The 2020-21 season will be the first full one in charge for new Avalanche GM Josh Lewis, and he's already put his stamp on the roster.
A flurry of off-season trades and free agent signings will see the Colorado lineup looking much different than it did at the end of last season. The Avalanche have an entirely new top defense pairing, starting goalie and several bottom six forwards.
In: Jordan Staal, Logan Shaw, Brayden Point, Kirill Marchenko, Greg Nemisz
Out: Sam Bennett, Michael Frolik, Ryan Martindale, Jakub Vrana, Mackenzie Entwistle, Jason Cotton
The Avs greatly upgraded their back end and goaltending, but at what cost to their offense? Top line talent Sam Bennett and Michael Frolik were traded to bring in Dion Phaneuf and Dmitry Kulikov. Colorado had an excess of scoring forwards, and now those remaining will be counted on to step into big roles. Ivan Barbashev and Janne Kuokkanen are expected to move to the top line alongside Mitch Marner. All three are skilled playmakers, but will they score enough goals?
The Avs will shift Mirko Hoefflin to centre on the second line to cover the loss of Bennett. He'll be flanked by Matthew Freytag on the left side, and either Matthew Beattie or Ty Dellandrea on the right. Hoefflin had a strong bounce-back season in 2019-20, as did Beattie between the Oilers and Avs. Freytag looked good in a 24-game callup late last year, with 16 points. Still, there's no doubt this top six group will have to score by committee.
Colorado's third line was greatly upgraded this summer with the additions of Jordan Staal and Logan Shaw. Throw in Zack Kassian and this checking unit should have a major impact in preventing goals and scoring a decent amount themselves. Staal and Kassian are the highest-paid forwards on the team, so big things are expected.
At the moment, the Avs' fourth line looks to be comprised of three young, talented offensive players in Kirill Marchenko, Brayden Point and Dellandrea. Any of them would be capable of filling in on the second line if required. The two wingers have a solid defensive conscience as well, while Colorado hopes they can develop Point into a top line centre in time. Physical winger Greg Nemisz is also an option here, and if the Avs carry a 14th forward it's expected to be 21-year-old grinder Lane Zablocki.
The AHL Colorado Eagles are also teeming with potential call-ups at forward in youngsters Filip Chlapik, Jack Roslovic, Jesse Ylonen, Carl Grundstrom, Kameron Kielly and Chase De Leo.
In: Dion Phaneuf, Dmitry Kulikov, Alexei Bereglazov, Carl Sneep, Kevin Klein
Out: Stephen Johns, Jon Merrill, Jacob Larsson, Rasmus Ristolainen, Griffin Reinhart
Defence wins championships in EHM, and the Avalanche have certainly upgraded theirs by leaps and bounds. Phaneuf and Kulikov may make $15 million combined, but they should make for a hell of a top pairing. The Avs traded shutdown D Stephen Johns to help get out of a cap crunch, but signed Carl Sneep to replace him. Damir Galin is a similar shutdown defender, as is Alexei Bereglazov, who they acquired from LA for Jacob Larsson. Meanwhile, Matthew Murphy continues to grow as a two-way defender and is expected to move into the top four this year.
Colorado has the option of splitting up Phaneuf and Kulikov so that one of them is on the ice nearly the entire game, but for now they'll stay together. The other pairings are projected to be Murphy with Galin, and Bereglazov with Sneep, though all of those players are capable of stepping into the top four so there's plenty of flexibility. Kevin Klein is pencilled in as the seventh D, but the Avs are hoping to make room for young UFA signing Ryan Graves.
In: Steve Mason, Mason McDonald, Colten Ellis
Out: Filip Gustavsson, Stuart Skinner, Isaiah Saville
Shortly after the playoffs ended, Colorado acquired Mason from the Nashville Predators along with second and third-round picks for prospect Isaiah Saville and a late first-rounder. Ironically, they used one of those picks to draft goalie prospect Calle Clang, who they have high hopes for. Mason will be the 1A to Jack Campbell's 1B in the Colorado net, bringing a little more talent to the crease but not quite the consistency of Campbell. GM Lewis says their performance will dictate who gets more starts.
The Avs were also busy in terms of organizational depth at goalie. They traded AHL starter Stuart Skinner and replaced him with UFA signing Mason McDonald. They shipped Ville Husso, who had been acquired for Gustavsson, to Minnesota for goalie prospect Colten Ellis. The Avs plan to use one of their underage spots on Clang, who will back up McDonald.
Lewis said when he was hired last year that the Avalanche weren't far off from making their first playoff appearance in the history of EHEC. His off-season moves have brought them closer to that goal. Denver fans are clamouring for playoff hockey. Will this roster deliver? Lewis will surely keep tinkering throughout the season to improve his club.
[b]PREDICTION[/b]: 6th seed in the Western Conference