Last Word On Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2022-23 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2022-23 Colorado Avalanche.
2022-23 Colorado Avalanche
What a year for the burgundy and blue. For the first time in 21 years, Colorado took home the Stanley Cup. Yet again, Joe Sakic played a crucial role in the championship too. For the franchise’s first two Cups, he captained the team on the ice. This time around, he constructed the roster as the team’s General Manager. He handled that role for a few years before it finally culminated in this victory. As early Cup favourites for multiple consecutive seasons, the whole city breathed a collective sigh of relief when it finally came true this year.
Colorado finished 2021-22 with an outstanding 119 points in the standings. Their 56-19-7 record set a new franchise high in both wins and points. Their previous best season, 2000-01, also saw them win the Cup. Fans certainly noticed this coincidence as the postseason approached.
Roster-wise, Colorado was absolutely stacked. Led by a top-line trio of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog, the team’s best forwards also rank up amongst the entire league’s best forwards. Nazem Kadri also posted a career-high 87 points and appeared in his first NHL all-star game. Cale Makar and Devon Toews ranked as perhaps the most formidable defensive pairing in the entire NHL. In net, Darcy Kuemper went 37-12-4, shattering his career-high win total for a single season in the process.
After three straight years of disappointing second-round playoff exits, Colorado drew on that experience to prepare them for the playoffs with a readiness they lacked in seasons prior. That readiness propelled them through the post-season remarkably quickly. They swept the Nashville Predators in the first round. Then the Avs exercised their second-round demons and bested the St. Louis Blues in six games to reach the Conference Final. Here the Avs swept the Edmonton Oilers to reach the Stanley Cup Final with an unbelievable 12-2 record. In another six-game series, the Avs knocked the Tampa Bay Lightning off the top of the mountain for the first time in three years.
A summer celebrating each players’ day with the Stanley Cup quickly turned into watching key players depart the city when free agency opened. As with any championship-winning team, players demonstrate value along the way and earn bigger paydays. And with so many in contract years, everyone knew the Avs were set to lose some critical individuals. Kuemper signed elsewhere via free agency, as did Burakovsky. It took a bit longer, but Kadri left, too. Those three occupied big roles in Colorado, but priced themselves out of Sakic’s budget going forward.
Not all pending free agents were lost, though. Manson re-signed, as did Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Cogliano. Those three came to Colorado as trade deadline acquisitions, helped the team win, and elected to run it back with new deals. Darren Helm re-signed too, while Nichuskin earned a well-deserved long-term deal.
Still, the team needed to fill the holes left by their departures. In net, Sakic acquired Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers to pair with Francouz next year. They signed Evan Rodrigues recently to fill in their middle six forward group. Beyond those moves, they will probably have to promote from within given they have less than $2 million in cap space remaining. Overall, though, the 2022-23 Colorado Avalanche looks very similar to the team that just won the Cup.
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Artturi Lehkonen – Evan Rodrigues – Valeri Nichushkin
Ben Meyers – J.T. Compher – Alex Newhook
Andrew Cogliano – Darren Helm – Logan O’Connor
So, the Colorado Avalanche enter 2022-23 with five players in their top-six who were a part of the Cup victory. That being said, Kadri and Burakovsky slotted in the top-six regularly too. So, for Lehkonen, the spot becomes a more consistent and concrete role. After the postseason he had, though, this brings no concerns.
The void left by Kadri isn’t easy to replace, but ultimately Colorado couldn’t pay him the money he was looking for to retain him at centre. Instead, they took a flier on Rodrigues in mid-September. He just scored 19 goals and 43 points last season and should benefit from playing with some of the best players in the league. Many others experienced career years in Denver recently, so Rodrigues could absolutely do the same.
Where the Avs carry even more confidence is in their depth. This entire group rolls over from the 2021-22 Colorado Avalanche squad. Ben Meyers was unable to appear in postseason games due to his lack of NHL games played, after he signed a contract late last season. He appeared in a handful of games down the stretch and fit in nicely. Undoubtedly, head coach Jared Bednar sees him as a player with the potential to take on a larger, more consistent role this year.
If not, though, Colorado possesses more talent waiting in the wings. Lukas Sedlak signed with Colorado after time in the KHL in recent years. Mikhail Maltsev remains in the system, too. Plus, there are Avs draft selections from recent years who may be ready to break through. Sampo Ranta and Martin Kaut need strong training camps and pre-seasons to earn opportunities.
Yet again, the 2021-22 edition looks identical to the 2022-23 Colorado Avalanche. Their entire top six make a comeback this year, fantastic news for a team that plays tremendous two-way hockey. The only departure was seventh defenceman Jack Johnson. In his place, Colorado will look to other depth defenders. Kurtis MacDermid remains an option, as does Andreas Englund. Maybe the most deserving of a shot though is Jacob MacDonald, who just signed a two-year extension as well. Regardless, owning this level of talent on defence bodes extremely well.
In Toews and Makar, Colorado has two of arguably the top ten defensemen in the NHL. Now include Girard, Manson, Byram and Erik Johnson? The 2022-23 Colorado Avalanche may have the best defence in the entire NHL.
Without Kuemper, the Avs lack a bonafide starting goaltender. That said, Francouz went 6-0 in the postseason when Kuemper fell to injury. Colorado might be just fine in his hands. Georgiev helps shore up the crease too, and Sakic noted they expect him to be their starter. Honestly though, Georgiev didn’t post numbers that warrant that level of confidence, at least not in the past couple of years.
Francouz and Georgiev could split games all year long as a 1A-1B type tandem. Or, one of the two could run away with the starting job. Either circumstance works fine for the team, as they’ll win plenty of games regardless of who is in their net.
Players to Watch
How on earth could you pick anyone else? MacKinnon finally has his ring. Now, he wants to prove he deserves multiple. Arguably one of the two best players in all of hockey, MacKinnon plays at an earth-shattering pace, with tons of tenacity. Watching an Avs game typically includes seeing three or four highlight reel-worthy plays from MacKinnon. Whether it’s a goal, an assist, a reverse hit, a dangle, or even a fight, MacKinnon never ceases to impress. When he is on, the Avs are nearly unbeatable.
It would be cheating to copy and paste the above MacKinnon paragraph and simply swap “MacKinnon” for “Makar”. But in all honesty, he remains every bit as impressive as his teammate. Makar, 23, just won the Norris as the league’s top defenceman. He also won the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP. In his third NHL season in 2021-22, he earned his third-consecutive first-team All-Star bid. He also won the Calder as a rookie in 2019-20. Add this year’s Stanley Cup to that trophy case, and Makar already achieved everything a hockey player could possibly dream to achieve. Again, he is just 23 years old. With 180 points in 178 career games, this defenceman is absolutely electric. If MacKinnon played defence, his name would be Cale Makar.
Prediction for the 2022-23 Colorado Avalanche
The Lightning managed to win back-to-back Cups in the cap era, and almost won a third this summer. The Penguins accomplished back-to-back Cups just recently, too. In 2022-23, the Colorado Avalanche will join them. They are simply too good to finish anywhere else.
Yes, they lost Kadri, Burakovsky, and Kuemper. But they kept MacKinnon, Makar, Nichuskin, Lehkonen, Rantanen, Toews, Girard, Landeskog, Byram, Johnson, and Manson. They still have the elite top line and a middle-six that rivals any other team in the league. Their fourth line remains intact with plenty of grit and tenacity. And their full group on defence stuck around too.
Their goaltending might be the only thing worth considering, but the rest of the roster is too good. This team can win with a garbage can between the pipes. The 2022-23 Colorado Avalanche will win the Stanley Cup again, and no one in the hockey world will be surprised.