The Colorado Avalanche Need To Evaluate And Plan For The Future

0
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 27: Gabriel Landeskog #92 and Francois Beauchemin #92 of the Colorado Avalanche confer before a faceoff against the Calagary Flames at the Pepsi Center on December 27, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The Colorado Avalanche currently sit in the basement of the NHL standings and are on pace for the worst season in franchise history. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Avalanche fans due to a strong core of young players, up and coming prospects, and presumably high draft picks over the next few seasons. It’s time for general manager Joe Sakic and the Avalanche front office to start planning for the future by evaluating their assets. Let’s take a closer look at what the franchise has to work with.

The Colorado Avalanche Need to Evaluate and Plan for the Future

Building Blocks

The Avalanche have a plethora of young players that they will be able to build a team around. It’s clear that it will take a few years for the Avalanche to build a team worthy of contention. It’s important to have a core of players that will be impact NHL players for years to come.

Matt DucheneThe 25-year old from Haliburton, Ontario is consistently one of the best players in the NHL, racking up 22 points in 30 games so far this season. Duchene has won gold medals with Team Canada at the Olympics, World Cup of Hockey, and World Championships. 

Nathan MacKinnon:  The 2013 first overall pick is one of the most exciting players to watch in the National Hockey League. MacKinnon uses his speed and puck handling abilities to his advantage, making him a very effective asset for the Avalanche organization.

Gabriel Landeskog:  The current captain of the Avalanche will be an integral part of the franchise going forward. Landeskog’s attitude, skill and leadership will be a huge factor in the success of the Avalanche franchise in the future. Did I mention he’s only 24 years old?

Mikko Rantanen:  The 20-year old Finn was drafted 10th overall in the 2015 draft. Rantanen has used his natural hockey sense and skill to his advantage this season, putting up 15 points in 29 games which is good enough for 11th place in NHL rookie scoring.

Tyson Barrie: Although he is a little on the small side for a defenseman (5’10″), Barrie uses his vision and slick hands to his advantage, putting up 49 points last season and 53 in 2014-2015. Barrie will hopefully be a staple on the Avalanche blue line for years to come.

Erik Johnson: Johnson hasn’t fully lived up to the hype that made him the number one pick in the 2006 NHL draft. However, he is still an offensive threat for the Avalanche, and should remain in Joe Sakic’s plans for the future.

Decisions, Decisions

Mikhail Grigorenko/Nikita Zadorov  The big decision affecting Zadorov and Grigorenko will be whether Colorado protects seven forwards, three defenseman, and one goalie in the upcoming expansion draft or to protect eight skaters and one goalie.

If the Avalanche decide to go the route of protecting three defenseman, that would leave Zadorov exposed, and Grigorenko would most likely be protected. Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson would presumably eat up the first two spots, and then the third spot would automatically be given to Francois Beauchemin since he has a no movement clause in his contract. Therefore, Zadorov would be exposed.

If the Avs decide to protect eight skaters instead, that would give them the option of protecting Zadorov, and then leaving four forward spots remaining. And that is where Grigorenko’s status would come into question. Duchene, Mackinnon, and Landeskog would all presumably be protected leaving the last spot open to either Grigorenko or Carl Soderberg.

Calvin Pickard/Semyon Varlamov:  Unless they are somehow able to trade one of their goaltenders before the expansion draft takes place in June, The Avs will be forced to choose between keeping Calvin Pickard or Semyon Varlamov. Pickard seems like the close favourite to remain in an Avalanche jersey in the future. He’s four years younger than Varlamov, and only carries a $1 million cap hit until he becomes an RFA after next season. Varlamov on the other hand carries a $5.9 million cap hit through the 2018-2019 season, and has struggled at times this season.

Blake Comeau: The 30-year-old has 7 points in 30 games so far this season, and carries a cap hit of $2.4 million per year through the 2017-2018 season. Comeau racked up a respectable 36 points with the Avs last season, so Comeau and the Avs will no doubt be hoping he can turn it up a notch offensively by the time his contract is up after next season. Comeau contributes everywhere on the ice, and a veteran presence like his will be very valuable down the road.

Fedor TyutinThe 33-year-old defenseman will be a free agent at the end of the season, and could prove to be a valuable veteran if the Avs are able to re-sign him. Tyutin is currently averaging just over 20 minutes of ice time per game, good enough for top 3 on the Avs roster for skaters.

Carl Soderberg:  Joe Sakic and the front office will have to keep an eye on Carl Soderberg for the next year or two and decide whether or not he is worth the $4.75 million cap hit through the 2019-2020 season. Soderberg is a solid player, however cap space in the National Hockey League is an extremely valuable asset, and they will need to be cap space to accommodate the future contracts of Nikita Zadorov, Tyson Jost, Mikko Rantanen, or any other players who will demand a higher contract. Do you expose him in the expansion draft? Keep him for another year and attempt to trade him? Those are all decisions that general manager Joe Sakic and the front office will face.

Cody Mcleod: The 32-year-old from Binscarth, Manitoba leads the team in penalty minutes and fights, and has been held pointless through 22 games. McLeod is the type of gritty, blue collar player whose presence on the ice makes other players feel a little bit safer. The Avalanche front office will need to decide whether to stick with McLeod as their enforcer for the next few seasons or look elsewhere.

On the Bubble/ Need Monitoring

Player Pos. Age GP Pts Avg. Ice Time Notes
Joe Colborne C 26 28 4 11:50 6”5”. 44 points in 73 games for the Flames last season
Eric Gelinas D 25 15 1 12:10 6’4”. Acquired from the Devils for a 3rd round pick
Cody Goloubef D 27 7 2 16:21 6’1”. Acquired from CBJ for Ryan Stanton
Patrick Wiercioch D 26 30 8 17:45 6’5”. Powerful defenseman with good hands.
Andreas Martinsen LW 26 33 3 10:11 6’3” Power forward, and a good skater.
John Mitchell C 31 29 1 12:57 6’1” Scored 32 points in 75 games during the 2013/14 season

 

Departures

Although there are multiple players whose future in Denver will be up in the air over the next few seasons, there are a few players who are in the twilight of their careers and will no doubt be ready to ride off into the sunset in the near future. Jarome Iginla, Rene Bourque, and Francois Beauchemin are all players who are fighting father time. Let’s take a closer look.

Rene Bourque: The 35-year old from Lac La Biche, Alberta has declined steadily since he scored 58 points in 73 games for the Flames during the 2009-2010 season. Bourque has bounced between Calgary, Montreal, Anaheim, and Columbus before landing in Denver this season. His 12 points in 32 games is a reason for optimism, however his age is working to his disadvantage, and retirement will presumably be in the not too distant future.

Jarome Iginla: Jarome Iginla is one of the most experienced players in the National Hockey League, and he has enjoyed a successful 20-year career that has included two Olympic gold medals and six NHL All-Star Game appearances. During his illustrious NHL career, he has accumulated 1,282 points in 1,508 regular season games. At 39 however, “Iggy” is declining, posting career lows this season in points per game, and average ice time per game*.

*Statistic not available for 1996-1997,1997-1998 seasons.

Francois Beauchemin: The 36-year old defenseman is under contract until the end of the 2017-2018 season. Beauchemin is a natural leader, and he leads the Avalanche with 77 blocked shots at even strength. Colorado will need to monitor his regression and see if he is worth re-signing for an extra year or two in the future.

Prospects

Joe Sakic and the front office will also need to consider their prospects when making decisions over the next few years. Here are the top four Avalanche prospects who will most likely be wearing an Avalanche jersey in the not too distant future.

Tyson Jost: Avalanche fans should be licking their lips when they hear the name Tyson Jost. The 18-year old University of North Dakota freshman has 18 points in 17 games at the NCAA level this season and opened the scoring for Canada at the World Juniors on Monday night with a nifty backhander against the Russians. Drafted 10th overall in the 2016 draft, Jost has the potential to be a fan favourite and top six forward in Colorado.

AJ Greer: The 20-year old from Joliette, Quebec left Boston University last season to play for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL, and helped lead the team all the way to the Memorial Cup Final where they ultimately lost in overtime to the London Knights. At 6’3″, Greer has the size and skill set necessary to play consistent minutes at the NHL level in the near future.

JT CompherThe Avalanche acquired The 21-year old from Northbrook, Illinois in the deal that sent Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo in 2015. After racking up 63 points in 38 games and captaining the University of Michigan Wolverines to a Big Ten Championship last season, Compher was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. He took that momentum with him to San Antonio where he has 14 points in 16 games for the Avs’ AHL affiliate.

Chris Bigras: After appearing in 31 games for the Avalanche last season, Bigras was sent down to the San Antonio Rampage so he could get more ice time and speed up his development. A solid two-way defenseman, the 21-year old from Orillia, Ontario should be a mainstay on the Colorado blue line by next season, at the latest.

Conclusion

Although the Avalanche are currently in last place in the NHL standings, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. With a talented young core of players and promising prospects, the future could be bright for the Avs if they play their cards right.

If the season ended today, Colorado would have the best chance of any NHL team of landing the first pick in the 2017 draft, which would give the franchise an opportunity to add another top prospect to their system.

It’s definitely going to be a short term pain for long term gain type of situation happening in Denver, but Joe Sakic and the front office have the potential to bring the Avalanche back into contention in the next few years.

Main Photo:

LEAVE A REPLY