In April, shortly after the NHL trade deadline, when Avs general manager Joe Sakic said “this is as deep a team as we’re going to have here,” he wasn’t being hyperbolic or trite.
Not at all.
Last season was the Avs’ chance at winning the whole thing. Joe knew that. His head coach knew it. Every guy in the Avalanche dressing room knew it. Why? Because everyone was very aware of the contract situations that would present itself this offseason.
Now, that’s not to say the Avs don’t have a chance this season or the next, no. The championship window is not closed—far from it. But are the shades slowly being drawn? It’s getting there.
You should’ve seen this offseason coming. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to you.
It almost never happens this way. It’s rare—very rare—that there’s an offseason when you must sign multiples of your top guys….from each position group, no less. To have to sign your captain and your Norris nominee AND your Vezina finalist in one season is just downright unfair.
You can blame it on poor contract management. Blame it on covid crunching the cap. Point your finger at whomever you want. Curse the hockey gods from high above. Either way, Joe can’t cook the books on this one. He has too much talent, too much money to dole out to retain his superstar roster. It sucks now, yes. But, honestly, if anything, it’s actually quite laudable that Sakic finds himself in this predicament. It’s a testament to the talent he’s brought in and drafted over the years.
But the Avs were bound to lose a few key members. It sucks, yes. But business is business.
And before you go running for protection as the sky is falling, let’s look at the positives.
Cale Makar—an elite NHL D-man, a perennial Norris contender, a future first-ballot hall-of-famer—is locked up for the next six years. Your captain is tied up for the next eight and seems destined to retire in the Burgundy and Blue, a spot for his No. 92 already reserved in the rafters next to 19, 21, 23, 33, 52 and 77.
See, there are reasons to smile, oh cynical Avalanche fan.
The biggest loss suffered this offseason is obviously goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who was a Vezina finalist this past season. But maybe his loss isn’t the worst thing after all. In his case, maybe money trumped the will to win, and those are the kinds of guys you don’t need on your team anyway. He’s got his Cup already, and now he can go sail his yacht into the Puget Sound’s nubilous sunset. Thank you for your services, Grubi, and best of luck out there.
But to keep two out of your three big names—and the two most important names of the three—is nothing to hang your head about. Sakic turned around and arguably upgraded at the goaltender position, anyhow. And for those questioning Kuemper’s injury history, Grubauer has actually missed more games than Kuemper has over the last few years.
One point, Kuemper.
He also has a higher save percentage (.922) than Grubauer over the last four seasons combined.
And a superior goals-against average (2.35) over the last three years, to boot.
You get the idea. Grubauer won’t have the shot suppression and stellar defense he was getting in Denver. Now, Kuemper gets to reap those benefits. Four-nothing, new guy.
The point is, it’s not all doom-and-gloom in Colorado. Stop acting like it. Sure, the Avs lost Ryan Graves. It was a smart move by Joe shipping him off and getting assets back—he couldn’t be protected (you know, because of the aforementioned wealth of depth Joe’s collected), and Graves was surely going to be the Kraken’s choice. They didn’t lose him for nothing. That’s a win. Joonas Donskoi’s depth will be missed, but that’s the name of the game in expansion. Brandon Saad’s price went up, and it is what it is. Money talks.
Conor Timmins and a first-rounder are gone, too. But again, the pipeline is just too well-stocked. It became clear as time passed that Timmins was getting bumped out of the Avs future on the blueline anyway. And that first-rounder, by the way, won’t be anything special if the Avalanche play the way they’re still capable of playing. Enjoy pick 32, Arizona.
At least, hopefully that’s the case.
Yes, there was a lot of loss this offseason; it had to be done though. But in loss, there is always gain. And there can always be addition by subtraction, too.
Veteran D-man and locker-room leader, Erik Johnson, will be back next season. Alex Newhook, Logan O’Connor—the kids will get a chance to play and prove their stuff. Hey, we might even see Martin Kaut or Shane Bowers finally get their chance.
The biggest thing, though, is that the core remains intact for the foreseeable future. That’s a big win. Retaining that group means the championship window is still open and the breeze is continuing to roll through. The Avs top-two lines are still set. The Avs fourth line is arguably better now.
Did the Avs get better this offseason? Who knows. Are they as good as they were supposed to be last season? Only time will tell. I know it may not seem like it now, but there are lots of positives out of this offseason, too. Don’t forget that. Look at it from the 30,000-foot view.
And breath. Relax.
Try those rose-colored lenses on. Or better yet, throw those Burgundy-colored glasses on.
They look good on you.