The Colorado Avalanche had a rough go of it this season as they tried to win their second Stanley Cup in as many years.
One of the main reasons why was the season-long absence of captain and star winger Gabriel Landeskog. The news on Landeskog was worse than Avs fans had hoped for, as the team announced recently that Landeskog underwent major knee surgery and would be out of action for the entire 2023-24 campaign as well.
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But in the “every cloud has a silver lining” department, the Avalanche will be able to keep Landeskog on long-term injury reserve for all of this coming season, freeing up $7 million in salary cap space (as per CapFriendly) to give Colorado more than $20.3 million in room.
The Avs have only 12 players on the active roster under contract for 2023-24, so it isn’t as if they’ll be able to go buck wild and sign every player of note on the free-agent market. But don’t kid yourself – Avalanche GM Chris MacFarland and Colorado ownership believe this team can get right back in the thick of things and once again contend for a championship right away.
The Avs have only five forwards signed through this coming season. While their first line of star center Nathan MacKinnon and wingers Mikko Rantanen and Arturri Lekhonen is among the best in the NHL, the drop in elite production after that is rather steep. They’re not the biggest team in the league either, with five of their bottom six forwards standing just 5-foot-11 or shorter.
They need an infusion of size and skill, and they have enough cap space to make a splash either in free agency or on the trade front. Maybe that means Colorado brings back veteran Ryan O’Reilly for his second tour of duty with the organization. O’Reilly isn’t a game-breaker, but he brings the type of grit and experience teams look for as they seek to go on a deep playoff run. He likely won’t break the bank with a new salary in the $4- to 5-million range per year.
Or perhaps the Avs take a run at former Blues and Rangers sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, who, like O’Reilly, is a UFA this summer. Tarasenko netted 18 goals and 50 points in 69 games with the Blues and Blueshirts this season, and he’d be a nice fit on the second line for Colorado.
Then there are wingers Timo Meier and Jason Zucker; Meier is an RFA this summer, while Zucker is a UFA. Any contract offer to Meier could be matched by the New Jersey Devils, but Zucker is coming off a bounce-back season – he generated 27 goals in 78 games, his best total in that area since he had 33 markers for Minnesota in 2017-18. The Avalanche would be a solid landing spot for Zucker, and it wouldn’t cost them anything other than cap space.
Then there’s the trade market. Would Colorado deal away one of its young defensemen – say, 25-year-old Sam Girard – to Vancouver in exchange for winger Brock Boeser? That’s a deal that addresses problem areas for both teams. The Canucks are looking to get younger and more skilled on the back end, and the Avs need the scoring that Boeser can provide. A straight-up deal that moves Girard for Boeser also would help the cap-strapped Canucks free up some cap space.
Regardless of exactly who the Avs acquire, it’s clear they’re going to take big swings at the plate this summer. Landeskog likely won’t play next season, so Colorado needs to envision life without him – they’re not going to let his cap space go unused. The Avalanche fully intend to be back in the mix for a Cup next year, and by the time the summer ends, it should surprise no one to see them add some names of note.
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