Unsurprisingly, a significant number of mailbag questions revolved around Nazem Kadri, who remains unsigned. The Avalanche will need to move contracts around to make a potential deal work because of the salary cap, and some other teams trying to sign him are in a similar boat, according to a league source. That’s part of the reason this is taking longer than other free-agent signings.
Thank you for all the questions this week. I consolidated some and, for folks whose questions I didn’t get to, I’ll do more of these in the future.
(Some questions have been edited for clarity and length.)
The 1995-96 team had four of the six retired numbers by the Avalanche and the 2000-01 team had all six. How many numbers from the 2021-22 season end up in the rafters? — Bubbles M.
As my editor knows, I love questions like this. Pondering legacies is a fun activity.
Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen all seem on track to have their numbers retired. Makar is a generational defenseman, MacKinnon has been one of the best forwards in the league, Landeskog captained the team to a Cup win and Rantanen is quickly climbing the team record boards.
Erik Johnson probably hasn’t done quite enough to find his way into the rafters, but you could make a case for him, especially if he re-signs next offseason after his current deal ends. He’s been with the team for more than a decade, has now won a Cup and has more points and goals than Adam Foote, who has his number retired.
There’s one other player I wonder about, and it would take a lot going right. That’s Devon Toews. He’s been a legitimate top-pairing defenseman for Colorado the past two seasons and has two years left on his deal. So let’s play out a hypothetical and see if there’s a way he’ll have a chance at a retired number. To start, we’ll say he stays five years after this current contract ends in summer 2024, which would put him at nine total seasons in burgundy and blue. What would his numbers look like? Well, he’s played 86 percent of Avalanche games the past two seasons, so let’s say he continues at that rate. That would mean he’d play in 495 games over the next seven years, putting him at 614 total games with the Avalanche. If he continues the point pace he’s had since coming to Colorado (.73 points per game), that would put him at 448 points over a nine-year Avalanche tenure, which would make him the highest point-producing defenseman in Avalanche history (though, of course, Makar will almost certainly still be ahead of him). Is that an optimistic projection? Certainly. But it’s not out of the question, and if it happens, Toews’ No. 7 probably won’t be worn again.
Devon Toews. (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)
Then there are young players that fall into the “too early to tell” category. Bowen Byram looks like someone with the ceiling of a No. 1 defenseman. Maybe he has a chance if he continues progressing and can stay healthy. There’s also a world in which the Avalanche win two or three more Stanley Cups with this core. A dynastic team would open the door to even more players. Imagine if Valeri Nichushkin or Artturi Lehkonen keep having huge playoff moments, for example.
As a final guess, I’m going to say the 2021-22 Avalanche featured five players who will someday have their number retired: Makar, MacKinnon, Landeskog, Rantanen and one other player from the above possibilities.
Why did the Avalanche not trade the rights to Nicolas Aube-Kubel before letting him walk? — Daniel R.
The Avalanche didn’t give Aube-Kubel a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent and not a restricted one. In theory, moving him would have made sense, but judging by the number of quality players who didn’t get traded or receive qualifying offers (Dylan Strome, Sonny Milano, Danton Heinen, to name a few), teams seemingly struggled to find willing trade partners. The flat salary cap has caused difficulties around the league this offseason, especially when it comes to moving contracts.
Who would be the easiest pieces to move to make a potential Nazem Kadri contract fit? — Bryce K.
As mentioned in the question above, the salary cap seems to be making it tough for a lot of teams to trade players, so I don’t know if anyone is going to be easy to move. A lot of folks asked questions in this mailbag about Samuel Girard, and he’s someone whose contract could make sense in a cap-clearing sense ($5 million average annual value), but Colorado values him a lot. General manager Chris MacFarland will explore all opportunities to make the team better, as he says frequently, but I’m not sure the Avalanche will get an offer for Girard that falls into that category, and they aren’t going to move him on a whim.
J.T. Compher ($3.5 million AAV) and Erik Johnson ($6 million AAV) both have deals up after this coming season, but moving either could create more questions than answers. Remember, MacKinnon’s contract is up after next season, and Byram and Alex Newhook will be restricted free agents. Colorado will need to have cap space going into summer 2023.
Why is Kadri’s situation going on for a bit when it seemed like everyone else had a deal in 24-48 hours? — Bob M.
Multiple teams are trying to clear cap space to make room for Kadri. With the flat salary cap, that is difficult, and it’s played a role in Kadri’s contract situation dragging out.
Hi Peter! What three moments of the regular season would you say helped define the Avalanche’s journey in 2021-2022? — Owyn C.
The Avalanche got off to a mediocre start, but they played at Tampa Bay in the fifth game of the regular season and came away with a 4-3 shootout win. It felt like a reminder of what the team could be. Both the Lightning and Avalanche seemed amped for the game, and Colorado came out on top. That’s no small feat against the two-time reigning champions, and sure enough, it was a sign of things to come.
Colorado’s 5-4 comeback win against Toronto in January also jumps out. The Avalanche battled back from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits against a strong Maple Leafs club, and Toews scored in overtime to secure the win. It showed the team’s comfort playing from behind and was a memorable moment in a dominant January.
Then, later in January, Colorado came back to beat Boston in overtime. That game had a lot of emotion after MacKinnon left the game bloodied in the first period, and the crowd was ultra engaged. It turned into an evenly-matched contest, and Colorado once again made a comeback and won in overtime.
Faceoffs seem to be a big area of weakness for the team. Without Kadri, who would you say is the best faceoff man on the team? — Mike K.
Landeskog and Compher were both ahead of Kadri in faceoff percentage last season, though they took significantly fewer draws. The Avalanche also lost Nico Sturm, a strong faceoff taker, to the Sharks in free agency.
Faceoffs are important situationally, especially on the power play, penalty kill and in end-of-game scenarios. Colorado leans on Landeskog and its other top faceoff takers in those situations. Beyond that, draws are not a stat the Avalanche seems to worry about too much. That’s not shocking, considering it’s an analytics-driven group and the numbers don’t show faceoffs as having a huge bearing on wins and losses. A lot of times teams lose a faceoff and still wind up with the puck through good forechecking, and there’s not a huge gap in percentage between good faceoff takers and bad ones. Connor McDavid, for example, is good at draws and won at a 53.7 percent clip last season. MacKinnon, who is good at many things but not faceoffs, has a career average of around 46 percent. That’s a pretty marginal difference: both are about 50 percent.
The Avalanche were 28th in the league in faceoff percentage last season and had the second-best record. They were 14th out of 16 teams in the playoffs and won the Stanley Cup. So while faceoffs are a useful skill to have, Colorado seems to focus more on getting quality players who fit well systems-wise.
You don’t need to provide any further details, but I’d like you to make a simple prediction of what team you believe Nazem Kadri will play with this season? — Evan K.
Not the Blues.
How do you see Alex Newhook’s role going forward? It seemed like a year ago everyone was penciling him in to the No. 2 center role once Kadri left, but after the playoffs it seems like the team doesn’t quite see him there yet. Is he still the favorite for that position next season (assuming no Kadri)? Is he going to take another year or two to claim it? Or does the organization see him more as a depth forward after a somewhat lackluster year, and they need a new long-term plan at 2C? — Ken W.
Alex Newhook is still really, really young. He’s 21 and has fewer than 100 games of NHL experience. He was more of a third-line player in his first full season, and he might not be ready to jump into a top-six role yet. That doesn’t mean he won’t get there as he gets more used to the NHL game. And if his development stagnates, there’s nothing wrong with a good third-line center. Teams have had far worse draft picks at No. 16.
Alex Newhook. (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)
I’m surprised the Avs don’t seem to have much faith in Pavel Francouz. My own view is that he’s been steady and reliable when called upon (and healthy, which might be the issue for him). I thought a reasonable course of action would have been to make him the starter in 2022-23 and see how he shakes out. Clearly the Avs thought differently and traded for a somewhat unproven starter. Any insight on the Avs’ thinking around Francouz? — Steve V.
Clearly the Avalanche view Francouz as a No. 2, not No. 1, considering Joe Sakic said Alexandar Georgiev would be the starter immediately after acquiring him from the Rangers.
Francouz’s numbers were solid last season (.916 save percentage in 21 games), but he also made only three of his starts against playoff-bound teams. The Avalanche put him in situations to succeed. In terms of advanced metrics, he saved almost exactly the same number of saves as expected (-.1 GSAx, per Evolving-Hockey), which was plenty good enough for a backup netminder playing behind Colorado’s defense but not what you want from a No. 1. Making him a full-time starter would be a risk, especially considering he’s never started more than 30 games in an NHL season.
Making Georgiev a starter is also risky, considering he’s unproven and coming off a lackluster season. But the Avalanche believe he’ll perform better as an everyday starter, and he’ll have a much better defense around him than he did with the Rangers. And if he flounders, the Avalanche at least know they have someone in Francouz who can come in and be serviceable, or they can look for someone at the trade deadline, though that’s sometimes hit or miss with goalies.
Is there actually a chance that Martin Kaut will make the team this year? If not, what could a trade involving him look like (I guess he isn’t a very interesting prospect for most teams anymore)? — Ramon D.
The Avalanche need cheap contracts, considering their salary cap situation, so prospects like Kaut will have a chance to make the team. He’ll need to perform well in training camp to have a chance, though. Colorado isn’t going to have him in the NHL lineup solely because he was a first-round draft pick a few years ago.
To answer the second part of your question: I wouldn’t expect Kaut to have significant trade value at this point. He hasn’t shown much at the NHL level (three points in 20 games) and hasn’t lit it up in the AHL, though he’s been OK.
Now that the playoffs are over, can we get an honest rundown on the injuries guys were playing through on the Cup run? Beyond the documented ones like Kadri, Andrew Cogliano and Andre Burakovsky, there had to be plenty of injuries that would have kept guys out of regular season games. — Jeremy B.
There might be more, but here’s what we know:
- Kadri had a broken thumb
- Andrew Cogliano had a broken finger
- Sturm had a torn UCL
- Andre Burakovsky had a broken foot and broken thumb, coach Jared Bednar said on Altitude Sports Radio
- Nichushkin had a broken foot
- Darcy Kuemper was dealing with his eye injury
- Girard had a broken sternum
- Darren Helm had an abdominal tear, Bednar said on Altitude
Beyond that, there were a lot of players battling through general wear and tear from a long postseason run. Landeskog took maintenance days throughout the postseason and was coming off knee surgery in March, and Toews took a few mornings off, too. Fortunately for Colorado, MacFarland said recently he doesn’t expect anyone to be out to start training camp.
If Kadri doesn’t sign with the Avs, has there been any indication of what the Plan B would be for a 2C? It doesn’t seem that the Avs are comfortable with an internal solution currently. — Chris S.
MacFarland said the Avalanche are comfortable if they end up going into the season with their current forward group. There’s no rush for the team to figure out a Kadri replacement, and I wouldn’t expect the front office to do anything reactionary. This is a roster more than capable of winning a lot of regular-season games, so the team could give Newhook and Compher a shot in the top six, see how they do and then upgrade if necessary at the trade deadline. Rantanen can also play center and could make sense there if the Avalanche find a top-six wing they like.
Evan Rodrigues, Nino Niederreiter and Paul Stastny are forward options still available, and the Sakic-MacFarland duo has done a good bit of business via trade in past offseasons. Perhaps they go that route.
Why did the Avs devote $4.5 million in cap space to Josh Manson? Seems more like a luxury than a need. I understand he’s a good guy and nice depth to have, but in a cap world choices need to be made and now it seems like they are in an unfavorable position with respect to the cap. — Jacyln W.
Manson is a steady blueliner and played well for the Avalanche after getting acclimated to new systems. Big, right-shot defensemen with physicality don’t come cheap, and Manson likely could’ve gotten more money on the open market. Clearly Colorado believes he is someone who is not just a depth piece but rather a player who can contribute while they’re in their Cup window. He’s one of the team’s main penalty killers and showed offensive flashes during the playoffs. Would Colorado’s front office have liked the contract to be for a little less money? Probably. But you have to pay to keep players you want, and the Avalanche wanted Manson.
Josh Manson. (Ron Chenoy / USA Today)
If the Avs do bring back Kadri, or even if they don’t, are you concerned about their cap flexibility to bring back Mackinnon, after tying up Nichushkin and Manson for decent term? — Andre R.
The Avalanche have been planning for MacKinnon’s next contract for years. Sakic and MacFarland have made every move with an eye toward next summer’s cap situation. If they felt any of this offseason’s moves would jeopardize their chances of bringing back MacKinnon, they wouldn’t have made them.
Odds of a Kadri return to the Avs? And if so, AAV and term? I see a short-term, two-year deal of $5 million. — Michael C.
I’m not sure what Kadri’s next contract will look like, but a two-year deal doesn’t make sense for him, and he’ll want significantly more than $5 million AAV. Centers Vincent Trochek and Andrew Copp both got closer to $6 million (both $5.625 million AAV), and while both are a little younger than Kadri, neither of them put up close to 87 points last season.
Remember, at 31 years old, Kadri is likely looking at his last chance at a long-term, big-money contract. Perhaps he’ll take a little less to stay in Denver, but I don’t see him taking a massive hometown discount.
Which players would be most successful having to pull off an “Ocean’s 8” robbery? Why those players? — Gabs A.
I’ve only seen “Ocean’s 11” — I promise I’m working to watch more films — but assuming “Ocean’s 8” is similar, here’s what I’ve got:
- Landeskog: You need a leader calling the shots.
- Brad Hunt: I’m not sure if this robbery will be in Las Vegas like the one in “Ocean’s 11,” but if it is, I’d want someone who knows the city. Hunt played on the Golden Knights for more than a season, so he could pass on some reports about the city’s layout.
- Kurtis MacDermid: I’ve never committed robbery, but I imagine it wouldn’t hurt to have a big, tough guy.
- Newhook and Byram: They’re two of the youngest players on the team, and they can use their youthful energy to create a diversion. Plus they’re friends, so I’m sure they would enjoy it.
- Girard: He did a cartwheel on the stage at the parade. Perhaps that acrobatic ability will lend itself to getting around any security lasers you see in movies.
- Lehkonen: I feel like he’d have a good poker face.
- MacKinnon: It’d feel wrong not to include him.
(Top photo of Nazem Kadri: Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today)