Thursday, May 04, 2017

Pool Outlook for Colorado

When we were all watching the World Cup of Hockey in the preseason, I'm sure many of us were thinking that the Colorado Avalanche were finally going to make some noise.  Nathan MacKinnon was a dynamo for the Under-23 North American team and Matt Duchene was dancing on the ice, like he was the 3rd overall pick in 2009 we all believed he would be.  This was going to be a good year for the Avalanche, it had to be.

But then the puck dropped on the 2017 NHL regular season and as much as MacKinnon tried to poke through, Duchene was no help and the Avalanche were flatter than a deflated bicycle tire.

Overall, the Avalanche finished with a league-worst, 22 wins, absolutely dead last in the league and like everyone else, the questions need to be asked... how did it get this bad?  Two 1st overall picks in tow, a 2nd overall pick, a 3rd overall pick, two 10th overall picks, an 11th, a 12th, a pair of 16th... could it really be the players?  Did management apply the right formula or find the right coach to guide this band of over-qualified losers?  We can speculate all we like, the fact of the matter is, they were the worst team and it will need some serious fixing before we start talking about winning in Denver.

There was certainly a little bit of hesitance with the amount of excitement that the Avalanche's potential had this season, as the pool were not too quick to start drafting from the Mile High City.  Semyon Varlamov, the injury prone goalie, was the highest pick, taken 46th overall, late in the 2nd round and MacKinnon wasn't taken until the 3rd round, 62nd overall.  Only six players were taken in the first 250 and another seven were taken after the 10th round.  The first Waiver Draft was a mass exodus, dropping four Avs, picking up one, while the second was dropping four and picking up none.  Not very popular at all.

Was the Avalanche bad because their best players were not very good or were their best players not very good, because the team around them was not very good?  MacKinnon was their top pool player in the 2017 season, he finished with 16 goals (4th on the team) and 53 points to be 102nd overall in pool scoring, which is only good enough to have been a 5th round pick in this year's draft.  If you have any idea, whether or not it was the chicken or the egg in Colorado, you're more than welcome to your opinion.

So, with 25 pool teams this year, being pool worthy means that you're either in the top 200 of the forwards, top 100 of the defensemen or top 50 of the goalies.  The Avalanche finished with three forwards: MacKinnon, Duchene and Mikko Rantanen, no defensemen (Tyson Barrie finished 218th among defenders) and one goalie, Calvin Pickard, who took over for Semyon Varlamov after his major groin injury.  How will anyone have faith in these guys next season?

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The off-season moves or lack thereof will be the most telling signs for this Colorado team in 2017, as they prepare to work against a strong Central Division, which is showing no signs of letting up any time soon.  Somehow, their group either has to shape up internally or it could be a long year of coming close every night, with the odd night of blow outs, either for or against.  If Varlamov can get a little bit more help in front of him, mostly in his own zone, the Avalanche should be that much better.  Still, it's going to be a grind, since most of their main opposition is far more physical than this Avalanche group.  Right now, I don't think the Avalanche have the tools to make the playoffs, but that's what the off-season is for, right?

No, the Avalanche did not make the playoffs.  Far from it.  Man, they were terrible.

2018 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Nathan MacKinnon 6.300 Erik Johnson 6.000 Calvin Pickard 1.000
Matt Duchene 6.000 Tyson Barrie 5.500
Gabriel Landeskog 5.500 Francois Beauchemin 4.500
Mikko Rantanen 0.894
Carl Soderberg 4.750 Nicolas Meloche 0.853 Semyon Varlamov 5.900
Joe Colborne 2.500 Mark Barberio 0.750
Blake Comeau 2.400 Anton Lindholm 0.718
J.T. Compher 0.925 Sergei Boikov 0.682
Tyson Jost 0.917 Mason Geertsen 0.650
J.C. Beaudin 0.765
A.J. Greer 0.742
Julien Nantel 0.680
Reid Petryk 0.623
Trent Vogelhuber 0.613

There are always going to be hockey pool people looking at a team's goaltending and looking for the number one guy.  It is worth asking the question, who will be the number one guy in Colorado next season?  And maybe more so, will this team be bad again next year?  The pool will go back to the MacKinnon's, the Duchene's, the Barrie's and even the Varlamov's, but how much value will actually be put into them, how high will they go?

Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft

Both Erik Johnson and Francois Beauchemin require protection, due to their contracts, leading up to the expansion draft, but it could be negotiated otherwise, of course.  The Avalanche definitely have some tough decisions to make, especially since they already have a couple defensemen on their protected list already.  Do they go 4F/4D, leaving Mikhail Grigorenko exposed or go 7F/3D and leaving Nikita Zadorov exposed?  I'm going with the four defensemen route, as there isn't enough forwards I would want to protect.  Or will it even matter with their goaltending situation?  Do the Avalanche expose the big contract of Semyon Varlamov or the three fewer years in Calvin Pickard?  I would expose Varlamov, personally.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

If the Colorado Avalanche are truly okay with their core, of course there will be arguments one way or the other, free agency isn't a big issue for the Avalanche.  They are not poised to lose anyone of much merit through unrestricted free agency and even restricted free agency isn't going to cost them a great deal of concern or cap space.  The 24 players signed above are only coming in at $60.7 million in cap space, leaving lots of space for next season.

The NHL ran the gamut over the University of North Dakota, once they were eliminated from the NCAA Frozen Four tournament and the Colorado Avalanche were no exception, as they were able to sign and bring the 10th overall selection from last Summer, forward Tyson Jost, to town and dress him for six games, where he was able to see some NHL action before the end of the year, registering a single goal.  There is lots of excitement around this kid, as he has some real offensive upside and vision, it will be interesting to see what he does in the Summer to improve his strength for the 2018 season.

Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft

Falling from 1st overall to 4th overall is a pretty solid kick in the pants for the Colorado Avalanche, a team that did everything in their power to give themselves the best shot at the top pick in the draft.  Nevertheless, there they are in 4th and with this pick, they should continue to build with what they can get.  My initial instinct would be to draft someone who has the capability to possibly jump into the lineup right away and contribute and a kid like Gabriel Vilardi, ranked well by both the Central Scouting and International Scouting lists, has the size at 6'3" and 201 lbs., and has some good junior numbers to back up the high selection.  Being available at #4 would be a good steal for the Avs.

I don't think it's unfair to say that the Avalanche are only a piece or two away from finally taking all that talent and breaking out.  There's also a certain possibility that they already have that piece in Tyson Barrie, as they have been waiting for him to realize his potential.  Whether or not he still needs a touch more help somewhere and somehow, that's up for debate as well.  Between MacKinnon, Duchene, Landeskog and even looking at what Jost can be, they should have the tools to work this out and/or trade one of them away to get that extra piece that they need.  The Avalanche are going to be an interesting team to watch in the off-season and it will be those potential pieces that determines where they end up at this time next year.
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