For the second straight season, the Colorado Avalanche were bounced in the second round of the NHL Playoffs.
Even with the lack of playoff success, the Avalanche has made the postseason in three-straight seasons and enter 2021 as one of the favourites to win the Stanley Cup. They’ve had an eventful offseason because they’re in win-now mode. After all, this championship window could close quickly. They need to get it done while they’ve got their stars on team-friendly deals. Gabriel Landeskog ($5.571M AAV) is due for a raise next offseason, and Cale Makar’s entry-level contract expires after the 2021 season. Signing those players will use up the cap-space they used this offseason to add Brandon Saad.
As it currently stands, the Avalanche have ≈$1.824 million in cap space (per PuckPedia.com) after signing recently acquired RFA Devon Toews to a four-year deal worth $16.4 million ($4.1M AAV).
Projected Forward Lines
Trading for Saad almost assures that Landeskog will play on the Nathan MacKinnon to start the 2021 season. Due to injuries last season, this was the only trio that played more than 200 minutes together. Of the 23 lines combinations that played over 350 minutes together in 2020, COL1 ranked 17th in GoalsFor% (48.8), 10th in GoalsFor/60 (3.39) and 21st in GoalsAgainst/60 (3.56). They weren’t nearly as good as they were in 2019 when they had a 61.3 GF%, 3.34 GF/60 and 2.11 GA/60. Still, this line features three of the best players in hockey, so I’d expect a bounce-back in 2021 if they can remain healthy.
Their second line will most likely have Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky together. Burakovsky was Kadri’s most used winger in 2020, and the duo had a stout 66.67 GoalsFor%, which ranked near the top of the NHL. Saad is in-line to skate on the left side and fits this line very well. He has the two-way instincts that pair well with Kadri and the speed and offensive ability that will look great on a line with Burakovsky. In 2020, this trio combined for 60 goals and 54 assists in a shortened season–a combined 88 goal, 80 assists per 82-game pace. That kind of production would be spectacular behind an ultra-productive MacKinnon-led line.
Their bottom-6 is where there is a little more uncertainty. While I would write the top-6 in pen, the bottom-6 is pencilled-in. What we know for sure is that @J.T. Compher and @Pierre-Edouard Bellemare will centre their third and fourth lines respectively. After that, Joonas Donskoi and Valeri Nichushkin could either flank Compher or both play on the right side on COL3 and COL4. Matt Calvert, Bellemare and Nichushkin was their second-most used line last season (140.4 TOI together) and had a rock-solid 60.0 GF%, so I’d expect them to play together frequently.
If that line remains intact, that leaves Tyson Jost to fill the void on the third line. However, it appears as if his days in Colorado are numbered. He was a healthy scratch to start the postseason and has a few young wingers breathing down his neck. @Logan O’Connor or Martin Kaut could play on the fourth line, which would move Nichushkin to the third line and Jost to the press box.
Projected Defensive Pairings
Colorado’s top-pair of @Ryan Graves and Makar was among the best D-pairs in the NHL in 2020. Of the 57 pairings that played at least 400 TOI together, Graves-Makar led the NHL in GoalsFor% (68.2), third in GF/60 (3.63) and sixth in GA/60 (1.7). Having that good of a pairing for less than $5.0 million is part of what makes the Avalanche so dangerous. At 25 and 21-years-old, this duo should be a fixture for the Avalanche for many years.
Their second pairing of Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson was also very good a season ago. They ranked 24th in GF% (55.3) and 21st in GA/60 (2.09), which is solid for a pair that starts in the defensive zone more often than not. Girard is coming off of a career-best 34 points (4G / 30A) and should be a bottom of the roster quality fantasy defenseman as long as he still sees PP2 time in 2021.
Toews is the reason why Girard’s PP2 status is in question, but I’d expect them to both play on that unit. Toews and Ian Cole may become the best third-pairing in the NHL this season. A year ago, Cole and Nikita Zadorov were second in GA/60 (1.5) while Toews and Scott Mayfield were fourth (1.57) while playing with the New York Islanders. Toews and Cole should be able to maintain strong defensive numbers and Toews should help improve their offensive upside. Like their forward lines, this blueline is sturdy from top-to-bottom.
Salary Cap Figures via PuckPedia.com