I’m still gathering all my thoughts on the exhausting season that the Colorado Avalanche just went through, and it might take a few days for that to happen, but one thing is already very clear.
The Avalanche have to find a better option to play behind Nathan MacKinnon in the lineup.
This isn’t meant as a slight to J.T. Compher. He had the best season of his career, and it’s not even close. For the first time ever, he played every game, and finished with career highs in points and assists. Only three players in the league took more face-offs than him, and among forwards, he ranked 14th in time-on-ice per game. No question about it, he stepped up in the regular season for the team.
But come playoff time, it was clear he was not the best fit for the job.
In seven games, Compher registered zero points at even strength, and only picked up seven shots on goal. When Compher was on the ice, the Avalanche spent more time in their own end, as the team only controlled 44.10% of the shot attempts when he was out there. Compher is a more than capable third line player in the NHL, and he has been his entire career. I do believe there’s a good chance they bring him back, but it can’t be as the second line center. He’s been a 30-40 point player his entire career. Banking on this season’s production again is taking a massive risk.
At the trade deadline, Colorado didn’t make any moves to upgrade at the center position. Instead, they went and got Lars Eller to add depth. I liked Eller in the playoffs, but they got no production from him. He’s someone I could also see them bringing back, but only at a significant discount. A lot of people have and will continue to criticize Chris MacFarland for not making a move for a second line center.
My issue with that…what was even out there?
Sean Monahan never came back from injury. Same with Jonathan Toews. The only real option was Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly, along with Noel Acciari, went to Toronto for a first round pick, a second round pick, a third round pick, and two others players. O’Reilly would have been a perfect fit, but the Avalanche didn’t have the trade capital needed to complete that deal. No other trade option was having a better season than Compher.
I actually did not have an issue with MacFarland not going for it at the deadline this season. They were hoping to get Gabriel Landeskog back, but deep down, they probably knew that wasn’t a sure thing. Was this team, even if they did go out and find a better player at the deadline, going to win the Stanley Cup without their Captain? I don’t think so. Combine that with only a few assets that actually hold value, and it’s tough to make a deal. It’s especially tough if you’re bringing in a player that is purely a rental.
I was fine with it at the deadline, mostly because this past season seemed cursed from the start with all the injuries. But they cannot sit still at the center position heading into next season.
No one, not even Landeskog himself, seems sure that he’ll be ready to start next season on time. There’s still hope, but you can’t live on hope. There’s a ton of mystery around Valeri Nichushkin leaving the team for personal reasons, and hopefully we get some clarity on that soon. Alex Newhook didn’t take the step forward the organization expected. And, as mentioned above, if you bring Compher back, banking on him recreating his career season seems risky.
The free agent class is pretty weak. There are going to be players that the team may take a risk on as a reclamation project (Hello, Jonathan Drouin), but in terms of high-end players, it’s not great. Colorado kept their first round pick at the deadline, but I’m not so sure they’ll be making that pick come June 28. The Avalanche really didn’t become a cup contender until Nazem Kadri got to town. MacFarland and company will need to work some magic to fill the hole his absence left.
There are plenty of things to talk about this summer, and we’ll get to all of them in due time, but second line center is the glaring hole that the team can’t go another year without filling. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar are all in their prime. There’s no time to waste.