Just How Do The Colorado Avalanche Move On After The Horrible 2016-2017 Season?

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP

Well fellow Avalanche fans, I am glad that you asked! Honestly as bad as this last season looked, and I know it was bad. Things are looking pretty good for the franchise moving forward. Of course we had to find out that the team would take one more big punch to the stomach in the form of losing out on a top 3 pick in this years draft, but honestly, after the season we just witnessed as fans could we have anticipated anything else from the outcome of the draft lottery? I honestly don’t think so. Having the worst record in the NHL in the last 30 years is pretty tough to stomach, but then still losing out on the chance at a top overall pick? Well that I know personally was enough to send many fans I know over the edge, but I am here to tell you that there are some good things to look forward to starting as soon as next season!

So many in fact I am not sure where to start, so let’s just get started by taking a look at what most feel is our weakest area moving forward and that is on the blueline.

*Note all salary cap numbers are courtesy of CapFriendly your number one place for NHL cap information!

Defence

Right now the Avalanche have 4 defencemen under contract for next season at this point. Those players are…

Erik Johnson – Signed through the 2022-2023 season with a cap hit of $6,000,000.00
Tyson Barrie – Signed through the 2019-2020 season with a cap hit of $5,500,000.00
Francois Beauchemin – Signed through the 2017-2018 season with a cap hit of $4,500,000.00
Mark Barberio – signed through the 2017-2018 season with a cap hit of $750,000.00

They also have 2 restricted free agents (RFA) defencemen in the form of…

Nikita Zadorov – Previously made $894,167.00
Patrick Wiercoich – Previously made $800,000.00

The overwhelming opinion and thought is that the Avalanche will be announcing a buyout of defencemen Francois Beauchemin in the next few weeks here.

That would leave us with Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Mark Barberio. There is also overwhelmingly high anticipation that the Avalanche will also be resigning Nikita Zadorov who took some major steps in the development of his game over the course of this last season before breaking his ankle in practice down the stretch.

Personally, I have not heard any information confirming or denying that the team will or will not be retaining the services of Patrick Wiercoich, but if his play or lack thereof down the stretch was any indication then he will probably not be back with the Avalanche to start next season.

Yesterday we also heard that Andrei Mironov was likely heading to the Avalanche this next season as well. He is a solid young physical defenseman who played last season for The Dynamo Moskva (Moscow) of the KHL. Mironov was selected as a KHL All-Star this last season as well.

This would leave us with a defense corps of Johnson, Barrie, Barberio, Zadorov, Mironov. There is always a chance that Mironov could be sent back to the KHL after training camp and

(April 5, 2017 – Source: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America)

preseason, but as far as I understand it he was only given permission to get out of the last year of his deal in the KHL if he was going to be playing at the NHL level. So if the Avalanche does indeed sign this kid it would point to them anticipating that he will be with the Avalanche next season. They could always send him back to the KHL I suppose, but he can not get out of his KHL contract just to play in the AHL as far as I understand. If that is not correct please someone let me know in the comments, but that is what I am hearing and understanding at this point.

We would also add to this defense corp young players such as Anton Lindholm who in my honest opinion played very well once he was called up. He reminded me of a young Adam Foote when you look at his stat lines by the end of the season. (in 12 games he was averaging 4.7 blocks per 60 minutes.) Very impressive and he hit everything that moved without taking PIMS for it as well. (he also had 28 hits in those 12 games while taking only 2 penalty minutes total). Also in the running, if the Avalanche decides to retain his rights would be Duncan Siemens who again when called up late this last season looked pretty solid and much improved from where he was at the start of the season. The other major player in all of this would have to be thought to be Chris Bigras who spent this last season with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL. He looked very promising a season ago but spent much of this last year with injury issues. When healthy he did play solid in stretches but had a pretty rough season for the Rampage. He was only able to appear in 45 total games and he put up 19 points which isn’t bad for a defenceman but he was a -16 as well at that time.

When he was with the Avalanche more recently he just seemed to be playing a bit nervous or tentative. I am not sure what happened because when he first came up with the Avalanche he did not seem to show much of that tentativeness or nervousness at all. Hopefully, he can get it worked out and pull his game together moving forward.

Now the last major player/situation that we could be looking at is if the rumors are true that Matt Duchene is going to be traded at or before the NHL Draft this offseason. While even Duchene himself admitted as much that the last game of this season could very well be his last with the Colorado Avalanche there does not seem to be much doubt that this move is going to

image credit goes to NHL.com

happen. The expected return for Duchene is and will have to be according to Joe Sakic current Colorado Avalanche General Manager would be a top young NHL-ready defenceman and a 1st round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. The most likely trade partner seems to be the Carolina Hurricanes for a Duchene move. We will touch a bit more on that later on though.

So realistically we are looking at a defense core next season that would be any mix of these players (As long as no one on defense gets claimed via waiver draft by the Vegas Golden Knights).

Erik Johnson
Tyson Barrie
Mark Barberio
Nikita Zadorov
Andrei Mironov
Duncan Siemens
Anton Lindholm
24-year-old or younger NHL ready D-man via Duchene trade
Chris Bigras

Honestly, the right combination of these players together could form a much-improved defense corp for the Avalanche. In my honest opinion depending on what player they get in the Duchene trade this could be one of the better defense corps that the Avalanche has had in some time.

The players thought to be in play potentially with the Hurricanes in a Duchene deal would be players such as Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Ryan Murphy, possibly Jacob Slavin but that is not too likely at this point… though Avalanche fans would love it.

Next, we will take a look at the forwards

The forwards who the Avalanche currently have under contract going into next season are…

Nathan MacKinnon – Signed through the 2022-2023 season at $6,300,000.00 per season
Matt Duchene – Signed through the 2018-2019 season at $6,000,000.00 per season
Gabriel Landeskog – signed through the 2020-2021 season at $5,571,429.00 per season
Carl Soderberg – Signed through the 2019-2020 season at $4,750,000.00 per season
Joe Colborne – Signed through the 2017-2018 season at $2,500,000.00 per season
Blake Comeau – Signed through the 2017-2018 season at $2,400,000.00 per season
J.T. Compher – Signed through the 2018-2019 season at $925,000.00 per season
Tyson Jost – Signed through the 2018-2019 season at $916,667.00 per season
Mikko Rantanen – Signed through the 2018-2019 season at $894,167.00 per season

The team also has these players who the team holds the RFA rights to resign if they choose to..

Mikhail Grigorenko
Matt Nieto
Sven Andrighetto

I would have to imagine that from everything I am hearing and saw this last season that Sven Andrighetto is a lock to be re-signed by the Avalanche. In 19 games that he played in for the Avalanche after being picked up in the trade with the Canadiens, he put up 5 goals and 10 assists for 15 points. He looked to find quick chemistry with Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen and both players played some of their best hockey down the stretch when on the line with Sven.

As for Matt Nieto, I really liked what he brought to the special teams on the penalty kill and how hard he played. I would not be surprised at all to see him resigned as well.

Image Credit: Nhl.com

As for Grigorenko, I appear to be in the quiet small minority that feels like he is way too young and way too skilled with the puck in and around the net to give up on quite yet. I seem to be hearing from most Avalanche media and fans that they want him gone and don’t care, but after seeing some of the amazing things he has been able to do (albeit very rarely with many games in between the events happening) I do feel like at only 22 years of age it is way too early to be giving up on him. Honestly, I feel like he is one of those players that in a year or 2 more will pull his game together and by 24 be a player that is scoring consistently in the NHL and showing those soft hands around the net on a nightly basis.

Expiring contracts this offseason

Rene Bourque
John Mitchell

Young forward players who might challenge for a spot out of camp include

Rocco Grimaldi
Samuel Henley
Gabriel Bourque
A.J. Greer
Cameron Morrison

While I do not think that Cameron Morison is quiet ready to make the jump to the NHL just yet he might come to camp and impress everyone. Out of these players, I think that A.J. Greer has the highest chance to make the team next season followed by Rocco Grimaldi as he showed when he was called up in his second stint with the team that anytime he was on the ice something positive was happening for the team offensively. He has an engine that never stops.

Both Samuel Henley and Gabriel Bourque I think will have a shot possibly at making the bottom 6 to help round out the physical play for the team as well next season.

Let’s put that all together now and give a look at what the lines might look like roughly…

Forwards lines Idea #1

Andrighetto MacKinnon Rantanen
Landeskog   Jost               Tippett/Vilardi/ (anticipating a wing here) / Grigorenko
Soderberg   Compher     Greer
Nieto            Colborn       Comeau

scratches/extras

Grigorenko (if resigned)

Forward Lines Idea #2

Landeskog      Jost            MacKinnon *See Quick Note
Andrighetto   Compher   Rantanen
Nieto              Soderberg  Comeau
Greer             Colborne     Whoever we draft at 4/Grigorenko

*Quick Note about MacKinnon production wise – he has played his best hockey for us in his short time in the NHL on the right wing position when playing with a very good 2-way center who has a very good passing ability. Aka Paul Stastny or Ryan O’Rielly. Think back to that playoff series against the wild? I think that either Compher or Jost would be able to display that great 2-way game and great passing to help set MacKinnon up for more 1 timers and open shots. Jost especially showed some of his incredible passing ability and ability to carry the puck and set up his linemates in the few games we got to see from him at the end of the season.

There are many other combinations that we could play around with here as well and 99 percent of it will all come down to who has the chemistry together in camp and preseason etc. but you can get an idea that looking at a couple ideas on paper that we look like a very solid group up front even if we do indeed trade Matt Duchene for help on defence.
Defence

Erik Johnson      Nikita Zadorov/Hanifin/Faulk/Murphy – whatever d is in the trade
Tyson Barrie     Nikita Zadorov/Hanifin/Faulk/Skinner/Murphy – Whatever d is in the trade
Mark Barberio/Lindholm  Duncan Siemens/Andrei Mironov

Scratches/Extras

Chris Bigras
and whatever D is not in the lineup.

Again as with the forward lines, there are many combinations that we could play around with here as well, but I really do like the look of this potential blue line group moving forward with the team. There has also been a more heated rumor in the recent weeks about a trade that many feel is very unlikely at first, but that I have been hearing more and more rumblings about and that is an Erik Johnson or Tyson Barrie trade for Johnathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lighting.

While I first thought of this to be some Avalanche fans pipe dream to again reunite MacKinnon and Drouin there is just too much smoke at this point to completely dismiss a possibility. If we do move Duchene for a young NHL ready defencemen I could see a Drouin deal with the Avs

Image Credit goes to Nhl.com

involving Johnson being more likely. That would give the Lightning a top 3 defenceman grouping of Hedman, Stralman, and Johnson… and that is a defense core that you head to the postseason ready to go to battle with as the great A.J Haefle from BSN Avalanche noted in his recent podcast when the thought/rumor came up.

Now I am concerned that Barberio will be claimed in the Golden Knights expansion draft, but I am hoping that the team is able to keep him around. He really reminds me the more I watched him last season of a young John Micheal Liles. I really think that on a good solid team he could be a solid effective player, especially on the Power Play.

In The Nets

Thanks to the great work at BSN Avalanche we know that the team is going to be protecting Semyon Varlamov in the expansion draft this offseason. The article that can be seen here also mentions that this could all change if Varlamov is not progressing as he should be after his two surgeries that he had over this last season, but the team fully expects and anticipates that not only will he continue to progress well but that he will be able to regain the form that he had 3 seasons ago when he was a Vezina Finalist.  While I do not agree that they should just let Calvin Pickard be exposed like that, I do believe that from the start of the season after Varlamov was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy something looked off. I wasn’t sure what it was, but if he truly had been suffering from injuries and in need of surgery for 3 years that would sure help explain why his explosiveness was just gone as we all saw. While its a risk, I think that the better risk would be to protect Pickard here as I do not feel that the Golden Knights would take any risk on Semyon Varlamov who has an almost 6 million dollar cap hit and is coming off 3 straight rough injury riddled seasons and coming off 2 surgeries this last season. That way the team would be able to hold onto their young goalie in Pickard who is just 24 years old, and still keep Varlamov as well. Maybe I am looking at the whole situation in a way overly simplistic manner, but I don’t see why it would need to be any more complicated than that. There is also the chance that the Avalanche has made a deal with the Golden Knights to not take Pickard or to select a specific player, and that will be something that we watch very closely and will be covering here at Puck Planet as we learn more and get closer to the expansion draft.

While I do not agree that they should just let Calvin Pickard be exposed like that, I do believe that from the start of the season after Varlamov was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy something looked off. I wasn’t sure what it was, but if he truly had been suffering from injuries and in need of surgery for 3 years that would sure help explain why his explosiveness was just gone as we all saw. While its a risk, I think that the better risk would be to protect Pickard here as I do not feel that the Golden Knights would take any risk on Semyon Varlamov who has an almost 6 million dollar cap hit and is coming off 3 straight rough injury riddled seasons and coming off 2 surgeries this last season. That way the team would be able to hold onto their

Image Credit: Nhl.com

young goalie in Pickard who is just 24 years old, and still keep Varlamov as well. Maybe I am looking at the whole situation in a way overly simplistic manner, but I don’t see why it would need to be any more complicated.

That way the team would be able to hold onto their young goalie in Pickard who is just 24 years old, and still keep Varlamov as well. Maybe I am looking at the whole situation in a way overly simplistic manner, but I don’t see why it would need to be any more complicated than that. There is also the chance that the Avalanche has made a deal with the Golden Knights to not take Pickard or to select a specific player, and that will be something that we watch very closely and will be covering here at Puck Planet as we learn more and get closer to the expansion draft.

There is also the chance that the Avalanche has made a deal with the Golden Knights to not take Pickard or to select a specific player, and that will be something that we watch very closely and will be covering here at Puck Planet as we learn more and get closer to the expansion draft.

Coaching

Many fans out there that I have spoken with are ready to write the entire season off to blame on one man, fire him move on and supposedly things will all be rosy after that. Who is that man do you ask? That man is Coach Bednar. Now that is the overwhelming opinion I am hearing from fans of the team, but it is not by any stretch of the imagination the opinion that I share, let me explain why.

First of all the first argument, I have for holding onto Bednar for at least this next season is by taking a look at the Columbus Blue Jackets. The last 3 seasons Bednar has been the head coach for their AHL affiliate team. He has been working with and developing their young players the previous 3 years before he took over for the Avalanche as their new head coach when Patrick Roy decided a month before the season started that he was done and leaving. The Blue Jackets had been a historically bad team for as long as most can remember. They had been generally a team in the draft lottery discussions at the end of each season and were at least loading up on some decent draft picks to send to the AHL. That is where Coach Bednar got to work. He worked very hard with those players and the young team that they were fielding in the AHL and not only did he help to develop those young players into the team who this last season made it to the playoffs and had a remarkable 10+ game winning streak, but he won the AHL Championship with the team in his last season with them as well.

This next season as we look at the Avalanche’s potential line up above we can notice that the team is going a very young direction. This is something that I think we have exactly the man we need in charge of to help mold, guide and direct them into a winning franchise. We have some definite top end young players and we have some great bottom 6 young kids as well in the mix. The team will be adding in all likelihood at least 1 more young top player at number 4 in the draft as well as potentially another in the 11-15 range if they do trade Matt Duchene.

We have some definite top end young players and we have some great bottom 6 young kids as well in the mix. The team will be adding in all likelihood at least 1 more young top player at number 4 in the draft as well as potentially another in the 11-15 range if they do trade Matt Duchene.

Sep 27, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar looks on during the third period of a preseason hockey game against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Avalanche defeated the Wild 4-1. Image Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports.

Everywhere that Bednar has coached or played at he has won a championship. He is a tireless worker and gives his craft his 150 percent dedication and thought. When any coach, heck even someone like Coach Q with the Blackhawks who has had such almost unparalleled success over the last 7 or so years would have had some issues if he was preparing all offseason to coach one team and knowing the personnel the players and personalities the other coaches etc. then was told oh by the way the season starts in a month and you are now going to be coaching in this new town and team. Good luck, try to get everything together, learn the team, gain the respect of the team, learn the coaches learn the new city, find a house etc.

While I do think that all that is something to think about when deciding if we give Coach Bednar another shot, I think that we also need to understand that this season should be one with a short leash as well. If the team is not showing significant improvement and development over the last season in the first couple of months then I think that it would be time to have a serious conversation about what to do moving forward.

On the same coaching note, one thing that I think absolutely HAS to happen is a change with assistant coach Tim Army. Going back to the days of Joe Sacco as our head coach he has been over the power play unit for the Avalanche. Honestly, can any of you remember a season where we had an incredible power play in the last 8 years? heck, even a mediocre one? Yeah, me either.. really the last time I thought we had a decent power play was the year we went to the playoffs last, but even then it was more us scoring when we pulled our goalie then actually being on a legitimate power play. I think that if we are able to let Bednar bring in one of his guys to man the power play even if we just move Tim Army over to another position or to be in charge of something else that it would be an immense improvement to our on-ice product. This is by no means anything against Tim Army as a man or person as I have never met him and I am sure that he is a great guy. It’s just been long enough that for whatever reason him being over the power play unit just is not seeming to work right now.

I think that if we are able to let Bednar bring in one of his guys to man the power play even if we just move Tim Army over to another position or to be in charge of something else that it would be an immense improvement to our on-ice product. This is by no means anything against Tim Army as a man or person as I have never met him and I am sure that he is a great guy. It’s just been long enough that for whatever reason him being over the power play unit just is not seeming to work right now.

Most of the time when a new head coach takes over a team there is time to decide if he wants to get to know and retain the current coaching staff. That I feel happened to some degree when Bednar took over, but it was much less able to happen due to how late in the process we were at that point. I think that Bednar if he truly does have the trust and faith of Joe Sakic as he has said on multiple occasions then he should be given the chance to bring in his own assistants and staff that he feels he needs to produce a winning product on the ice for the Avalanche in the years to come.

GM/Other Personnel

Another thing that most Avalanche fans seem torn on that I have spoken with the last couple of months is if they feel like they are confident in and believe in Joe Sakic the GM. I think that there are definitely some things that I do not agree with that have been done and there are also a few things that I feel have been done very well also. The whole thing boils down to one more move to me. I think that Joe deserves to finish his Matt Duchene trade. As soon as that is done, I think that it will go a long way to say if Joe should stick around or not as far as the General Manager goes. Honestly, as much as it pains me to say it if he completely botches this trade come the draft it’s going to set us back far enough that it might just be time to move on. On the other hand, if Joe is able to pull off a legitimately solid deal (1st this year plus a young NHL ready defencemen) anything more then that will be mega impressive to me as I don’t see anyone being willing to pay that high at the moment for Matt Duchene in the current situation that we are in.

The whole thing boils down to one more move to me. I think that Joe deserves to finish his Matt Duchene trade. As soon as that is done, I think that it will go a long way to say if Joe should stick around or not as far as the General Manager goes. Honestly, as much as it pains me to say it if he completely botches this trade come the draft it’s going to set us back far enough that it might just be time to move on. On the other hand, if Joe is able to pull off a legitimately solid deal (1st this year plus a young NHL ready defencemen) Then he should stick around. Anything more then that will be mega impressive to me as I don’t see anyone being willing to pay that high at the moment for Matt Duchene in the current situation that we are in.

Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

There have been some rumors a couple of months back that now that Pierre Lacroix has regained his health that he would love to come back and help to rebuild and turn the Avalanche around. At this point, there have been no attempts to reach out to him by the Avalanche that I have heard of, but that can always change quickly. I personally would not mind seeing Joe bring Pierre back in and taking a year or two to learn a bit from him. Just kind of take an assistant GM type role and really soak in what he can learn from Pierre in a couple of seasons. If I am wanting to be the best I can at something I surround myself with those people who are the best at that situation or job. Then I can personally learn and better myself and my skill and craft in that area. I think that a similar mindset and situation could be mutually beneficial for the franchise at this point in time and for Joe if he wants to continue on as a GM and be in the NHL front office work for many more years to come.

I personally would not mind seeing Joe bring Pierre back in and taking a year or two to learn a bit from him. Just kind of take an assistant GM type role and really soak in what he can learn from Pierre in a couple of seasons. If I am wanting to be the best I can at something I surround myself with those people who are the best at that situation or job. Then I can personally learn and better myself and my skill and craft in that area. I think that a similar mindset and situation could be

If I am wanting to be the best I can at something I surround myself with those people who are the best at that situation or job. Then I can personally learn and better myself and my skill and craft in that area. I think that a similar mindset and situation could be mutually beneficial for the franchise at this point in time and for Joe if he wants to continue on as a GM and be in the NHL front office work for many more years to come.

Conclusion

While this has been a rough season for a myriad of reasons congratulations Avalanche fans! We made it through and are coming out on the other side. We have much greener pastures to be looking forward to moving into the offseason and next season’s camp and preseason. What do you think about the overall direction of the team right now? Do you feel like I missed anything big in this article? If so please feel free to comment on the article here and I would love to continue the discussion with all the passionate Avalanche fans out there! Until next time,

What do you think about the overall direction of the team right now? Do you feel like I missed anything big in this article? If so please feel free to comment on the article here and I would love to continue the discussion with all the passionate Avalanche fans out there! Until next time,

#LetsGoAvalanche!

Ryan

Ryan Crappa is the 29-year-old owner and manager of Puck Planet. He has been a very passionate hockey fan, and more specifically Colorado Avalanche fan going on 17 years now. There have been very few seasons that he has missed more than a couple of games in very dire situations. He has always had a passion for writing as well from a young age. Roughly three years ago when another opportunity was coming to an end he decided to take as many classes and courses as he could to begin to prepare himself to launch this project. Three years later here we are today. If you would like to hear more about Ryan Crappa, the website, or any of the amazingly passionate and talented writers that we have on staff feel free to contact him at RyanCrappa@PuckPlanet.com

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