Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon© Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason has arrived for all but the two teams that still have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup.  It’s time to examine what those eliminated squads will need to accomplish over the coming months.  Next up is a look at Colorado.

After winning the Stanley Cup last year, expectations were high for the Avalanche heading into this season.  However, lingering injury issues for Gabriel Landeskog left them without a top winger for the entire year and they ultimately came up short in the first round, falling to Seattle.  Now, GM Chris MacFarland will be tasked with making some moves to try to get them heading toward what they hope will be a deep playoff run once again.


Add Second Center

With Nathan MacKinnon locked up for the long haul on his record-setting eight-year, $100.8M contract, Colorado doesn’t have to worry about finding a top-line center anytime soon.  However, they will need to address the vacancy at that position on the second line.


It’s a spot that the club largely tried to fill internally this season following the departure of Nazem Kadri to Calgary last summer.  The results were mixed as both Alex Newhook and J.T. Compher getting chances with varying degrees of success with newcomer Evan Rodrigues briefly getting a look as well.


 Compher responded with a career year, notching 52 points.  However, he’s set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer for the first time, and coming off the year he had (not to mention a marketplace that promises to be very friendly to him) out there, a return doesn’t seem likely.  Newhook still likely isn’t ready for the role and Rodrigues will also hit the open market next month.


That means that MacFarland will need to look outside the organization to fill that spot.  On the surface, this feels like a spot where Landeskog’s LTIR could be used; the captain has already been ruled out for the entire 2023-24 campaign, giving the Avs his full $7M contract to use, boosting their cap space to a little over $20M, per CapFriendly.  (They do, however, have as many as eleven players to sign with that room.)

However, given the uncertainty surrounding Landeskog’s long-term availability, acquiring someone on a multi-year contract with that money would carry some risk, especially knowing that there’s another big-ticket contract coming down the pipeline soon with Mikko Rantanen two years away from unrestricted free agency.  


As a result, their preference might be to look at someone on an expiring contract (which could have them turning to a certain division rival), allowing them to fill that spot while maintaining some longer-term flexibility.  Either way, it’s an area that will need to be addressed as they won’t have the luxury of filling it from within next season.


Re-Sign Key RFAs

Colorado has two prominent restricted free agents this summer and what they do with both of them will go a long way toward determining how aggressive they can be in trying to fill out the roster.  Bridge deals for Newhook and defenseman Bowen Byram are certainly defensible with how things have gone so far although, in a salary cap environment that is expected to be higher in the next couple of years, they’d be setting themselves up for less flexibility down the road in exchange for more flexibility now.


Newhook wasn’t able to grab a full-time top-six spot but it wasn’t all bad as the 22-year-old reached the 30-point mark for the second straight year while setting a new benchmark in goals with 14.  On top of that, he showed some improvement at the faceoff circle, beating his rookie season performance by nearly 7% although there is still a lot of work to do on that front.  The development might be slower than they hoped for but he should still factor into their future plans.  


It would be a gamble to give him a pricier long-term agreement unless they were convinced that a big jump in production is on the horizon.  The safer bet is a back-loaded two-year bridge contract around the $2.25M to $2.5M mark that buys both sides more time.


As for Byram, his case is a little less clear.  When he has been healthy, he has been a key part of their top four and has shown considerable improvement.  The soon-to-be 22-year-old logged nearly 22 minutes per game in both the regular season and the series against Seattle despite seeing limited time on special teams.  It stands to reason there’s another jump or two coming in his development.  However, he has a lengthy stretch of concussion concerns to the point where he briefly thought his career might have been over back in 2021.


If they lock him up on a long-term deal now, there’s a chance it become a very team-friendly one down the road but if he doesn’t stay healthy, it could be a problem for them fairly quickly.  With just 91 career regular season games under his belt, a bridge contract shouldn’t break the bank too much and should fall somewhere within the $3M range.  Meanwhile, a long-term agreement that buys out multiple UFA years could double that bridge amount.  With no arbitration eligibility, this could drag on but getting a contract done sooner than later would certainly help Colorado determine what else they can do in free agency this summer.


Toews Extension Talks

To say that Colorado has done quite well with the acquisition of Devon Toews would be an understatement.  When then-GM Joe Sakic acquired him from the Islanders for two second-round picks, it seemed like a low price to pay.  


He then signed Toews to a four-year contract that carries a $4.1M AAV.  Suffice it to say, it was already a team-friendly agreement heading into this season where all the 29-year-old did was put up 50 points and log over 25 minutes per game for the second straight year.  Now, it’s arguably one of the best-value contracts in the league.  Toews has one year left on that contract which means that he’s eligible to sign an extension as of July 1st.


How much will that new contract cost?  It seems fair to suggest that they won’t want to go past Cale Makar’s $9M AAV but if Toews has a third year like this one, his price tag could come pretty close to that number.

Can they afford that price point?  Potentially, especially depending on which route they go with Byram.  If both get long-term contracts, the price of their back end (which also includes Josh Manson for three more years at a $4.5M cap charge) is going to balloon in a hurry.  That’s not ideal for a team that is already top-heavy up front.


To that end, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Avs try to work out something early with Toews.  If they can get an extension in place in early July, it’s possible that they turn around and try to find a trade for Samuel Girard, who has four years left at $5M.


 That’s not a bad contract by any stretch – it’s arguable that it’s a below-market one – but they can’t afford to see their back end cost approach the $30M mark and with the injury trouble Manson had this season, it’s quite unlikely he moves which makes Girard the potential trade casualty.  In a free agent market that isn’t the deepest, Colorado could net a strong return for Girard’s services.  But they can’t really shop him too aggressively until they know that Toews is signed so in a perfect world, that domino falls rather quickly.


Upgrade Forward Depth

Colorado’s bottom-six group struggled as a unit this season.  For a lot of the time, the Avs were rarely playing their fourth line and when they weren’t on the ice, they weren’t able to get much going.  The end result was a frequent shuffling of low-cost personnel in the hopes that one or two of them would stick.  Eventually, they had to turn to the trade market, picking up Denis Malgin and Matthew Nieto, both of which at least stabilized things a little bit.


The majority of that unit is poised to turn over.  Veterans Darren Helm (who was injured most of the year), Andrew Cogliano, Nieto, and deadline acquisition Lars Eller are all unrestricted free agents.  Malgin is currently an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent but is a non-tender candidate just to avoid the possibility of going to a hearing.  Several of the recalls from the minors that got a chance during the season are also pending UFAs.  There is going to be considerable turnover in this group.


This year, finding capable low-cost options wasn’t easy in-season.  Now, there’s at least a chance to try to build a more complementary bottom six in the summer, albeit with similar financial restrictions as by the time they find a center and re-sign Newhook and Byram, a big chunk of their cap room will be gone.


 They will need to find the right mixture of veterans and under-the-radar depth pieces (with perhaps a waiver claim or two in training camp) to give head coach Jared Bednar a shot at running four lines with some regularity in 2023-24.  The options will be plentiful but with so many teams needing players at or near the league minimum, demand for some of these players is going to be high as well.