MHH Roundtable: Hey, September – Mile High Hockey

When the calendar turns the page to September, the scent of impending hockey season smells. Beginner camp in two weeks and main camp in just one week. There’s still plenty of time to hook up some loose ends from the off-season but for the most part, it’s Colorado Avalanche for the 2022-23 season and defend their title.

What was your favorite part of Stanley Cup Summer festivities?

Jackie: I enjoy the way the party lives day in and day out, and it’s a great tradition of how everyone gets their turn. It was fun writing the history of the trip and discovering how each player and staff member chooses to spend their day. Cale Makar and Slurpee with his brother Taylor were so much fun and I also loved seeing assistant coach Nolan Pratt take the trophy to the Red Rocks in my neck in the woods.

Yaaqoub: Grandma Makar yet.

Evan: The impact of a Stanley Cup visit to a Muslim mosque in Toronto with Nazim Qadri is one that will never be forgotten. It’s going to be a forever poignant time for him and this community, and doing something like that is just so amazing.

Ezra: Maybe when they had this party in Indore and Leah, they put the big medal around Cale’s neck and then EJ did his best impression on Chubeka and… Look, I didn’t care about the festivities at all, okay? I’m only here for hockey you guys. Hope the boys had fun!

What move or decision did the avalanche make in this off-season that was the best?

Jackie: A five-year, $4.5 million contract extension for Artturi Lehkonen was all I hoped would be accomplished with him. And to complete it early without resorting to arbitration made it sweeter. He proved to be a huge fit for this team and to get a short stint at a good price was a huge win.

Yaaqoub: Not giving Darcy Comber a big contract. Avs fans can argue for hours about how good Kuemper is as a no. 1 on the Stanley Cup champ, but actually based on the NHL’s salary cap, that’s honestly beside the point. Nathan McKinnon has gotten the bulk of the attention for his upcoming mega extension this off-season, but the Avs need as much space as they can pay for Devon Toews (free agent 2024) and Mikko Rantanen (2025) contracts as well. Between Philippe Grobur, Pavel Francoz and Quimper, Sack has proven that he can find good, cost-effective goalkeepers that they need in order to keep the core team together.

Evan: This move might be a little understated, but subtly re-signing Josh Manson would be a great move in the long run. With Eric Johnson looking to retire after his deal expires next year, Manson could well replace him and play alongside Sam Gerrard or Bowen Byram more consistently. Keeping a guy like Manson in Colorado after he’s been on the plane back to Anaheim is fun to see and will be an integral part of the defensive core that will try to return the Avs to glory.

Ezra: I really like this step of extracting Alexander Georgiev from New York at a relatively cheap price. It’s the kind of high play that McFarland and Sakic have played consistently in the years leading up to last year’s championship, sticking to a list-building strategy (invest in quality defense and attackers, make it cheap at the net and bottom six.) although the pressure to bring everyone back to defend the cup was certainly high. A prime indicator of a smart and principled front desk.

What remains to be done in preparation for the upcoming season?

Yaaqoub: More defensive depth. After a top six, Avs has Kurtis MacDermid, Keaton Middleton, Brad Hunt and Andreus England on the defensive depth chart. On the list of things that could derail what should be another dominant avalanche season, the multiple injuries to their defensive arm are high on the list. Much of the talk has focused on the $4.5 million in cover space that Avalanche should work on replacing Nazim Kadri for second-line position, but the playoffs proved that head coach Jared Bednar has at least a number of capable replacements in Mikko Rantanen and GT Kumpir. Alex Newhook may take a leap and begin his seemingly inevitable rise to second-line position next year. Regardless, there are multiple options in 2C and what happens if several defensemen go down is less certain, so the Avs need at least one more deep signature to support the best defensive corps in the NHL.

Evan: I still feel as though the Avs need to put in some kind of effort to cover up the loss of Nazım Kadiri. If you have $4.5 million in cap space, you should be amortizing. While Paul Stastney is already gone, I’d like to bring in Evan Rodriguez on a one- or two-year deal to “prove it” as they did with Valery Neshushkin a few years ago. This will help Avs get some coverage there. I don’t think there is a lot of depth in the farm division with the Colorado Eagles to fill the fourth line if a guy like Alex Newhawk or JT Comfer permanently moves into the second line position. With that being said, if either of them moves up, I’ll still feel confident with them there but it would be nice to bring in additional reinforcements if the money is there to do it.

Jackie: I would like to see another addition to the front and defense too but at this point it seems like no one is of interest in the cards. I would be surprised to see that so much of the salary cap is left on the table, considering proportionality and salary retention, there is no need to keep the cap space available only for the trade deadline. Brad Hunt and Anton Blade are already deeply experienced NHL players who can enter or once insider options can be considered. But hopefully they go down with Rodriguez or someone at the last minute who can be more than just another body.

Ezra: I think we’ll see some interesting PTOs at boot camp. There are a lot of guys with a half-six right now (Rodriguez as above, Sony Milano, etc.) The player has a real impact in the long run. I don’t think the list needs anyone else in the short term, but if someone comes to camp and lights up a lot and asks for a job in the middle of it, it’s good to have a place for them.

How concerned is Nathan McKinnon that he hasn’t signed a contract extension yet?

Jackie: I never assumed that a contract of this expected size would be completed quickly but time is running out before the boot camp starts. The front office has publicly stated several times the priority that must be reached this summer, and we are now past the point of negotiating an easy blank check. The game of chickens until the eleventh hour as they did with the Gabe Landeskog contract is not ideal for risking McKinnon walking and leaving with nothing. The organization really needs to know if it will meet his demands or start work on Plan B.

Yaaqoub: Jackie makes a good point that Gabriel Landeskog’s wire-going negotiations are pressing Avalanche to end this quickly with the franchise’s cornerstone. Until today, almost six weeks before the start of the season, I’m not worried. A decade this large and complex is going to take some time, especially in a world where the cap is expected to swell in the coming years, and there is no doubt in my mind that an avalanche will accomplish that. Part of the reason they’re so tight with Landeskog is that they need to save every penny they can pay Nathan Mackinnon, so once that’s done they can move on to making space for Toews and Rantanen.

Evan: Everyone follows my lead: breathe in with your nose and out with your mouth. Breathe in through your nose, and exhale through your mouth.

It shouldn’t be much of a concern that McKinnon hasn’t signed a deal yet. Avs still has plenty of time to strike a deal. While it would obviously be a good idea to do this sooner rather than later, there is nothing to stress too much when it comes to this topic. Colorado knows what he wants and certainly does his best to meet each other’s demands because of the size of the role he plays on the team. Jackie made the good point though by not waiting as long as they did with Landeskog. It was already It’s rumored that Mac will get a big deal anywayAnd, if that is the case, neither party will wait any longer.

Ezra: Sake fire! Destroy MacFarland! Eat Bednar! JK I’m not worried at all.