The Colorado Avalanche have new faces to juggle for 2020-21. It isn’t as extreme as last offseason when a half-dozen or so new players joined the franchise via free agency or trade but there are a couple of newcomers to integrate. The team is one of the league’s deepest but the front office is always looking for upgrades. It’s always fun to see where incoming players might fit, so let us dive in and enjoy.
New Faces for the Colorado Avalanche
Brandon Saad joins the organization after three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. It was actually Saad’s second stint in the Windy City but he remained almost as effective. The 27-year-old scored 21 goals and 33 points in 58 games. The raw total might not jump off of the page but Saad’s 0.57 points per game is consistent with a career figure of 0.59. His Corsi For also reflects a strong possession skater. The advanced metric has never been below 50 percent in any of his nine seasons except for a 35.9 percent mark in two games as a 19-year-old.
Colorado might have had to trade Nikita Zadorov to get the veteran wing, but Saad should be an outstanding addition. Many might look at him as an underwhelming scorer who was part of 2017’s Artemi Panarin trade. However, that doesn’t give enough credit to a player with three consecutive campaigns with at least 50 points from 2014-15 through 2016-17.
It isn’t Saad’s fault that Chicago has been one of the worst teams in the Central Division over the past three seasons. The Avalanche have focused heavily on being a better possession team under Joe Sakic and Jared Bednar. Saad’s advanced numbers look great in that context.
There are two likely spots for Saad on Colorado’s top-six. He could slot in next to Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the top line and give it yet another offence-first option. That would drop franchise icon Gabriel Landeskog down a line next to Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky, which would be very interesting as a trio that can do almost everything. Saad could also be on the line with Kadri and Burakovsky. Both would give the top-six an extra weapon to terrorize opponents. It will all come down to chemistry and production on the ice.
Colorado wasn’t content adding a top-six wing. The front office also went out and acquired defenceman Devon Toews from the New York Islanders in exchange for two second-round picks. The Avs might already have one of the league’s most talented blue lines but Toews adds another dimension.
The former fourth-round selection from 2014 surged with the Isles in 2019-20. He contributed six goals and 28 points in 68 games with a respectable 50.8 Corsi For and 6.1 Relative Corsi. New York’s offence was simply better in almost every regard with him on the ice. They did shelter him slightly with 53.6 percent of his starts coming in the offensive zone, but that shouldn’t detract from his very good sophomore campaign.
Colorado’s defence is just as flexible as its offence, but there isn’t an obvious spot to start Toews in 2020-21. Last year’s top pairing of Ryan Graves and Cale Makar produced 21 goals and 76 points along with a healthy number of physical stats. A duo that also had a 53.05 Corsi For isn’t one that needs adjustment until something changes. The second pairing is also hard to crack with Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson. The coaching staff loves pairing right-handers with left-handers on defence and that is what both top pairings do. Girard and Johnson also had a 50.65 Corsi For so a change to that duo isn’t obvious either.
The final option is to pair Toews on the third pairing with Ian Cole. Both defenders are left-handed shots but that gives Colorado its preferred mix of scoring punch and grit. Toews might also see a drop in ice time if he is on the third pairing but that would mean additional scoring depth across the entire blue line.
Ripple Effects From the Additions
Saad’s presence on the roster likely means slightly diminished opportunities for three players who might have competed for a top-six spot. Tyson Jost, Joonas Donskoi, and Valeri Nichushkin will all move down on the depth chart to make way for the former Blackhawk. Of those three, Donskoi is probably affected the most. He is the closest to Saad in terms of production. He might have been the most logical choice for the second line if Saad wasn’t on the roster.
Donskoi and Jost will help hold down things on the third line instead. Nichushkin had a huge bounceback year in 2019-20, but he’s probably limited to the bottom-six until he proves last season wasn’t a mirage.
With a few forwards moving to bottom-six, that further impacts playing time for younger players like Martin Kaut and Logan O’Connor. O’Connor appeared in a career-high 16 games with two goals. Kaut didn’t debut until near the end of February, but still managed to post two goals as well. The former 16th overall pick from 2018 had three points in nine total games. Both are very exciting bottom-six options, but they will have to wait their turn. However, they are very exciting as 13th and 14th forwards.
Toews’ impact is also big when you consider the possible lack of opportunity for Conor Timmins and Bowen Byram. It’s hard to imagine Byram making the opening roster despite his potential as a top prospect. The team’s depth means the WHL star will probably play one more year in the Canadian junior league. Timmins is a strong contender to compete with Cole for a third-pairing spot. He pairs nicely with Toews as a right-handed shot and should be a respectable all-around defender.
There is no doubt that the new faces, Saad and Toews, are huge additions. The roster was already loaded but adding two players that can both score and control the puck raises the team’s ceiling even further. Colorado’s system is very friendly to new players with the freedom it allows. The only questions will revolve around chemistry. Toews might not struggle much as a younger player, but Saad has years of experience with largely one organization. Integrating him with Kadri, or whomever, is a big task for the coaching staff and existing players.
Fans might also be sad that Byram, Timmins, Kaut and O’Connor won’t play much. Combined, they represent part of the next wave of young talent. The four are right on the edge of being serious contributors thanks to varying levels of offensive potential and energy. They may not matter in 2020-21 but their time is coming.