The Colorado Avalanche had a very successful season by anyone’s standards in 2013-14; they went from the worst team in hockey to winning their division. There’s no doubt that the first-round loss to the Minnesota Wild was a tough way to end a great season, especially after having a late lead in game seven.
That loss however does not change the fact that the Avalanche are back among the league’s best but there’s still work to be done. Executive Vice-President Joe Sakic and Head Coach Patrick Roy did the one thing they had to do last season, they changed the culture. Now the real work begins because as former General Manager Pierre Lacroix used to say, the goal now is to win the last game of the season.
The first item on the agenda must be re-signing forwards Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly. Because O’Reilly is a restricted free agent, the Avalanche had more control. Even if another team signs him to an offer sheet, the Avalanche would have the right to match the offer. Make no mistake, though, other teams will take a serious look at O’Reilly base on his performance in the playoffs.
Stastny could be more problematic because he is an unrestricted free agent and is free to sign with any team as of July 1st. There was talk leading up to the trade deadline that moving Stastny for a defensemen may have been a good idea but thankfully the Avalanche disagreed. Other than the performance by rookie Nathan MacKinnon, Stastny was the best player on the ice for the Avalanche through the playoffs.
If the Avalanche are serious about continuing to build a contender year in and year out, then signing Stastny to a long-term deal has to be a priority. The Avalanche do have other free agents and it will be up to Sakic and Roy on who they want to re-sign but make no mistake, O’Reilly and Stastny are on top of the offseason to-do list.
The offense appears to be set, especially if O’Reilly and Stastny do re-sign. MacKinnon may be the best player in the league within a year or two and Gabriel Landeskog is all ready among the league’s best. The Avalanche, however, need to address the defense.
They do have some talent on the blue line including Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie. In fact the argument can be made that the series with the Wild changed when Barrie was lost for the series in game three due to a cheap shot from Matt Cooke. The Avalanche lost the only defensemen who could contribute regularly on the offensive end of the ice. Johnson and Barrie are a good start but the Avalanche need at least on big defenseman who can do everything. They need that one guy who can clear the puck with one pass when the team is in trouble in their own zone.
Now it won’t be easy, every team is looking for a defenseman like this but if the Avalanche want to take the next step then finding a stud on the blue line is a must. The first guy that comes to mind is P.K. Subban from the Montreal Canadians but he is a restricted free agent and signing him will be almost impossible for any team other than the Canadians. Subban is the type of player the Avalanche need though; he matches up with the opponent’s best line and is a force on the offensive end.
Addressing this area will not be easy because outside of Subban, the market is very bare. Teams know how rare these types of players are and tend to lock them up quickly. The Avalanche may have to get creative in terms of a trade in order to improve their play on the blue line. As great as goalie Seymon Varlamov was last season, he faced too many shots and needs help from those players in front of him.
The Avalanche also need more scoring from their third-line; opponents are going to do everything in their power to slow down the top two lines of the Avalanche. In order to combat that, Sakic and Roy must find some production from other spots.
They will get some help with the return of Alex Tanguay who missed most of last season due to an injury. Tanguay is no longer a top-line forward but he is perfectly suited to be a guy who can provide some scoring punch while playing on the third-line. The Avalanche also have some younger forwards in Brad Malone and Joey Hishon that also might be ready to contribute more in 2014-15.
The Avalanche took a big step, maybe two big steps, last season but the next steps are harder. They won’t sneak up on anyone next season and if they are going to continue their progress towards a Stanley Cup, then they will have to be even better next year. Training camp opens in early September but the work begins now.