It’s been three years since Jared Bednar took the reigns from Patrick Roy as the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche. During that time the Avalanche have seen both their worst season in franchise history and back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since the 2003-04/2005-06 seasons. General manager Joe Sakic has not only put the pieces in place to build a long-term competitive team for Colorado, but put the Avalanche in a place to compete for the Stanley Cup year in and year out in the immediate and coming future.
Despite not having as good of a regular season as in the 2017-18 season, Colorado made the playoffs for the second consecutive year, landing themselves the second wildcard in the Western Conference and facing the Pacific Division champion Calgary Flames. Many didn’t give the Avalanche a chance to beat the Flames, but Colorado caused a huge upset by besting the Flames in 5 games and moving on to face the San Jose Sharks. Although ultimately losing to the Sharks in 7 games, the Avalanche played exceptional and showed that they have the pieces to compete for the playoffs and Stanley Cup in the upcoming seasons.
After the dust had settled, Colorado’s playoff run showed that much of the team’s offense came from their dominant top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. This propelled Sakic to explore routes to add new faces to bolster the team’s depth.
Wasting no time, the Avalanche signed free agents Joonas Donskoi (4 years, $15.6 million) and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (2 year, $2.6 million) to new contracts. Donskoi, 27, had been a consistently good depth player for the San Jose Sharks and should be an excellent add for the Avalanche. Bellemare, 34, had been a solid bottom 6 player for both the Philadelphia Flyers and Vegas Golden Knights. While leaning towards the end of his career, Bellemare should bring both leadership and grit to Colorado’s lineup. Along with this Colorado brought back Colin Wilson on a 1 year, $2.6 million deal.
Sakic made the trade of the day on July 1st sending Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot and a 2020 6th round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and a 2020 3rd round pick. Acquiring Kadri immediately upgrades Colorado’s center depth and not only is he cost controlled (3 years remaining), but is on an amazing deal ($4.5 million a year) for a player who scored over 30 goals in 2 of the last 3 years.
Barrie became expandable after the explosion of Cale Makar in the playoffs and the Avalanche being able to draft Bowen Byram with the 4th overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft. Despite Byram likely not making the team out of training camp this year, Colorado will be able to ice a solid defense that includes the likes of Erik Johnson, Samuel Girard, Cale Makar, Nikita Zadorov. Rosen may be a player who could start in the AHL and see a callup when injury strikes, but definitely has the ability and skill to get a real shot in the NHL at some point.
As for goaltending the only change has been the loss of Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov had previously spent the last 8 years with the Avalanche, but after the acquisition of Philipp Grubauer last season, he saw his time in net decrease. Colorado chose to move on from Varlamov this offseason, as he signed a 4 year contract with the New York Islanders, and bring back Pavel Francouz as the backup netminder while giving Grubauer the undisputed number one role between the pipes. Grubauer had a solid first season as a starter gathering a 18-9-5 record with a 2.64 GAA and .917% save percentage. As he’ll likely get more starts this season, I think he’ll be one of the more underrated goalies in the league.
There are only 2 RFAs who remain unsigned with the Avalanche, Mikko Rantanen and Vladislav Kamenev. Currently Colorado has over $16 million in cap space so there should be no worries about signing either player. Whether it’s a long term deal or a bridge deal, there is no doubt in my mind that Rantanen will remain a member of the Avalanche.
Colorado has shown a lot of promise since the end of the disastrous 2016-17 season. By making smart trades, signings and taking the long-term approach to building something great, the Avalanche have put themselves on the path to compete for the playoffs year in and year out.