The Colorado Avalanche have finally done it. After being on the cusp of winning Lord Stanley’s Cup in each of the past three seasons, the team defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 6 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals.
Showcasing their impressive depth and the shrewd management of GM Joe Sakic, Arrtturi Lehkonen scored the game-winning goal in the second period. Lehkonen, acquired from the Montreal Canadiens at the trade deadline, scored eight goals for the Avalanche in the playoffs, four of which were pivotal game-winning goals.
Darcy Keumper, meanwhile, stood tall in net for Colorado Avalanche with a strong rebound performance following Game 5, in which head coach Jared Bednar said he played “OK” and would have liked the first goal back.
Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs. He recorded 29 points in 20 games. He’s only the third defenseman to win the Conn Smythe and Norris Trophy in the same season.
Tampa Bay has to be applauded for its effort this postseason, but could we have just witnessed a changing of the guard in the NHL? The Lightning’s roster isn’t getting any younger and Colorado Avalanche is well positioned to begin a dynasty-like run.
The Core is Intact at a Reasonable Price
While Tampa Bay has had to make use of the long-term injury list and find other creative ways to get under the salary cap, Colorado Avalanche likely won’t have that problem. The Avalanche were incredibly fortunate to lock up Nathan MacKinnon at a team-friendly, seven-year deal in 2016-17. He’ll make just $6.3 million (less than William Nylander) next season before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
MacKinnon will command more than $10 million per year on his next contract, but that may not even be an issue for the Avalanche. The team has plenty of depth holes to fill throughout its lineup, but its core is intact for the foreseeable future.
Makar, who just won the Norris and Conn Smythe, is under contract at $9 million per year until the 2027-28 season. Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog are also both under contract for three more seasons.
Young players like Alex Newhook and Bowen Byram will command raises in 2023-24, but Colorado Avalanche has cap flexibility. In fact, the Avs only have $36 million in salary committed to the 2023-24 season, which is impressive considering the aforementioned players listed.
Goaltending and Coaching
Kuemper is a UFA this summer and will likely command a higher salary than the $4.5 million he earned the last two seasons. Colorado Avalanche has the space to bring him back, but may go another route.
What’s important is that the Avalanche don’t necessarily have to re-sign Kuemper. He was solid throughout the playoffs, but hardly in contention to be a top goaltender in the league. The Avalanche can win without a star goaltender and that should be worrying for other teams in the league.
Jared Bednar, the team’s head coach, was a relative unknown when he took over from Patrick Roy. He guided Colorado to a 47-point improvement in his second year with the team in 2017-18 and has clearly found a recipe for success.