With the ping pong balls’ erratic behavior complete we’ll now examine the offseason outlook of each Western Conference squad, starting at the bottom points-wise. We’ll tackle Vegas shortly after the late June expansion draft brings Vadim Shipachyov and Reid Duke some teammates. This week we look at the Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks.
Colorado Avalanche – 22-56-4 (48 points)
Greatest need: defense
This year was a ridiculous mess for Colorado starting with Patrick Roy’s sudden mid-August departure. Considered by some the most awful team of the salary cap era (which began post-2005 lockout), they had the span’s second-worst goal differential with minus-111, narrowly avoiding Buffalo’s minus-113 of 2014-15. They boast the worst winning percentage of that time (.293), and fewest points (excluding the lockout year) for any squad since Andrew Brunette’s 14-57-7-4 Y2K Atlanta Thrashers totaled just 39. And of course their lottery luck mirrored their puck luck as they slid to fourth in the entry draft.
So, there’s nowhere to go but up for the duo of second-year Coach Jared Bednar and GM Joe Sakic which, unlike those of the 2016-17 Los Angeles, Florida, Buffalo, Dallas, and Vancouver organizations is still intact.
Also intact is their young, most-coveted group of forwards. The trade deadline generated much clamor for Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, and less for slumping Gabriel Landeskog, but no movement of these highly-prized pieces. Add Mikko Rantanen’s twenty-goal campaign to the mix along with RFA Sven Andrighetto’s 16-point, 19-game finish and the promise of Tyson Jost, J.T. Compher, A.J. Greer, and 22-year-old Mikhail Grigorenko following his fifth year in the NHL and you get some hope for the future. Using the process of elimination, and noting their Varlamov/Pickard goalie logjam facing a barrage of shots nightly, you also zero in on the Avalanche’s top need – defense.
Other than Tyson Barrie and last year’s broken fibula victim Erik Johnson, where do you turn? The 25-year old Barrie had a decent offensive year considering everything, with 38 points after consecutive campaigns of 53 and 49. Johnson skated in just 46 games and still finished second on the team in blocked shots with 98, and led all Avalanche players skating in at least half their games with a minus-six.
Mark Barberio proved serviceable after joining Colorado mid-year. Francois Beauchemin didn’t duplicate his previous 34-point campaign, and Nikita Zadorov provided a solid physical presence with 153 hits in just 56 games. They might lure bruising Andrei Mironov from the KHL and hope to sign the University of Denver’s Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher, but we’re clearly scouring for silver linings here.
Expect the Avalanche to go after top-rated, two-way Finnish defenseman Miro Heiskanen if he’s still around at pick four. With slightly over $18.5 M in projected cap space, they’ll likely also pursue several rearguards in a thin UFA class for young ones after Kevin Shattenkirk, highlighted by the under-30 Michael Del Zotto, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Kulikov, and Michael Stone.
In goal there is the inconsistent, injury-plagued Semyon Varlamov (6-17-0, 3.38, .898) under contract for $5.9 M through 2018-19. Calvin Pickard (15-31-2, 2.98, .904) served a sacrificial role last season after Varly’s groin injury necessitated January surgery and still has promise despite the 2016-17 shellshock. And 21-year-old Spencer Martin has solid potential in net with AHL San Antonio, getting a three-game cup of coffee with Colorado last year.
Potential fantasy rebounders include… well, if things improve in Denver anyone with NHL talent and/or Coloradans who land in decent roles with better teams. Varlamov can’t do much worse and they aren’t going to have him sit the entire season with that nearly $6 M salary. A time share with Pickard looks likely though, unless one leaves via expansion draft. Rumor has it Pickard will be the one left unprotected. Landeskog should see a similar upswing coming off four consecutive, non-lockout years of 50-plus points and a high of 65. With any Avalanche improvement Duchene should also rack up way more than last year’s 41 points, as his prior career average of 0.76 per game far surpasses 2016-17’s 0.53.
It’s a lot of guesswork with much roster upheaval likely, but one can’t ignore Andrighetto’s nearly point-per-game pace with Colorado. He really clicked on the MacKinnon – Rantanen line and his low profile might keep his fantasy price tag low. Speaking of which, the same goes for Rantanen’s growing game as he generated one-fourth of his even-strength production on the aforementioned line. Jost is a keeper with value and should play a sizable role next year. Barrie could return to his previously impressive totals, and a fully-recovered Johnson on that thin blue line might be worth a look as would any top draft defensive draft picks, considering the landscape.
Vancouver Canucks – 30-43-9 (69 points)
Greatest needs: scoring, young talent
Finishing next to last in scoring and 24th in goals allowed, the Canucks need to rebuild. They took steps to get younger by swapping Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen at the trade deadline for promising wings Nikolay Goldobin and Jonathan Dahlén, ultimately landing in the middle of the pack as the NHL’s 13th youngest squad.
For the first time since 2005-06 one of their top two scorers wasn’t named Sedin, as 22-year-old center Bo Horvat led Vancouver with 20 goals and 32 assists, his 52 points edging out second-place twin Henrik (50 points) and brother Daniel (44 points). Both are now 36 years old and, while still producing, their output is shrinking. That’s it as far as Canucks scoring more than 35 points. That’s bad. Even worse, big free-agent acquisition Loui Erikkson was a huge disappointment tallying merely 11 goals and 13 assists in 65 contests. He’s a potentially cheap bounce-back candidate you might consider.
While the talent needs a boost, some of their young players are improving. Horvat, now with three NHL campaigns under his belt has emerged, increasing his points total each season from 25 to 40 to 52. He may increase production further and, as a restricted free agent, will get a hefty raise. With nearly $17.4 M in Canuck cap space that shouldn’t pose a problem, and an additional key signing or two should be affordable.
At age 24, Sven Baertschi completed his second full NHL year with 18 goals and 17 assists and appears an important future piece at left wing. In his first complete campaign Markus Granlund, also 24, had a decent year with 19 goals and 13 assists. Brandon Sutter hit his usual points range with 17 goals and 17 assists. Young rearguards Troy Stecher (23) and Ben Hutton (24) showed promise on Vancouver’s defense and joined Alexander Edler and injury-riddled, talented, trade rumor magnet Chris Tanev as staples, albeit limited scoring options. With last year’s top selection Olli Juolevi coming off another stellar OHL London Knights’ campaign, and in spite of hulking Nikita Tryamkin’s departure to the KHL, the blue line isn’t their top need.
After dropping to fifth in the entry draft for the second straight year Vancouver will have several interesting options to select from to add to their growing prospect stable, currently featuring forwards Goldobin, Dahlén, 2015 first-rounder Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen, and Northeastern University star Adam Gaudette. Look for the best scorer remaining on the board to join them as a rookie, perhaps Owen Tippett, Gabriel Vilardi, or Cody Glass.
Include undersized, youngest-brother Jordan Subban and Juolevi on defense, and AHL uber-prospect Thatcher Demko in goal and Vancouver has a solid young core. With new Head Coach Travis Green promoted from their AHL affiliate in Utica and very familiar with many of these, expect the young Canucks to get significant ice time in 2017-18.
It’s tough to predict who might have the biggest breakout. I’m betting on Boeser who nailed four goals in nine short games while skating with Horvat and Baertschi. Goldobin should also have a significant role. Although he saw limited NHL minutes (11:37 per game) after arriving from San Jose in March (and still potted three goals in 12 games), four goals in his final two postseason contests with AHL Utica likely impressed Coach Green. With a hopefully improved squad, expect Stecher and Hutton’s production to increase as well.
In net, long time-vet Ryan Miller held the Canucks together during portions of the year and it’s a strong bet the unrestricted free agent will head elsewhere. Likely Jacob Markstrom’s minutes will increase with Demko waiting in the wings should opportunity arise. If not in 2017-18, the 21-year-old Demko will be something special before long.
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