Courtesy of The New York Post
By Luke Weidenkopf
It’s June 26, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. There are 5 seconds remaining in game six of the Stanley Cup Final. Jack Michaels of Sportsnet calls, “The Dynasty will be denied. And a new legacy begins. They’ve reached the summit and the Avalanche are 2022 Stanley Cup Champions.” The team flies over the bench, knocking each other over, and streaming to their goalie, Darcy Kuemper. Hugs are being given and tears are flying. The job was complete. The milestone had been reached and Mile High City rejoiced as the Avs won their third Stanley Cup.
The Avalanche have their work cut out for them entering the 2022-2023 season. The expectations have never been higher, but the road to another ring will be harder than the first. With the loss of key players like Nazem Kadri, Darcy Kuemper, and André Burakovsky, the Avs have many holes which need to be filled, the two most important positions being a new starting goaltender and second line center.
Former General Manager, Joe Sackic, traded for the New York Rangers backup goalie, Alexandar Georgiev. Georgiev had been looking for a trade for the past few seasons as Igor Shesterkin, ran away with the starting job, becoming a top three goalie in the NHL. Georgiev’s play has been underwhelming the last few seasons with a sub .900% save percentage and 2.92 goals against average. But there’s still much excitement around Georgiev. Many believe he still has the capability to become a top goaltender in the league and the Avalanche are certainly counting on this.
The Avalanche also made a few smaller offseason additions, signing free agents: Evan Rodreiquez, Lukáš Sedlák, and Anton Blidh. Rodreiquez was brought in to shore up the offensive depth and possibly become the second line center, if needed. A few days before the season started, head coach Jared Bednar announced that second year player Alex Newhook would be given the spot and time to adjust to the role. The Avalanche are in a cap crunch, like most other teams in the NHL, and must rely on cheap, young talent on entry level deals to improve their team.
Despite the losses of some key players, the Avalanche still have most of their best pieces. The duo leading the charge are Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon, both top five players in the NHL. Makar won the Norris Trophy, for the best defensemen in the NHL, and the Conn Smythe Trophy, for playoff MVP. His talent, vision, and control of the game has not been seen since Bobby Orr was playing for the Boston Bruins in the early 70’s. MacKinnon is a powerhouse hockey player. He whizzes around the ice, nailing players, creating offensive rushes, and putting the puck in the net. His play is often described as a “bull in a china shop.” MacKinnon recently signed an 8 year $12.6 million per year deal, becoming the highest paid player in the league. Many expect his play to go up and his tenacity to improve, as his quest to cement his legacy as one of the all-time greats continues.
Behind the duo of destruction there are some key secondary players in Valeri Nichushkin, Mikko Rantanen, Artturi Lehkonen, Bo Byram, and Samuel Girard. These players are all expected to uphold the status quo and provide the offensive effect needed for another deep playoff run.
The Central Division and Western Conference took a step back as most of Colorado’s competition got worse over the offseason. The only team who improved were the Avs main competition out west, the Calgary Flames. The Flames made a few huge splashes, signing former Avalanche center Nazem Kadri and trading for all-star forward Jonathan Huberdeau and Norris candidate Mackenzie Weegar (although they did have to trade 90-point player, Mathew Tkachuk to get them). Out east Colorado’s main competition is the same team they had to beat to win the Cup, the Tampa Bay Lighting.
The real journey to the Stanley Cup doesn’t begin until April, but the tools and systems being implemented during the regular season have a lasting effect on the playoffs. The Avs lost many key players, and their depth will certainly be the main detriment against them (Captain Gabreial Landeskog is out for 12 weeks). Questions will arise to see if Georgiev can take the starting job and secure the net. The road to victory is tough. The pain is only beginning to seep in, but the sweetness of victory at the end makes all the suffering worth it.