This is the latest file in THN.com’s ongoing analysis of offseason plans for the NHL’s 32 teams. On this day, we break down 2021-22 Stanley Cup winner Colorado Avalanche’s plan to continue his success.
Record 2021-22: 56-19-7
Finish in the Central Division: 1
Available disk space for salary cap (according to CapFriendly.com): $24.4 million
Restricted Free Agents: Nicholas Aube-Kubel, F; Arturri Lehkonen, F
Unrestricted Free Agents: Andrew Burakowski, F; Darren Helm, F; Nazem Kadri, F; Valerie Nichuskin, F; Nico Sturm, F; Jack Johnson, D; Josh Manson, D; Ryan Murray, D; Darcy Kuemper, GS
What Colorado has: A Stanley Cup-winning team that could so well win back-to-back trophies by winning it all again next season; a brilliant GM in Joe Sakic; Elite talent up front (led by Superstar Nathan MacKinnon) and back end (led by Calder Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cale Makar); speed to spare; and enough room for the salary cap to bring back at least some members of the 2021-22 roster who are now free agents
What Colorado needs: As much of her UFA talent as possible, taking advantage of hometown financial rebates; a new starting goalkeeper when UFA veteran Darcy Kuemper moves to greener pastures; at least one of the experienced UFA blueliners Josh Manson and Ryan Murray remains in Colorado.
What’s realistic for Colorado next season: The Tampa Bay Lightning proved this season that it’s realistic for elite teams not just to repeat themselves as cup champions, but to come within two wins of a straight run as champions. With superstars Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar leading the charge, the Avs were virtually unstoppable in the 2022 postseason, never going behind in a series and beating well-above teams like the Bolts and Edmonton Oilers along the way.
The challenge lies with Sakic to deal with the team’s salary cap issues and keep as much of his 2021-22 squad intact as possible. But there will be key wheels in the group that will almost certainly move on, and that starts with star center Nazem Kadri. The 31-year-old had a career season on offense (59 assists and 87 points in 72 games) and he’ll be making far more than the $4.5 million he made last season. Kadri is offered a multi-year deal worth $8-9m by a team – Seattle maybe? Washington maybe? – that the Avs just don’t fit into their payroll. The same goes for winger Valeri Nichushkin, a UFA who had his best NHL regular season (25 goals and 52 points in 62 games) and playoffs (nine goals and 15 points in 20 games). At 27, he is well respected inside and outside the Avs organization and is destined for a huge raise on top of the $2.5 million he earned last year.
Similarly, trade-deadline takeover Josh Manson is a UFA this summer, and he too deserves a raise. At age 30, Manson is no jumping chicken, but he’s integrated very well into Colorado’s locker room and may choose to forego the free-agent market to stick with a true Cup-leader. Then there’s the Avalanche’s goalie situation: 2021-22 No. 1 Darcy Kuemper is a UFA, and in a thin goalie market, he’s set to garner notable interest from multiple franchises. Kuemper is 32 years old and this could be his last and best shot at a long-term big-money deal, so despite the glory of winning a championship in Colorado, he too could be moving on.
If there’s an exodus from Denver, Sakic needs to dive into his pool of prospects. That pool has thinned somewhat as the Avs made moves for “The Now” rather than the future, but if Sakic can target two or three of his UFAs – we suspect he’ll keep Nichushkin, Manson and Kuemper – and can get some cap flexibility During the regular season, Colorado remains the top team in the Central Division and one of the best groups in the entire league. They could very well have a dynasty in Denver.