Avalanche Have Free Agent Decisions to Make

The 2023 postseason ended much sooner than expected for the Colorado Avalanche, but the extra couple of months will give them a long time to think about the next season. That might not be a bad thing, as the organization likely has a lot of decisions to make.

After winning the franchise’s third Stanley Cup last season, the big news during the offseason was Nathan MacKinnon’s contract extension. While that deal was a vital piece of business for the franchise, the Avalanche have a multitude of roster moves coming up this season. Those will start with determining which pieces are important enough to stick around.

Restricted Free Agents for the Avs

The Avalanche have three restricted free agents in Bowen Byram, Denis Malgin, and Alex Newhook. The biggest name out of that bunch is Byram, but he’s a conundrum because it’s hard to know what his value is. Of course, he has tons of upside, and has shown flashes of brilliance when he’s been able to spend extended stretches on the ice. However, his short career so far has been defined by his time spent off the ice, thanks to concussions and other injuries. Whether or not he remains in Colorado could be largely determined by the price tag the market gives him.

Bowen Byram Colorado Avalanche
Bowen Byram, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While Byram has never played more than 42 games in a season, there is plenty of game tape on Newhook. The 2019 first-round pick played all 82 games last season, but the problem was he didn’t take a significant step forward. The biggest hole in the Avalanche lineup is second-line center after Nazem Kadri left in free agency, and Newhook clearly didn’t take advantage of the audition with only 14 goals and 16 assists. He might be worth a bridge contract, but it really depends on where Colorado is going to go for that second-line center. At this point, Newhook looks like a bottom-six booster at best.

Related: Avalanche’s Newhook Poised for Breakout Season After Kadri Exit

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Malgin might also be expendable. He came to Colorado in a trade last December, tallying 11 goals and six assists in 42 games. He was able to log more than 10 minutes in ice time per game, and was a decent player for the Avs as they battled through countless injuries. However, those are numbers Colorado could get anywhere. There are likely other priorities for the Avs to spend their money on.

Which Unrestricted Free Agents Are Priorities?

There are eight unrestricted free agents on Colorado’s roster, and leading the list has to be J.T. Compher and Evan Rodrigues. Both of them had fine seasons for Colorado – particularly Compher. The 28-year-old winger put together the best season of his career, scoring 17 goals and 35 assists while playing all 82 games. The assists and 52 points were easily career highs, while he was just one goal away from matching his career best in that statistic.

J.T. Compher Colorado Avalanche
J.T. Compher, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In his first season with Colorado, Rodrigues put up similar numbers with 16 goals and 23 assists in 69 games. The last two seasons have been great for Rodrigues. In 2021-22, he set career highs with 19 goals, 24 points and 42 assists and then followed it up with a similar season in Colorado. However, that might not be good news for Colorado. Both of these guys could fit in next season, but they also might have played themselves out of Colorado’s price range.

Another free agent is Lars Eller, who Colorado traded for at the deadline. He finished the season as the team’s second-line center – and Compher filled in nicely at times, as well – but the Avs are probably looking to upgrade in that spot. He might be one of the odd men out, but he might return, depending on the price tag. Of course, some of these free agents will likely be back in Denver from a depth standpoint, but the waters surrounding most of them are cloudy.

Related: Avalanche’s J.T. Compher Comes Through in Crucial Season

The only free agent defensemen besides Byram are Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson. Jack Johnson almost certainly won’t be back, and Erik Johnson is going to contemplate retirement, as well. The other forwards are Darren Helm, penalty-killing sparkplug Andrew Cogliano, and Matt Nieto. Those are all aging players, but Cogliano showed he could still contribute, particularly on the penalty kill. Only Compher averaged more short-handed ice time than Cogliano amongst Avalanche forwards this season.

What Colorado Needs Going Forward

The second-line center was the albatross that hung over the team this season, but the severity of captain Gabriel Landeskog’s struggles to return from surgery are also a problem. The powerhouse pairing of MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen are in place, but they create one of the most fearsome lines in the NHL when paired with Landeskog. It’s unknown when Landeskog will return and at what capacity. Also, this season’s brief playoff stint showed a desperate need for improved depth scoring.

Gabriel Landeskog Colorado Avalanche
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Compher has steadily improved during his career with the Avs, and would be a good piece to keep around if they can afford him. Rolling the dice on prospects might be too much of a gamble for a team that’s in a championship mode, but that would be relying on guys like Ben Meyers and Oskar Olausson taking big steps in development. The defensive corps looks like the deepest position on the team, but Devon Toews is entering the final year of his contract, and that’s a player Colorado definitely doesn’t want to let go of.

Related: 3 Issues That Caused Colorado’s First-Round Exit

There are decisions to be made in every offseason, and the Avalanche front office obviously won’t be making any of those decisions soon. But this is a pivotal offseason for the Avs, as next season’s roster could look very different than it did in this campaign. That means bolstering the second line is a must, and has to be the top priority for the offseason. Rosters have to change and evolve, and Colorado will have some missing pieces back next season, but it will be interesting to see which Avalanche players will be sporting a new jersey when the puck drops for 2023-24.

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