It’s the bye week for most of the teams in the NHL as they also flock to Florida for the All-Star Game festivities this weekend. With not a whole lot going on this week and the trade deadline looming as the last opportunity for teams to shape their rosters for the playoff run (or Connor Bedard sweepstakes), I wanted to look back at Colorado’s offseason decisions and see how things have gone to this point.
Just as a note, I’m skipping the players who were signed for the Colorado Eagles that got pressed into NHL action. It’s not that they weren’t meaningful signings, just that guys like that (think Charles Hudon) are signed with the AHL in mind and you hope they aren’t playing an extended role in the NHL.
Andrew Cogliano re-signs at 1 x $1.25M AAV
It’s hard to feel bad about this one. He’s taken too many penalties and been involved from the jump on a penalty kill that just hasn’t been very good for most of the season, but that isn’t solely on Cogliano.
For the price tag, he’s given Colorado eight goals, his highest total in a single season since scoring 12 in 2017-18. He’s an absolute warrior and his leadership is notable. His regular season production is just window dressing; this is a guy the Avs brought back after an excellent postseason. He needs to repeat that feat, but this is easily a win so far for Colorado.
Darren Helm re-signs at 1 x $1.25M AAV
Injuries have completely derailed Helm’s attempt to give it another shot. Multiple surgeries and just five games played make this a loss for the moment, but if he can get healthy at some point and be a playoff performer like he was last year, there’s still an upside in this deal.
Valeri Nichushkin re-signs at 8 x $6.25M AAV
A common theme you’ll notice here is that injuries have prevented the Avs from seeing the roster they built over the summer. Nichushkin started out with 12 points in his first seven games, looking more and more like he’d taken another step from an important role player potentially into a star’s spot.
That has slowed with injuries holding him to just 20 games to this point, but his importance is more obvious than ever. I’m not citing the team’s record with and without him because it suggests Nichushkin is solely responsible for wins and losses and…that’s a really myopic and lazy way to look at it.
Instead, you can look at the underlying numbers, which suggest Nichushkin is as steady as ever in his two-way dominance, or even rely on an old friend, “the eye test” because it has not been difficult to see the impact he’s had. It’s only year one, but beyond the injuries (which you hope don’t linger and become regular issues), you can’t feel anything but optimism that Nichushkin is going to play a huge role in whatever success Colorado has during the life of that deal.
Josh Manson re-signs at 4 x $4.5M AAV
Another player who has fought injury issues this year, Manson was uneven in the 21 games he played before getting hurt in December. He appears ready to go next week when the Avs return to action, which will be a huge boon for the defense.
As for the games he did play, Manson was a pretty decent split between the two versions we’ve seen during his Avalanche tenure. When he’s playing reckless, penalty-prone hockey, he’s a detriment who needs his minutes managed to keep him from self-destructing on the bad nights.
When he’s playing the hard-charging, fast-attacking style the Avalanche love to play and Manson appeared to enjoy a great deal last year, he’s an impact player who adds the extra offensive dimension to his punishing physical style. Where the Avs badly miss Manson is battling in front of their own net, where they have, collectively, been far too weak this season.
Getting Manson back into the lineup brings not only some snarl but enough of an offensive threat that it really pressures opposing teams into playing safe hockey against whatever defensive alignment the Avs prefer to go with.
He’s only played 21 games and has three more seasons to go after this one. Given that he is already 31 years old, this deal still has a lot of potential to blow up in Colorado’s face…or be another shining example of Colorado knowing how to make the most of their guys. It will be a fascinating litmus test as time goes on.
Artturi Lehkonen signs at 5 x $4.5M AAV
Finally, a guy that hasn’t fought significant injury issues and was expected to play a key role for the Avalanche. Stapled alongside Nathan MacKinnon (in no small part due to MacKinnon’s outward love of playing alongside him), Lehkonen is having a career year after securing the first financial security of his professional career.
He has already set career highs in points, power play goals, and power play assists. He’s on his way to a career-high in goals, assists, shots on goal, and is averaging by far the most time on ice in his NHL career. Lehkonen has played the biggest role of his career to date against the toughest competition and has responded with the best season of his life.
This is a clear win for Colorado and it’s very hard to envision a scenario where this deal does not age wonderfully for the Avalanche. Just about the only thing Lehkonen hasn’t done well this year is win faceoffs as he has just two wins in 19 tries. I think the Avs will take that trade-off.
Avs trade for Alexandar Georgiev, sign him at 3 x $3.4M AAV
Did I write this entire article just as an excuse to get down to this move, the ballsiest move the Avalanche made all summer? Maybe. I’ll never tell. In reality, Colorado allowing their Stanley Cup-winning goaltender to walk in free agency is nearly unheard of in recent NHL history. The only other example of a Cup-winning team simply allowing their starting goaltender to leave in free agency in the salary cap era was the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks.
That Chicago team got forced into a Sophie’s choice kind of situation when the San Jose Sharks signed defensive defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet. Chicago matched, eating up the cap space they needed to bring back goaltender Antti Niemi, who went into free agency and signed with…San Jose.
Colorado’s decision to move on from Darcy Kuemper didn’t come with the same theatrics, but they did ultimately roll the dice when they traded three draft picks to the New York Rangers for Georgiev, who had been New York’s backup behind Henrik Lundqvist and then Igor Shesterkin.
After getting to be witness to history backup up an all-time great at the end of his career and potentially a second one at the beginning, Colorado’s dice roll has given Georgiev the chance to be the author of his own history instead.
We all know that a goaltender’s legacy is written primarily during the postseason. Kuemper’s experience last year should only reinforce that that’s simply how we look at goalies. Georgiev hasn’t had that opportunity yet, but right now the Avalanche have to be thrilled with the decision to pluck Georgiev off the trade-request heap and give him a fresh opportunity in his career.
Firmly planted as Colorado’s number 1 goaltender, Georgiev’s tenure opened with save percentages of .918, .932, .900, and .929 in his first four months. He’s played more games already than any other season of his career and has been an exceptional fit behind Colorado’s defense.
If that keeps up and Georgiev proves capable of stealing games along the way and not just being a goaltender good enough to not screw things up, well, Colorado paying him just a shade over $3M is going to give them another of the NHL’s great value contracts. Georgiev has the potential to write a very special chapter ahead of him. How he does in the postseason will give us a feeling on how we feel about this deal, but right now it sure is a rosy landscape.
Evan Rodrigues signs at 1 x $2M AAV
At just $2M, it was going to be very difficult for Rodrigues to disappoint on a one-year contract. As expected, Rodrigues has outperformed this deal and has been a consistent top-six forward for the Avalanche this season. One of the reasons Rodrigues was available so late in the process, however, was his year with the Penguins last season was two distinct experiences.
Rodrigues scored 32 points in 46 games before the All-Star Game then limped to just 11 points the rest of the way and was relegated to playing on the fourth line during Pittsburgh’s first-round exit.
This year, injuries held Rodrigues to just 37 games so far, but he recorded 26 points, which is nearly identical to the scoring pace he had in Pittsburgh last year. His role in Colorado has been very important, however, so the Avs simply cannot afford a major drop-off from him.
Another decision that you put in the easy win category, you really wish the Avs could have convinced Rodrigues to sign on for an extra year or two because that price tag could easily double (or more) this summer when he gets another chance at a multi-year contract.
Even if he can’t sustain the scoring pace, this has been an excellent value bet by Colorado.
Nathan MacKinnon re-signs at 8 x $12.6M AAV
Okay, yes, this is cheating because the contract doesn’t actually begin until next season. I get what you’re saying! I wanted to include it, however, because there is always a faction of every fan base that is convinced once a star athlete a.) wins a championship b.) signs a lucrative long-term contract for guaranteed money c.) both, they stop pushing themselves because all boxes have been checked.
Confidence was high that MacKinnon wasn’t going to simply become a wallflower now that he had lifted the Stanley Cup and then signed the most lucrative contract in the NHL.
So far, at least, he’s been the best version of himself…ever. Despite missing 11 games, he’s on pace for his first 100-point season. We’ll see if he gets there, but if this how he responds in the regular season to his newfound level of career success? Well, count me as one excited to see how he wants to continue building his legacy as one of the NHL’s great postseason performers.