Avalanche vs. Lightning: Colorado can start their own potential dynasty by ending Tampa’s in Stanley Cup Final

It’s no secret that the Tampa Bay Lightning will be joining an elite corporation if they can win their third straight Stanley Cup. But what about the Colorado Avalanche? Could they also be the franchise on the cusp of something special in the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals?

To have the makings of a dynasty, a team needs a few championships under its belt. I think that’s where the avalanche will go when the dust settles on the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals.

Can the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup this season?

This is one of the more balanced Stanley Cup Finals the hockey world has seen in quite some time. There’s no arguing about that. There’s also no question that the Lightning have the advantage between the whistles due to the superhuman efforts of Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Still, the Avalanche just have too many rosters to stumble upon in a series like this.

The Avalanche won both matchups against the Lightning during the regular season. Colorado came away with a 4-3 shootout win and a 3-2 win behind three-point performances from Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog.

This is a group that has proven to be a juggernaut throughout the regular season and in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Since 1987, the Avalanche have become only the eighth team to suffer just two losses before the Stanley Cup Finals. The Avalanche also averaged a league-best 4.6 goals per game and tied for NHL goals (65). Also, Colorado converted 31.1 percent of its power play opportunities, which is the second best clip in the league behind the now-eliminated New York Rangers.

As I noted above, you can’t say that Colorado’s Darcy Kuemper is a better goaltender than Vasilevskiy. But as long as Kuemper stays healthy, the veteran goalie can do enough to keep the Avalanche in play – and the team’s offense can take care of the rest.

To this point, the Avalanche have faced two of the top five scorers in the postseason with the Oilers and the St. Louis Blues. While the Lightning have some dangerous scoring chances, this group isn’t nearly as lethal, averaging just 3.1 goals per game.

Will it be the beginning of a dynasty when Avalanche defeats Lightning?

To lay the foundation for a potential dynasty, the Avalanche must defeat a Lightning team that has won 11 consecutive playoff series. If they do that, I have no doubt that Colorado can establish itself as the next great NHL dynasty.

Just look at Colorado’s deep, young core group of talent. Stars like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Artturi Lehkonen and defender Cale Makar are all aged 26 or under. Gabriel Landeskog is just 29 years old.

Also, here’s a look at the current contract situation for the Avalanche core group:

  • Rantanen is in the third year of a six-year, $55 million deal and is suspended through the 2024-25 season
  • Makar is in the first year of a six-year, $54 million deal and will be signed for the 2026-27 campaign
  • Landeskog is in the first year of an eight-year, $56 million contract and is suspended until the 2028-29 season
  • MacKinnon is in the sixth year of a seven-year, $44.1 million contract and may be an unrestricted free agent after the 2023-24 season
  • Lehkonen has a one-year, $2.3 million deal that he signed with the Montreal Canadiens last summer before being traded to the Avalanche

Arguably the most important member of this group is Makar, who has quickly become one of the most gifted two-way defenders the sport has to offer. His 22 points and 17 assists are both the most by an Avalanche defenseman during a single postseason.

The 25-year-old star also has the second most playoff points among defensemen in Colorado’s turbulent history. That’s more than Rob Blake and Sandis Ozolinsh — two of the greatest defenders in franchise history.

The two jokers in this scenario are MacKinnon and Lehkonen.

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Lehkonen is set to become a restricted free agent after the 2021-22 season. While it’s not ideal for Colorado that Lehkonen can test the market, it’s hard to imagine him wanting to walk away from such a great situation.

Eventually, MacKinnon is slated to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2022-23 campaign. Teams vying for the championship obviously have tough decisions to make when it comes to retaining elite personnel (like Tampa has for the past few seasons), but it’s hard to see that the Avalanche isn’t doing everything what it takes to keep MacKinnon in the prime of his career. He has registered the third most points (442) in the league over the past five seasons behind only Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

With younger assets like MacKinnon and Lehkonen competing for free agency, a third difficult decision could involve Nazem Kadri, who is set to become a full free agent.

Kadri has enjoyed a career season in which he posted a career-high 87 points (28 goals and 59 assists) and added 14 points (six goals and eight assists) during Colorado’s playoff run. Although he has had a ton of success with the Avalanche, he will also turn 32 ahead of the 2022-23 season. With Kadri likely to command a pretty hefty salary in the free agent market, Colorado could just let him run, with the likes of MacKinnon and Lehkonen also set to compete for free agency next year.

As you can see, the building blocks are already in place, but a Stanley Cup win over the Lightning would really get a potential dynasty rolling. If the Avalanche can hold this core group together financially, this dynasty is very likely.

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