After what most could class as a disappointing offseason in 2021, the Colorado Avalanche were forced to stare down the barrel of a particularly ominous offseason. Headlining their troubles was their ever-tighter cap space with captain Gabriel Landeskog hitting the open market. With so many teams chasing and the Avs having many other contracts to address, the Swede wasn’t expected to stay.
After getting Cale Makar on a six-year deal, too, Colorado managed to come out of the once-daunting offseason with their core, but they were certainly scathed. Of course, a good 10 teams will say that they can win the Stanley Cup, but Colorado do look to be in decent shape despite their summer turbulence. With the 2021-22 NHL season set to get underway on October 12th, we’ll assess how the Avalanche are looking ahead of a campaign filled with expectations.
Keeping the band together at all costs
The Colorado Avalanche looked destined for the Cup last season. Having surged to the Presidents’ Trophy with a league-best record, they were flying high and ready to win it all. While that all came crumbling down, the Avs at least didn’t capitulate as much as the seemingly invincible 2018/19 Tampa Bay Lightning did after they won that crown.
Still, the Vegas Golden Knights continue to thrive in underdog settings and checked, banged, and bruised their way to a Round 2 upset to topple the Avs. Since returning to postseason relevance in 2017/18, Colorado haven’t surpassed the second round.
The core of the Avalanche is Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, and Erik Johnson. However, after greatly outperforming Semyon Varlamov since arriving in the 2018/19 season, it could have been argued that Philipp Grubauer also became a core member. Putting up a .922 save percentage and 1.95 goals-against average in 40 games last season, Grubauer earned his placing as a Vezina Trophy finalist.
However, Seattle Kraken floated him $5.9 million per year, which the Avs couldn’t match. So, this is worrying some fans, especially as the free agency was so barren on the goaltender front. While certainly a downgrade, paying over the odds to trade for Darcy Kuemper has helped the situation greatly.
Outside of Grubauer, the main losses came to the team’s depth, with some upper-depth skaters like Brandon Saad leaving during the free agency. Along with Saad, Joonas Donskoi was picked in the 2021 Expansion Draft, Matt Calvert retired, and then Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Patrik Nemeth, Ryan Graves, and Conor Timmins all departed via trades or free agency.
To patch these gaps, former second-overall defenseman Ryan Murray will slot into the top-six, veteran former Detroit Red Wings wing Darren Helm will sit in the bottom-six, and Kurtis MacDermid will likely be trusted to challenge for a place on the defensive lines. Along with these skaters, the Avs also pulled in Mikhail Maltsev, who was previously ranked by The Hockey Writers as being on the cusp of making it onto the New Jersey Devils’ 2021/22 roster.
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Is the roster good enough to go all the way?
Arguably with a stronger team, the Avs dominated the new-look standings last season, cruising to the top spot in the overall rankings. As such, they were the heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup just before the playoffs last season. Then, from seemingly the best possible position, it all fell apart, with the Tampa Bay Lightning stomping their way to a second Stanley Cup in as many seasons.
Now, it looks as though the experts are backing Colorado to bounce back as Tampa Bay did after their disastrous 2019 playoffs. As of September 3, Betway has the Avs at +500 to win the Stanley Cup in 2021/22 in the latest NHL odds, with the Bolts tentatively just back at +550. After the playoffs, Sportsnaut showcased a similar sentiment here, putting the Avalanche atop their team power rankings, with the Lightning down in second on August 10.
Given their cap space this all-but certainly looks to be the roster that the Avs will enter the 2021/22 NHL season with, and the consensus is that it’s a very strong group. There’s still strength in depth and a colossal amount of talent in the top lines. Better still, the Western Conference isn’t anywhere near as competitive as the Eastern Conference. Importantly, their closest rivals, the Bolts, have the daunting task of attempting to do what no other team has done: win the three-peat in the salary cap era.
On paper, the Avalanche don’t have a team that’s a strong as it was last season, but the key pieces are still there, and the holes have been patched adequately. So, they deserve their ranking as a Stanley Cup favorite. However, if the roster’s quality is taken for granted, another early exit seems inevitable.