After last season, it’s probably fair to say that the Avalanche are in free fall. Since finishing first in their division and making the playoffs during the 2013-14 season, Colorado has steadily slipped in the standings.
To try and correct the trajectory, GM Joe Sakic made some moves this offseason, but it might be the moves he hasn’t made, yet, that will have the biggest effect on the upcoming season.
Gone are Mikhail Grigorenko, Rene Bourque, Francois Beauchemin, and Calvin Pickard. Grigorenko wasn’t offered a new contract and opted to sign with CSKA Moscow in the KHL, Bourque followed a similar path signing with Djurgardens IF Hockey of the Swedish Hockey League. In order to protect an extra player from Vegas’ expansion draft, Beauchemin was bought out of the final year of his contract, but goalie Calvin Pickard wound up being snatched away by the Golden Knights.
So who was brought in to fill the gaps, and hopefully improve the team in Colorado?
Jonathan Bernier was brought in to backup Varlamov on a one-year, $2.75 million contract. Bernier played 39 games for the Anaheim Ducks last season, posting a 2.50 GAA and a .915 save-percentage. He's also played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and LA Kings before, but has never been able to fully secure himself in a starting role.
Then there’s 27-year-old forward Colin Wilson, who was acquired in exchange for a fourth-round 2019 draft pick from the Nashville Predators. Wilson has 502 games of NHL experience, and managed 12 goals and 35 points in 70 games last season.
Nail Yakupov was also picked up out of free agency on a low-risk prove-yourself contract for one year and $875,000. The 2012 1st overall pick’s stock has fallen a long way since his debut in Edmonton, he played 40 games for the St. Louis Blues last season, managing only 3 goals and 9 points. He was a frequent healthy scratch before a knee injury took him out of the lineup for the rest of the season. Yakupov has a lot to prove, if he can’t make it work in Colorado, it’s a safe bet that his days in the NHL are numbered.
And that’s basically it, which is surprising to many.
Colorado is essentially in a rebuild, and perhaps their most pressing issue from last year was defense. The team let in 278 goals last season, with a goal differential of -112. Looking at those numbers, it should be obvious that scoring was also a problem last season.
Much speculation has been made that Matt Duchene and/or Gabriel Landeskog would be moved to net some quality prospects and picks, but so far Sakic hasn’t been able to pull the trigger.
There doesn’t seem to be a quick fix for the Avalanche. Even if some quality prospects came back from a big trade, Colorado would be worse in the short term. If those moves aren’t made, the problems that put them in a record-breaking hole last season will remain largely unaddressed. Sakic is caught between a rock and a hard place.
That doesn’t mean there isn't a silver lining here. Colorado does have some quality defensive prospects in their system, and their young group of forwards could mature this season into a more effective scoring force.
It might be too much to hope for a return to the playoffs, but a winning season could still be in the cards for the Avalanche. Especially if they can get some help from their prospect pool, which we'll be diving into next.