Now that the NHL draft, opening of free agency and development camp have all passed, the real offseason settles in with the bulk of the work done and only a few small tweaks before training camp opens in a little over two months from now. It is a good time to analyze the moves that were made and to look ahead at the upcoming 2023-24 Colorado Avalanche season.
Which move was the best piece of business the front office has conducted this offseason thus far?
Jackie: Getting Ryan Johansen at 50% retained for free definitely is a shrewd move. I believe he is also the acquisition which has the potential to pay the greatest dividends as well. Plus the obsession over the missing 2C can end, so a great move on all fronts. It also was a pleasant surprise Byram signed so quickly especially considering word that the Avalanche were worried about him receiving an offer sheet. I would have preferred a long term deal though because the front office knows he’s going to get paid very well at the end of this two-year deal.
Jacob: It’s hard to argue against getting a top six forward for free, but fixing a broken third line could prove to be the most impactful thing Colorado did this offseason. Seattle pushed the Avs bottom six around (really the bottom nine) and exposed their lack of depth in that immensely disappointing playoff series last year. Colorado was forced to scramble to find a competent bottom six all of last year, giving lots of time to undersized players like Denis Malgin, Matt Nieto and Alex Newhook. Getting two bigger bodies who fit well together in Ross Colton (6 feet tall, 195 lbs) and Miles Wood (6 foot 2, 195 lbs) who can also score will greatly help the third line and will take pressure off the top six to provide all the scoring.
Luke: I have two. Jonathan Drouin for 1 year at 825k and getting Bowen Byram resigned early for 2 years at 3.8m. Those are some tidy pieces of business. For Drouin, a fresh start for a player who has some elite playing ability and who should be a fixture in the top 6. It does feel like a long time coming, but reuniting him with Mackinnon to see if they can rekindle their Halifax Moosehead chemistry could payoff for the Avalanche in a massive way. By signing Byram early, the Avalanche not only get their 2019 4th overall pick locked up to a fair but prove it extension, but they also have a better grasp on how much they have to spend this summer. With about 6.8m left to sign Colton and Meyers, they should have some wiggle room to add later as well.
Evan: Everybody has already hit on the signings, but I’ll go with the Drouin move as well. At only $825K, it is a low-risk high-reward move in hope for a guy needing a fresh start and getting to do so with Nathan MacKinnon. Should they find their chemistry they had together 10+ years ago, it could work wonders for the depleted top six.
Which departure was the most surprising?
Jacob: Alex Newhook is the obvious choice, but non-tendering Denis Malgin was a bit of a surprise. It makes sense given that his arbitration rights would have bumped up his salary above what he would have made as a regular restricted free agent, but given the dearth of scoring in Colorado’s bottom six last year, it was a bit surprising to see them let 11 goals in 42 games just walk out the door.
Jackie: Newhook is going to be the popular answer here and it is a bit jarring the organization chose draft picks over him considering Colton could have been had for the 27th overall selection. But I’m a bit surprised there was no offer to Erik Johnson even though it definitely felt like there was only room for one of the veteran defensemen to return on a cheap deal. It seems like there’s always a way to hold on to legacy vets so to cut the cord was still a bit of a surprise, though likely the right call.
Luke: Newhook being moved for futures was surprising to me. If he was moved for a roster player I could rationalize the logic a bit better. But moving Newhook this early in his career just seems like failed development by the Bednar coaching staff, which to me is a bigger issue. I understand they need add to the prospect pipeline and maybe this was the best way to do it. My general philosophy on developing players is that if you want a top 6 player, play him there. Bednar actively didn't. Again this feels like a trend this coaching staff has when young players don't come in a contribute right away. Coaching staff gets annoyed and they don't have the patience or answers to help the player along. By no means is Newhook a bust. Or the next Tyson Jost. But its another young, 1st round pick that hasn't panned out. Thats troubling.
Evan: With everyone saying Newhook, I’ll go down a different path: Denis Malgin. Malgin had looked solid in his time as an Avs player, of course working through injury as the entire team did. I thought if he could get a full year under his belt he could be a surprise addition to the top six. However, Malgin doesn't fit the mantra of getting more gritty as has been expressed by the club, so on he goes to new pastures.
What are your thoughts on the 2023 Avalanche draft class?
Jacob: The night of the first round of the NHL draft, I wrote that “It certainly seems likely that (Avalanche GM Chris) MacFarland obtained players more valuable than the 27th and 31st picks with the 27th and 31st picks in the draft.” A lot of folks wanted the Avs to trade at least one or both of those picks for immediate help (myself included), but if both Calum Ritchie and Mikhail Gulyayev take big steps forward next season, Colorado would easily wind up with better trade chips than the 27th and 31st picks in the draft. Given that both prospects play styles that fit Colorado’s system to a T, it’s not a certainty that they will be traded, but if you look at how the Avs have treated their prospects in recent years, they sure seem to look at them more as trade chips than anything else. In that light, the Avs did well in the draft.
Luke: I think the Avalanche made some solid picks, all with some upside. Ritchie and Gulyayev were great value selections and both have some serious upside to them. Hanzel in the 6th as an overager could be a homerun IF he can transition his game from Jr's to the pro level as soon as this year. I do like the idea of drafting players in the later rounds that can either get to pros quicker. The Avalanche need cheap, contributing talent on the NHL roster and drafting them is one way to go about it. All in all a solid 2023 draft by the Avalanche.
Jackie: I like the drafting overagers strategy if Hanzel and Maros Jedlicka are actually signed, otherwise it’s purposely holding each of them back from a better opportunity they could have found as free agents. It’s also nice to have two new first round picks to keep tabs on and the fact that their development paths are completely different is a plus.
Evan: I do think the draft went well for the Avs. Getting Ritchie who was projected to be top-10 before his injury could work well if he recovers. Gulyayev will be excellent down the line and is just another example of Colorado drafting good defenders. Further down the order comes Jeremey Hanzel and his breakout camp performance. I would love to see him signed by the club and spend his playing time in Loveland with the Colorado Eagles who need bodies, otherwise it seems like a step back in development for him.
What is the most important task at hand left to complete?
Jackie: I would like the rest of the money after signing Ross Colton to go toward the best forward that can be had on a bargain deal. The top six shouldn’t count solely on Drouin and one more forward pushes the depth down for one of the bottom six to take the 4C role which was never really filled last season and it showed with how little Bednar trusted that line.
Jacob: I love Jack Johnson but I would feel a lot better about the Avalanche defensive corps if he was their 7th defenseman and not their 6th. If the Avs could find a cost-controlled young defenseman it would do wonders for their depth given Josh Manson’s mounting injury troubles and the increasing likelihood that they will eventually try to offload his $4.5 million cap hit as they try to find money to sign Devon Toews and Mikko Rantanen these next two offseasons.
Luke: As constructed now, I think the Avalanche are still in need of center depth. They don't have the flexibility like in previous years where a 3rd line player can just be elevated into the top 6. I think they should be targeting a 3C/W who can moonlight on the 2nd line IF injuries take a hold on the team again. To me Jonathan Toews is a option there, he also can play in the PK which has lost some key contributors to UFA. Sign Toews for $2M would really round the roster out.
Evan: Obviously there are still holes to be filled in the bottom six along with re-signing Ross Colton. I’d like to look at a guy like Pius Suter or Jesse Puljujarvi to come into the bottom six and provide some depth scoring. If they can fill the depth similar to what they had in the 2022 Stanley Cup championship, plus a remarkable and big “what if” return of Gabriel Landeskog by next postseason, the Avs could have worked some magic to make things happen.