This article is part of a 30-team series based at NHLNumbers.com. Each Nation Network team page will have articles posted relevant to the team’s respective division.
The Avalanche just had their worst season since moving to Colorado. They went 22-56-4, finishing dead last in the league by a mile, and came terrifyingly close to matching the dark Quebec Nordiques days from the early 1990s for the worst season in the franchise’s entirety.
And what do they have to show for it? The fourth overall pick at this year’s draft.
The Avs have a lot of work to do in order to resurrect this dead corpse and bring themselves back up to contender status. They’ve missed the playoffs three years in a row, in six of their last seven seasons, and haven’t made it out of the first round since 2008. This season’s implosion may seem like it came out of the blue, but in reality, it’s been a long time coming.
Thankfully, when you’re this bad, there’s nowhere to go but up. But where do you even begin?
The Colorado Avalanche, everybody! pic.twitter.com/bArlqvpDjc— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) March 5, 2017
The odd thing about the Avs being not only bad, but historically terrible, is the fact they weren’t trying to lose. Their roster boasts some excellent, high-level talent, which, you’d expect, would have resulted in more than 22 wins over the course of an 82-game season. For starters, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie, and Erik Johnson is a nice core of skilled, prime-aged players.
But after that? It gets really ugly really fast.
Both Duchene and Landeskog had disappointing seasons considering their expectations, scoring 41 and 33 points respectively, but were two of only a handful of Avs players who had positive shot attempt percentages. MacKinnon led the team with 16 goals and 53 points despite posting a ridiculously low 6.4 shooting percentage in all situations. Mikko Rantanen was the team’s biggest positive last year, scoring 20 goals after looking completely out of his depth in a nine-game audition in 2015.
The rest of the team’s forward core was filled by Rene Bourque, Jarome Iginla, Carl Soderberg, Blake Comeau, Mikhail Grigorenko, and random additions from the scrapheap. None of them produced much offensively and were largely guttered in shot attempt and goal differential.
The big issue for the team, though, was their defence. Erik Johnson, the team’s No. 1 defenceman, which isn’t exactly a good thing in the first place, was injured mid-way through the season, leaving the blue line in shambles. Veterans Francois Beauchemin and Fedor Tyutin obviously weren’t able to compensate, and as a result, the team was playing disaster mitigation in their own end more often than not.
Tyson Barrie produced at a decent level, as he always does, but the Ave weren’t able to give him the same sheltered offensive minutes they usually would, and he wasn’t effective in an increased role. Mark Barberio, who was claimed off waivers from Montreal, had a very strong showing, and Nikita Zadorov appears to be ready to take on a bigger role, too.
The team’s goaltending was terrible, which hasn’t been the case in the past. The typically-high-PDO Avs are used to Semyon Varlamov putting up performances that keep them and their putrid defence in games, but for the second season in a row, his numbers declined. Backup Calvin Pickard put up strong numbers in limited showings over the past two seasons, but his save percentage dipped all the way to .904 in 50 games this season.
Conclusion: This team is top heavy. They have good players, but lack in depth. It’s most noticeable on defence, where one player’s injury played a major role in derailing the team. That said, there is a lot of skill on this roster, and it’s young and can still get better.
The Avs have eight forwards, four defencemen, and two goalies signed into next season at a roughly $55 million combined cap hit.
Last summer, the Avs had to get MacKinnon and Barrie locked up to long-term contracts, and they did just that. This summer, they only have to deal with minor contracts. Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov, and Sven Andrighetto need new RFA deals, but none of them have warranted anything more than a one- or two-year deal at this point. Depth players John Mitchell, Fedor Tyutin, and Patrick Wiercioch are unrestricted free agents, and can easily be replaced on the free agent market.
The core of the team, MacKinnon, Landeskog, Johnson, and Barrie, are signed for the foreseeable future. Just about everyone else’s contract expires in the next couple of years, which bodes well for the Avs giving their roster a complete facelift because they have a lot of financial flexibility, some fire-sale assets, and a handful of worthwhile players to build it back up around.
Conclusion: The Avs have their important players signed long-term and a lot of flexibility moving forward.
Offseason Game Plan
The first step for the Avs, and everybody really, is the expansion draft.
Ideally, Francois Beauchemin waives his no movement clause, because at 37 years old, he isn’t somebody you want to use a protected slot on. If he doesn’t waive for whatever reason, the Avs can buy out the remaining year of his deal, which would still carry a $4.5 million cap hit next season because he’s a 35+ contract, but would give them needed flexibility for the expansion draft.
MacKinnon, Duchene, Landeskog, Barrie, Johnson, Grigorenko, and Zadorov are obvious ones to protect, leaving the Avs with some difficult choices. If they protect eight skaters, they can keep Barberio, who had an excellent showing on the team’s blue line which is already paper thin. But if they do that, the Avs will be leaving Sven Andrighetto exposed, who was also excellent after being acquired in a trade with Montreal. They’ll also be leaving Carl Soderberg exposed, which may not be a bad thing considering his contract. Then, they have to decide whether they’ll expose Varlamov, who’s signed at $5.9 million for two more seasons, or Pickard, the 25-year-old who appears to be the future in net.
Regardless, Colorado is going to lose a pretty good player. Ideally for them, it isn’t Andrighetto or Barberio, both of whom are young and can continue to grow with the team.
The rest of the team’s offseason will largely revolve around the long-term rather than the here and now.
Matt Duchene and Landeskog both had their names frequently appear in trade rumours, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see one (or both, honestly) moved this summer for an upgrade on defence. Duchene is signed for two more seasons and $6 million, but is coming off of the worst season of his career, meaning his value is likely at an all-time low. Landeskog is the team’s captain, and is locked up for four more seasons, but hasn’t really developed into the offensive threat the Avs probably hoped he would.
Other than that? It would be shocking to see the Avs land a marquee free agent, because they’re nowhere near being competitive. It would make sense for them to add a boatload of depth players on one- and two-year deals like the Maple Leafs did in 2015 in order to give them ammo at the trade deadline, but this summer in Colorado is going to be about figuring out who’s around for the long haul, and how on earth they’re going build up this disaster of a blue line.
Conclusion: The Avs are going to lose a good player via the expansion draft, but that’s life. Buying out Francois Beauchemin would give them added flexibility and won’t affect their cap long term. Otherwise? This summer the Avs likely won’t be welcoming any big name free agents to Colorado, but we could see a blockbuster trade as the team deals a forward for a good, young defenceman.