2018 Offseason Preview: Colorado Avalanche

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Colorado Avalanche and their outlook for the summer.

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The 2017-18 Colorado Avalanche came off of the worst season in the salary cap era with a 43-30-9 record and 95-point performance on the year, finishing 4th in the Central Division and clinching the final wild card spot in the 2018 postseason with a win in their final game of the regular season against the St. Louis Blues.

St. Louis entered that game in April, in fact, ahead of the Avs in the standings by a point with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators in the First Round.

Not only did Colorado win, but they completed an unthinkable turnaround.

This, after trading the 3rd overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Matt Duchene, to the Ottawa Senators as part of a three team trade that saw the Avalanche flip Kyle Turris to the Nashville Predators, collecting a large package combined that included rookie defender Samuel Girard.

While one trade alone doesn’t put General Manager Joe Sakic in the hunt for the NHL’s GM of the Year award, the incredible turnaround in on-ice performance led by head coach, Jared Bednar, put Bednar in consideration for the 2017-18 Jack Adams Award.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Sakic currently holds onto the 16th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and two second round picks (Colorado’s own and one from the Predators as part of the Duchene trade).

While the conditional 2018 1st round pick from the Ottawa Senators in the Duchene deal was top-10 protected, the Sens will surrender a 2019 first round pick to the Avalanche instead.

Regardless, Sakic and his scouting crew will have plenty of attractive “best available” talent to choose from in the middle of the first round (namely, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joseph Veleno, Jack McBain, Jared McIsaac and others).

Pending free agents

Colorado has about $22.900 million to spend this summer with Blake Comeau, Matt Nieto and Nail Yakupov as the only current-NHL roster pending free agent forwards.

Comeau, 32, is a pending-UFA that bounced back from 2016-17’s down year (remember when Carl Soderberg had 14 points that season? Carl. Soderberg.), with an average of 30 points in his three seasons in the Mile High city.

He’s been around the league a bit in his career, but he resurfaced as a durable forward on an otherwise young roster, amassing 13-21–34 totals in 79 games played with the Avalanche this season.

Nieto, 25, is a pending-RFA that was claimed off waivers last season by Colorado and had his best season since 2014-15 with the San Jose Sharks, scoring 15 goals and 11 assists (26 points) in 74 games for the Avs in 2017-18.

The biggest difference maker for the Avalanche this offseason is not messing things up. Keeping Nieto isn’t harmful to the team’s future as their younger players come into their own and a small term deal won’t hurt as the younger players gain experience.

In short, there’s nothing for Sakic to lose in building a roster that makes the playoffs for a second consecutive year. Not many expected them to be at the point of playoff contention this season, so any step forward is better than a step backward as Colorado continues to retool for a Cup run (someday).

If there’s one pending-RFA Sakic should have an easy time letting go of, it’s Nail Yakupov.

The 24-year-old 1st overall pick in the 2012 NHL Enty Draft signed a one-year deal with Colorado in attempt to resurrect his career. It did not go as planned, despite scoring often and scoring early in the regular season.

Yakupov produced nine goals and seven assists (16 points) in 58 games with the Avalanche in the regular season and was scratched for their entire 2018 postseason run.

That alone is an indication.

While he almost doubled his offensive production this season compared to his final year with the St. Louis Blues (3-6–9 totals in 40 games in 2016-17), it doesn’t appear he can be part of an NHL lineup with enough consistency.

At best, Yakupov is the one you least expect to score, but then surprises everyone with the occasional goal. At worst, he’s just taking up a roster spot you could be giving to someone else.

Sakic already tried the low-risk, high-reward with Yakupov. It’s best to move on.

On defense, Patrik Nemeth, 26, and Duncan Siemens, 24, are both pending-RFAs.

Nemeth was claimed off waivers early last October from the Dallas Stars and scored his first career NHL goal with Colorado (and then two more) this season. He first broke into the league with Dallas in the 2013-14 season and had 3-12–15 totals in 68 games with the Avs in 2017-18.

He’s a low cost top-6 blueliner on a roster with about 10 NHL caliber defensemen. Whether Nemeth returns or not comes down to how Sakic envisions the roster– with Nikita Zadorov entering a contract year and Tyson Barrie potentially hitting the open market in July 2020– and how Bednar thinks he’s going to play everyone.

The 11th overall pick of the Avalanche in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Siemens scored his first NHL goal and recorded his first career assist in 16 games played. That’s the most he’s played in a season after appearing in his first career game in 2014-15.

There’s nothing holding him back from leaving the organization in search of a place that’ll give him more of a chance, but if he’s comfortable enough in Colorado, that’s fine too. Realistically speaking, he won’t be back with an NHL job in Denver, though.

In goal, the Avalanche have on goaltender under contract for 2018-19 and it’s 30-year-old Semyon Varlamov.

With a $5.900 million cap hit, Varlamov isn’t all that bad– as trade bait. But who would buy an oft-injured goaltender plateauing past his prime?

Injuries once again plagued the veteran starter down the stretch, but his numbers technically improved. Again, it’s an almost automatic technicality coming off of 2016-17, but Varlamov did produce a 2.68 goals against average and .920 save percentage in 51 games this season (which was close to his 2.56 GAA and .921 SV% in 57 games in 2014-15 with Colorado).

His next game will be his 400th career NHL game and if Sakic tosses around the idea of retaining some salary, the Avalanche could possibly find a new home for the goaltender, while seeking a legitimate number one.

Spencer Martin, 23, is a pending-RFA that last played at the NHL level in 2016-17. He is 0-2-1 in his short three game NHL career with a 4.35 GAA and an .865 SV% in the worst season for the franchise since moving to Denver.

Backup goalie, Jonathan Bernier, 29, is a pending-UFA that in 37 games with the Avs this season, amassed a 2.85 GAA and .913 SV% with a 19-13-3 record. That’s down from his 2.50 GAA, .915 SV% and 21-7-4 record in 39 games with the Anaheim Ducks in 2016-17– ignoring the experience along the blueline Anaheim’s defense has over Colorado’s.

The problem with Bernier is that while he’s a backup goaltender, he’s been subpar with average teams. In 2015-16 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bernier was once again relegated to being a backup goalie for the first time since his breakout days behind Jonathan Quick with the Los Angeles Kings.

In 20 fewer games than 2014-15 (his last as a starter, in which he had a 2.87 GAA and .912 SV%), Bernier posted a 12-21-3 record with a 2.88 GAA and .908 SV% in 38 games with Toronto. Yikes.

Could the Avalanche take a stab at trying to acquire pending-RFA Philipp Grubauer from the Washington Capitals?

Sure, but let’s remember, they tried getting a Washington goaltender (in Varlamov) before to be their number one, so there’s no guarantees.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Rocco Grimaldi (UFA), Felix Girard (RFA), Jesse Graham (RFA), Joe Cannata (UFA), Mason Geertsen (RFA), Joe Colborne (UFA), Ryan Graves (RFA), Andrew Hammond (UFA), Reid Petryk (RFA), Trent Vogelhuber (UFA)