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MHH Roundtable: Hello, September

Putting a bow on the Colorado Avalanche offseason that was.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at Colorado Avalanche Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As the calendar turn the page to September the smell of the impending hockey season is in the air. Rookie camp is in two weeks and the main camp is just a week after. There’s still time to tie up some loose ends from the offseason but for the most part, the Colorado Avalanche are set for the 2022-23 season and to defend their title.

What has been your favorite part of the Stanley Cup summer of celebrations?

Jackie: I’m enjoying how the celebration lives on day after day and it is a wonderful tradition how everyone gets their turn. It’s been fun chronicling the journey and discovering how each player and member of the staff choose to spend their day. Cale Makar and the Slurpee with his brother Taylor was great fun and I also loved seeing assistant coach Nolan Pratt take the Cup up to Red Rocks in my neck of the woods.

Jacob: Granny Makar by far.

Evan: The influence of the Stanley Cup visiting a Muslim mosque in Toronto with Nazem Kadri is something that will never be forgotten. It will forever be a moving time for him and that community and to do something like that is just so cool.

Ezra: Probably when they had that ceremony on Endor and Leia put the big medal around Cale’s neck and then EJ did his best Chewbecca impression and... look, I haven’t paid attention to the celebrations at all, ok? I’m just here for the hockey, folks. Hope the boys had fun though!

What move or decision has the Avalanche made this offseason has been the best?

Jackie: The Artturi Lehkonen five-year contract extension at $4.5M was everything I was hoping the Avalanche could get done with him. And to have it completed early without going to arbitration made it even sweeter. He proved that he’s a great fit for this team and to get a little term at a good price was a big win.

Jacob: Not giving Darcy Kuemper a big contract. Avs fans can and will argue for hours about how good Kuemper was as the no. 1 on a Stanley Cup Champion, but in the salary cap-based reality of the NHL, that is frankly beside the point. Nathan Mackinnon has received the bulk of the attention for his coming mega-extension this offseason, but the Avs need as much cap space as they can get to pay for Devon Toews (2024 free agent) and Mikko Rantanen’s (2025) next contracts too. Between Philipp Grubauer, Pavel Francouz, and Kuemper, Sakic has proven he can find good, cost-effective goalies that he will need in order to keep the core together going forward.

Evan: This one may be a little underrated of a move, but re-signing Josh Manson is subtly going to be a great move in the long run. With Erik Johnson eyeing retirement after his deal expires next year, Manson could slot very well in his place and play alongside either Sam Girard or Bowen Byram more consistently. To keep a guy like Manson in Colorado after he was all but on the plane back to Anaheim is delightful to see and he’ll be an integral part of the defensive core that will try and lead the Avs back to glory.

Ezra: I really love the move to dig Alexandar Georgiev out of New York for relatively cheap. It’s the kind of high-upside play that MacFarland and Sakic have made consistently in the years leading up to last year’s championship, and sticking to their roster building strategy (invest in defense and high end forwards, keep it cheap in net and the bottom six) even though the pressure to bring everyone back to defend the Cup was surely running high is a key indicator of a smart and principled front office.

What still needs to get done in preparation for the upcoming season?

Jacob: More defensive depth. After their clear top six, the Avs have Kurtis MacDermid, Keaton Middleton, Brad Hunt, and Andreus England on the defensive depth chart. On the list of things that could derail what should be another dominant Avalanche season, multiple injuries to their defensive corps are high on the list. A lot of the chatter around the $4.5 million in cap space the Avalanche have to work with is focused on replacing Nazem Kadri at the second-line center, but the playoffs proved that head coach Jared Bednar has at least a couple of capable replacements in Mikko Rantanen and J.T. Compher. Maybe Alex Newhook’s game takes a leap and his seemingly inevitable ascent to second-line center begins next year. Regardless, there are multiple options at 2C and what happens if multiple defensemen were to go down is much less certain, so the Avs need to make at least one more depth signing to shore up the best defensive corps in the NHL.

Evan: I still feel as if the Avs need to make some sort of effort to cover the loss of Nazem Kadri. If you have $4.5M in cap space, it should be used up. While Paul Stastny is already gone, I’d love to bring in Evan Rodrigues on a one or two-year “prove it” deal as they did with Valeri Nichushkin a few years ago. It would help the Avs get some coverage there. I don’t believe there is much depth in the farm department with the Colorado Eagles to fill in the fourth line if a guy like Alex Newhook or J.T. Compher moves up permanently to the second-line center position. With that being said, if either of them moves up, I’ll still feel confident with them there but it would be nice to bring in extra reinforcement if the money is there to do it.

Jackie: I would like to see another add at forward and defense as well but at this point it seems like nobody of significance is in the cards. I’d be surprised to see that much salary cap left on the table and considering proration and salary retention there isn’t a need to conserve that much available cap space just for the trade deadline. Brad Hunt and Anton Blidh are already those NHL experienced depth players who could slot in or for once internal options could be in consideration. But my hope is that they are going to land Rodrigues or someone at the last minute who can be more than just another depth body.

Ezra: I think we’re going to see some interesting PTOs at training camp. There are so many guys out there with middle six upside right now (Rodrigues as noted above, Sonny Milano, etc.) that I’d love to see come into Denver and establish a fit, but I don’t think any of them are worth taking cap space away from a potential deadline trade for a true impact player down the stretch. I don’t think the roster needs anyone else in the short term, but if someone comes into camp and shines so much they demand a middle six job it’s nice to have room for them.

How much of a concern is it that Nathan MacKinnon has not signed a contract extension yet?

Jackie: I never assumed a contract of that expected magnitude would get finalized quickly but time is running out to get it done before training camp kicks off. The front office stated publicly multiple times what a priority it was to get hammered out this summer and we are now past the point of an easy blank check negotiation. A game of chicken until the literal 11th hour like they did with Gabe Landeskog’s contract is not ideal to risk MacKinnon walking and getting left with nothing. The organization really needs to figure out if they are going to meet his demands or start working on a plan B.

Jacob: Jackie makes a good point that the Gabriel Landeskog negotiations going down to the wire does place pressure on the Avalanche to get this wrapped up quickly with their franchise cornerstone. As of today, almost six weeks before the start of the season, I am not concerned. A contract this large and complex is going to take time to come together,—especially in a world where the cap is expected to balloon in the coming years—and there is no doubt in my mind that the Avalanche will get this done. Part of why they were such hard-liners with Landeskog is they need to save every penny they can to pay Nathan Mackinnon, so once they get that done they can move on to carving out room for Toews and Rantanen.

Evan: Everyone follow my lead: breathe in with your nose, out with your mouth. Breathe in with your nose, out through your mouth.

It should not be a big concern that MacKinnon hasn’t signed a deal yet. The Avs still have plenty of time to strike a deal. While it would obviously be nice to have it done sooner rather than later, there is nothing to currently stress too much about when it comes to this topic. Colorado knows what he’ll want and certainly do their best to meet each other's demands because of how big a role he plays in the team. Jackie does make the good point though of not waiting too long as they did with Landeskog. It’s already been rumored that Mack will get a big deal anyways, and if that’s the case then neither party will be waiting much longer.

Ezra: Fire Sakic! Destroy MacFarland! Eat Bednar! JK I’m not worried at all.