also great too see. *Chefs kiss* to those picks The other two players drafted, Andrei Buyalsky and Taylor Makar we will see. They both have a long way to come, but they have 4 years of NCAA hockey to play. They turn into something, but I doubt it.

Evan: I think the Avs had a solid draft. The Oskar Olausson and Sean Behrens picks are just another piece of Joe Sakic’s highly-rated prospect pool that he has to fit in his puzzle. I love the addition of Taylor Makar as well. He may be a long shot but there are worse ways to spend a pick.

Jackie: The Olausson and Behrens picks were strong enough to make the draft class feel robust even though it’s only four picks deep. The Avalanche haven’t had much luck with overage forwards but Makar and Buyalsky are intriguing options. After watching back some of their games I see some interesting talent there and both have great speed. Now it’s a matter of taking a step in the NCAA and hopefully giving them hands on help if they sign pro contracts.

Tom: Regardless of how many picks you have, if any team leaves the draft with two prospects as good as Olausson and Behrens, you’ve had a very successful weekend. Taylor Makar is a night story but he’s never going to play in the NHL and Buyalsky is a late bloomer who may have the potential to surprise some as he starts playing at higher levels - he’s worth spending a lottery ticket on.

Which offseason move or signing excited you the most?

Luke: I really like that the Avalanche went out and loaded up on bottom 6 players. They signed Helm from Detroit, Maltsev from New Jersey in the Graves trade, signed Wingerli, they have Kaut, Bowers and Sherwood all pushing for playing time. You expect JTC to bounce back, LOC to take a step, Jost to continue his progression. I just think from all of these guys, there will be one that just shines through that we did not expect. Every year a random guy just makes a big impact on a team (Nedeljkovic in Carolina, Verhaeghe in Florida) I think Colorado is making a smart bet on getting lots of guys competing for a couple of jobs.

Evan: I don’t really know who to choose in this scenario. To be quite honest (spoiler alert), the Avs struggled this offseason losing a couple of key pieces to the team in my opinion. More to come on that later. The obvious win for Avs fans has to be Gabe Landeskog signing a new 8-year deal to keep him in Colorado for the rest of his career, god forbid anything else happens down the line. The captain will lead this team no matter its state and is a major key in the locker room, on the ice and out in the community that all Avs fans will love for eight more years.

Jackie: The Landeskog signing was critical for the core of this franchise and I don’t even want to think of what plan B might have been. That said I’m going with the Cale Makar extension as the one piece of business I was the happiest to see get done. While eight years would have been preferred, it was fantastic to get him locked up for six years at a reasonable cap hit of $9M with none of the drama we see around the league with other high profile Restricted Free Agents. His signing helps set the tone for what the Avalanche are building.

Tom: After seeing the nonsense that has gone into some of the other contracts this summer, it’s hard to say anything but the Cale Makar contract. Zach Werenski, Darnell Nurse and Seth Jones are all vastly inferior defensemen to Makar but each signed a contract that will count for a higher cap hit than the $9m the Avalanche have dedicated to their star player. It’s a great deal for everyone involved.

In terms of the new additions, I am a big fan of the Ryan Murray signing. I think he will being some balance to the Avalanche lineup will more than making up for the loss of Ryan Graves.

What, if anything, do the Avalanche need to do before training camp begins?

Jackie: The Avalanche paid a steep price to acquire him, I’d like to see Darcy Kuemper sign an extension before the season begins. His price and leverage will only go up as the season progresses especially if he has any kind of success. The organization targeted Kuemper for a reason and they need to make a commitment to a goaltender or else their top two netminders will find themselves unrestricted free agents next offseason. The org doesn’t seem to want to invest a lot of money at the position but trading their way to short-term solutions can only work for so long.

Luke: I agree with Jackie here, the Avalanche should find away to get Kuemper on a 1 or 2 year extension. They paid a high price for him, and to watch him leave in free agency would be bad business in my point of view. While the extension could back fire, I think its a good bet to make. From a talent and skill level, Kuemper is the better goalie.

Evan: I’m really interested to see if Sakic has any more moves up his sleeve. While it is a challenge with the limited cap space the Avs have left, Joe could try and work his magic to get just one more man for the top six using a heck of a lot of prospects to get his wish. In my wildest dreams, the Avs could make a move for the angry and out-of-favor Jack Eichel. Of course, he does come with his injury woes and the required surgery he needs which could steer Sakic away. Regardless, with Eichel wanting out and the possible asking price to go down, it is a heck of a long shot but it wouldn’t hurt to see Sakic try and make something work for anyone else, not just Eichel.

Tom: As much as I think the Avs SHOULD sign Kuemper to an extension before the season starts, I don’t believe it will actually happen. If it was going to happen this offseason, I think it would have within that first week of the trade. Now it looks like both sides are content to wait to see how Kuemper fits in with the new team - also likely how Pavel Francouz does in his return - before they make a decision on how to approach the goaltending position long term.

If I’m Sakic, I’d throw a league minimum contract at a guy like Alex Galchenyuk in the hopes of striking gold like they did with Val Nichushkin a couple summers ago. Galchenyuk is a versatile winger that has learned to adapt his game in a way that perfectly complements high-end linemates. After struggling in Ottawa and Minnesota, he looked rejuvenated in Toronto and showed that he’s able to do the dirty work necessary as the third best players on a top-6 line.

What grade do you give the Avalanche offseason as a whole?

Luke: C+. They didn’t make any bad deals with Seattle in the expansion draft. They managed to get Behrens and Maltsev for Graves. They resigned Jost, Makar and Landeskog to good market value deals. Murray could be a great signing IF he stays healthy. Their draft was solid, not great. Where I think they faltered was in the goalie market. They waited way too long to move on from Grub, and where left trading Timmins and a 2022 1st for 1 yr of Kuemper. It was the offseason I expected from them. I was hoping for a top 6 winger upgrade, and looking at how cheap they went, I was surprised the Avs didn’t try and get one.

Evan: This offseason is a tough one to look at. While the Avs did what they needed to do by resigning Landeskog, Makar and Jost, they lost some key pieces too. The loss of Grubauer, Saad, PEB and Donskoi is going to come back to bite the Avs. While the Avs did bring in Kuemper, Helm and Maltsev, they’re not on the same level as the previous four names. It kills too that they missed out on a new top-six forward, for now anyways. Long story short, I feel less comfortable going into this season than I did last season. I sure hope I’m proven wrong. For that reason, I’m going with a C-.

Jackie: It’s tough for me to say the Avalanche improved and their forward core might even be weaker than last season. I really like how the Avalanche waited to get Ryan Murray on a bargain deal and it’s possible there might be a similar last minute signing up front. I have high hopes for Kuemper but that move feels out of character with the rest of the offseason as they clearly got desperate. If the plan truly is to utilize Alex Newhook and Bowen Byram to make up the difference in what they lost then the Avalanche might eventually come out ahead. For now it feels like the Avalanche did enough to get by and that’s a C grade.

Tom: Had you asked me a couple weeks ago, I would be with everyone else in the C range. Now, with hindsight and looking at the roster, I’m going to give the Avs a B+ for their offseason work. Starting with the extensions, the Makar contract is an east A+ while the Landeskog and Jost deals were both in the A- range for me. Beyond that, Murray is an upgrade on Graves. Darren Helm is an upgrade on PEB and if healthy, Kuemper is an upgrade on Grubauer. Not replacing Brandon Saad and Joonas Donskoi with anyone other than Alex Newhook could cause some scoring issues this season but I suspect offense isn’t going to be an issue for this team.

The forward group is weaker but the defense and goaltending are both improved. The Avs made those upgrades while still having some cap space as flexibility during the season. All that said, it seems I’m more optimistic than most when it comes to how this Avs team compares to the one from last year. The one issue I see is that Sakic is gambling on a lot of “ifs”. If Kuemper and Francouz are healthy, they have a great goalie tandem. If EJ can play the way he did two seasons ago, they’ll have one of the best top-6 groups in the NHL. If the two rookies progress the way we hope, they will fill holes vacated by departing players. If the team has a little bit of luck, they should be just as good as last season - maybe even better.