The window to win remains open. Wide open.
After winning its first Stanley Cup in 21 years, the Colorado Avalanche may just be getting started.
“That’s a great team over there,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “They deserve it as the champs.”
The Avs now aim to follow the Lightning as the NHL’s next back-to-back champions.
“They win two Cups and they’re back in the Final again. I have to tip my hat again because I don’t know how they did it,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of the Lightning. “I’m just starting to figure it out now and I think our players have, too. There’s a tremendous amount of respect there; they’ve been the benchmark that we’ve been kind of eyeing as a team that we want to emulate.”
Most of Colorado’s core players remain under contract for next season, and many are locked in well beyond that. Among the 13 players under contract for 2022-23 are forwards Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog and defensemen Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Sam Girard and Bo Byram.
And Bednar, who signed a two-year contract extension in December, is almost certain to be behind the bench for the foreseeable future.
“I look back on it now and I’m thrilled with the way this season went,” Bednar said after hoisting the Stanley Cup at Amalie Arena. “I think the maturity and the growth of our players over the last couple of years, sort of feeling that heartbreak, really made a difference for us this year in our resiliency and our focus. I always used to laugh when people said you need to lose before you win but I do think in this case, for our team, it was important lessons learned and helped our team maturity get to the point where we could win the Cup.”
The learning curve is complete. The core players under contract will now teach those skills to newcomers.
With forwards Nazem Kadri and Valeri Nichushkin, plus defenseman Josh Manson and goalie Darcy Kuemper all unrestricted free agents, the franchise is certain to lose a few key pieces of its championship roster.
Forwards Andre Burakovsky, Darren Helm, Andrew Cogliano and Nico Sturm are also pending unrestricted free agents, along with defenseman Jack Johnson. Thus, young up-and-comers on relatively inexpensive entry-level contracts will become necessary players under what will be an $82.5 million salary cap next season.
Look for forwards such as Oskar Olausson, Ben Meyers, Martin Kaut and Sampo Ranta to spend more time with the Avs than in the minors next season. Colorado lost its top-two defenseman prospects (Justin Barron, Drew Helleson) at the trade deadline but the Avs already have what is arguably the NHL’s best blueline under contract.
Goaltending is the biggest question mark as Kuemper appears bound to at least test the free-agent market.
Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic and his staff have done a remarkable job in shaping this team since finishing with a league-low 22 wins and 48 points in 2016-17 to conclude Bednar’s first season.
“I have to thank Joe and our ownership group for trusting in me that I could be a guy who helped us win and sticking with me and being patient, giving me the opportunity to come back after that year,” Bednar said. “It’s not a forgiving league a lot of times. And then, just building from then on. I felt like we took major steps that next year, starting the rebuild.
“Obviously, the rebuild was a lot easier when you have players like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabe Landeskog, just to name a couple. And then it’s been a slow build ever since. I felt that we’ve had some really good teams here over the last couple of years and just came up short. That was getting tougher and tougher for me as a coach because we had such high expectations.”
Those Cup-or-bust expectations will be in place next season. And the Avs want to use the same script. Stick to the winning process. Continue to believe in the trust between players, coaches and management.
“They never thought ahead. They just prepared every day and focused on that,” Sakic said of the winning process. “It was a long year with all the positives, but it’s so worth it. The guys that stuck around and wanted to be part of the rebuild back five years ago: (Erik) Johnson, Landeskog, MacKinnon, Rantanen — these guys. I’m really happy for those guys.
“This group, it was a great group. They believed in each other all year and really stuck together and never let anything faze them. If they had a bad game, they got right up the next day ready to be better.”
Ownership is in tune with the process. Stan Kroenke and his family aim to continue keeping the Avs among the league’s best.
“The hardest thing is to stay good all the time,” Kroenke said Sunday night after the clinching victory. “Of course, the minute I came down here (to ice level), the players were coming up to me saying ‘This is amazing, let’s do it again.’”
Kroenke fully believes in Bednar.
“Jared, if you watch him, he’s so steady. He really competes against himself and I think he imparts that on the players,” the owner said. “They keep their focus on what they’re trying to accomplish and I think that’s really super valuable. He doesn’t get distracted with the noise around him, so I think the players feel that.
“I think that’s part of why they were so good on the road. They lost one game, one game in the playoffs on the road.”
|Pos.||Player||Age||Cap hit||Years left||Expiring status|
|W||Mikko Rantanen||25||$9.25 million||3 years||UFA|
|D||Cale Makar||23||$9 million||3 years||UFA|
|W||Gabe Landeskog||29||$7 million||7 years||UFA|
|C||Nathan MacKinnon||26||$6.3 million||1 year||UFA|
|D||Erik Johnson||34||$6 million||1 year||UFA|
|D||Sam Girard||24||$5 million||5 years||UFA|
|D||Devon Toews||28||$4.1 million||2 years||UFA|
|C||J.T. Compher||27||$3.5 million||1 year||UFA|
|G||Pavel Francouz||32||$2 million||2 years||UFA|
|W||Logan O’Connor||25||$1.05 million||3 years||UFA|
|D||Kurtis MacDermid||28||$987,500||2 years||UFA|
|W||Alex Newhook||21||$908,333||1 year||RFA|
|D||Bo Byram||21||$894,167||1 year||RFA|
Minor-league prospects: W Sampo Ranta, 22, $925,000; D Wyatt Aamodt, 24, $925,000; W Ben Meyers, 23, $912,500; W Oskar Olausson, 19, $894,167; W Alex Beaucage, 20, $878,333; G Justus Annunen, 22, $880,933; W Martin Kaut, 22, $863,333; D Danila Zhuravlyov, 22, $855,000; C Jean-Luc Foudy, 20; $847,500; D Nathan Clurman, 24, $842,00; G Trent Minor, 21, $828,333; W Jason Megna, 32, $750,000.
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