The Colorado Avalanche made some significant moves over the summer. Some of the changes received a lot of notice, others not so much. Since rookie camp is on the horizon, now is a good time to get up to date on all the adjustments.
Goodbye to Old Friends
After a surprisingly good season, it’s hard to let some team members go. Many of them contributed substantially to the playoff push and earned a spot in fans’ hearts. But the one constant in professional sports is change. So, for better or worse, here are the players who will no longer don the “A”:
Jonathan Bernier – The goaltender made it clear he wanted to see what kind of offers he could attract on the open market even though the Avalanche tried to re-sign him. Losing the 30-year-old veteran goalie hurts the most, partly because of his destination. Bernier signed a three year, $9 million contract with, sigh, the Detroit Red Wings on the first day of free agency. Yikes.
Blake Comeau – The longstanding linemate of Carl Soderberg became a short-handed goal machine last season. While his gritty presence on Soderberg’s wing will be missed, hopefully, the loss of the 32-year-old won’t come back to haunt Colorado. Comeau also inked a deal on the first day of free agency, signing with division foes the Dallas Stars for $7.2 million.
Nail Yakupov – In a move that surprised no one, all around fun guy Yakupov was not proffered a qualifying offer by the Avalanche. The writing was on the wall when he didn’t make a single appearance in the postseason despite a plethora of team injuries. Yakupov eventually signed with the KHL’s St. Petersburg club.
Duncan Siemens – The Avalanche did not extend a qualifying offer to the much-debated defenseman. As of now, the 24-year-old defender remains an unsigned free agent.
Meet the New Guys
The Avalanche made the biggest offseason splash with their goaltender signing. General manager Joe Sakic apparently learned his lesson after past failed attempts to re-sign players who wanted to test the free agent waters. When Bernier made it clear he wanted to check out free agency, Sakic acquired one of the best goaltenders available in Philipp Grubauer. But that wasn’t the team’s only acquisition:
Philipp Grubauer – The Avalanche traded a couple of picks and took on some salary from Brooks Orpik in order to secure the quality goaltender from the Washington Capitals.
The 26-year-old played a significant role in the Capitals’ march to the playoffs and should be well worth his three-year, $10 million contract.
Ian Cole – On the first day of free agency, the Avalanche signed the 29-year-old defenseman to a three year, $8.55 million contract. Considering the injuries last year to Erik Johnson, Nikita Zadorov, and Patrik Nemeth, anchoring the blue line with a two-time Stanley Cup winner with 62 playoff games under his belt seems like a wise move. Cole played with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup winning teams and helped the Columbus Blue Jackets advance to the playoffs last year.
Matt Calvert – Colorado picked up the 28-year-old winger formerly of Columbus during the first day of free agency. Signed to a three-year deal worth $8.2 million, he should be able to move up and down the lineup as a versatile veteran addition. A lot of questions remain about how he will fit with the team and if he will be taking on Comeau’s role alongside Soderberg.
Martin Kaut – The Avalanche selected the Czech winger with their first-round draft pick. During the scouting combine, it was discovered he had a heart issue that required minor surgery. He apparently sailed through the procedure, putting Colorado at ease enough to select the 18-year-old.
Kaut made a point of seeking out and congratulating all the other first-round picks during the draft. He also recovered quickly enough to participate in most of the Avalanche’s July development camp. He signed his three-year, entry-level contract the first week of July. Kaut will likely start the season with the Colorado Eagles to get used to the size of North American ice and get up to speed with the NHL game.
Pavel Francouz – The Avalanche really liked their Czechs this year as they signed the 28-year-old goaltender to a one-year deal worth $690,000 in May. Named the KHL goalie of the year this past season, he led the league in save percentage for the second year in a row. Colorado needed to strengthen their goaltender prospects and they managed to acquire two this offseason. The Eagles have been sending out pictures of Francouz so it’s likely he will start with them. He showed well at development camp so it will be interesting to see how he looks compared to Semyon Varlamov and Grubauer at training camp.
Returning Familiar Faces
While free agency and the draft draw a lot of attention, sometimes returning players get overlooked. The Avalanche had a number of players whose contracts were expiring and re-signed:
Patrik Nemeth – The Avalanche extended a qualifying offer (QO) to Nemeth who then filed for salary arbitration. Both sides settled the matter before the hearing, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million for the 26-year-old.
Matt Nieto – The durable winger signed a two-year deal worth $1.975 million a year. The 25-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of his contract.
Mark Barberio – The 2017 waiver wire claim proved valuable to the Avalanche on the blue line this year. Colorado signed him for an additional two years at $2.9 million. Injuries limited the 28-year-old’s play but he brings skill and speed to the defense.
Mark Alt – Alt didn’t spend much time with the Avalanche, being acquired off waivers in February. But they must have liked what they saw of the 26-year-old as he earned a two-year deal at $725,000 per year. His role on the Avalanche is questionable although he could be a real asset to the Eagles, also occasionally helping out the big club should injuries become an issue.
Prospects on the Horizon
In addition to Kaut, the Avalanche signed a number of other prospects from previous drafts to three-year entry-level contracts during the spring and summer. Some of these players will make the Eagles in Loveland while others will start with the Utah Grizzlies, depending on Rookie Camp and Training Camp evaluations. They are:
Conor Timmins – Last year’s second-round draft pick, the 19-year-old defenseman played a key role for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships. He will likely start with the Eagles as he was held out of on-ice sessions during development camp while recovering from a rough playoff run with his junior team. No, he’s not likely to be a defensive savior for the Avalanche. Yes, he should prove to be a good acquisition in time.
Josh Anderson – At one time, the 19-year-old defender looked to be a long shot to enter professional hockey as he appeared at his first Avalanche development camp while recovering from a fractured vertebra. He’s come a long way since then and hopefully, will continue to develop.
Travis Barron – The 20-year-old forward was a seventh-round draft pick. He played in the Ontario Hockey League and served as the team captain last season. The left-handed forward managed to play two games with the San Antonio Rampage before joining the Eagles for their Kelly Cup run to the championship title.
Josh Dickinson – At 20 years old, he was undrafted and played last year at Clarkson University where he notched 26 points in 40 games, good for second place in team scoring. Because he was signed in April,he was able to play five games with the San Antonio Rampage, earning two points, on an amateur tryout.
Igor Shvyrev – The 2017 fifth-round draft pick will come over from the KHL where he played against professional hockey players. At just 20-years-old, it will be interesting to see how his experience translates to the North American style. He’s likely to play with the Eagles.
*Logan O’Connor – The former DU Pioneers captain signed a two-year entry-level contract as he’s 22. The forward is likely to play for the Eagles.
Extended Prospects Still Developing
The Avalanche extended a handful of their prospects who are still working towards their place in the NHL/AHL. This year will be crucial for these players and will set expectations for their careers with the Avalanche organization. They are:
Spencer Martin – The 23-year-old goaltender was extended for one year at $650,000. Martin has yet to fully develop into a solid NHL backup after a somewhat disappointing year in the AHL with the Rampage. He will face some stiff competition for the starting role with the Eagles.
Mason Geertsen – The 23-year-old defender was extended for one year at $650,000. Geertsen continues to improve. He has yet to crack the NHL lineup but defensemen tend to need more time to acquire the tools to become a solid NHL blueliner, so the jury is still out on him.
Ryan Graves – Also a 23-year-old defenseman, Graves was extended for one year at $650,000. The Avalanche traded Chris Bigras to acquire the defenseman from the New York Rangers in the waning seconds of the February trade deadline. The move offered both players a change of scenery in an attempt to find a better fit. The Avalanche apparently saw enough to warrant an extension. He’s likely to start the season with the Eagles.
Meet this Year’s Draft Class
The Avalanche picked up eight prospects at the draft after trading away two second round picks. Aside from Kaut, who was selected in the first round at the 16th spot, there are some interesting choices. As with most draft classes, only time will tell how well the Avalanche did:
Justus Annunen – The Finnish goaltender was selected in the third round. He’s huge. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he fills up the net. However, he’s only 18 so he will likely need a few years to develop. But goaltending depth in the pipeline is always a good thing.
Sampo Ranta – The Avalanche selected a second player from Finland, also in the third round. Ranta, an 18-year-old forward, looks like he will be playing for the University of Minnesota this year. He showed a nose for the net during development camp.
Tyler Weiss – The left winger was picked in the fourth round. He spent the last two years playing in the United States National Team Development Program and is headed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha next year.
Brandon Saigeon – Colorado chose Saiegeon in the fifth round. The Canadian center was in his final year of draft eligibility at 20 years of age. He has stated that his goal is to try and make the Eagles this year.
Danila Zhuravlyov – Colorado selected the Russian with their second fifth-round pick. The defenseman looks to be staying in Russia to continue playing with his junior team.
Nikolai Kovalenko – The Avalanche acquired Kovalenko in the sixth round. If the name sounds familiar, you are an old time Colorado fan. The Russian right winger played for Loko Yaroslavl and yes, he is the son of former Avalanche forward Andrei Kovalenko. His father was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in 1990 and went on to play 620 career NHL games. Don’t expect to see him in an Avalanche sweater any time soon as he signed a three-year contract with the KHL this summer.
Shamil Shmakov – With their final pick, the Avalanche selected the Russian goaltender. He played last year in the Russian junior league and dwarfs Annunen. Shmakov is 6-feet-6 and was one of the best goalies in his division last year, earning a stout .932 save percentage over 51 games. Shmakov did not attend development camp.
Looking Towards the Future
At this juncture, the Avalanche have a number of restricted free agents (RFAs) entering the final year of their contracts. Hopefully, Colorado will extend a couple of those players sooner rather than later, especially since they have the cap room. Mikko Rantanen should be at the top of the list along with Nikita Zadorov, followed by players like Alexander Kerfoot, Dominic Toninato, J.T. Compher, Vladislav Kamenev, A.J. Greer and Sven Andrighetto.
There’s a lot at stake for a number of players heading into training camp. The competition for starting slots should be stiff and that can only be good for the team. Watching who steps up under the pressure should prove interesting as the Avalanche continue to progress.