Colorado Avalanche Should Acquire a Winger Before Opening Night


The Colorado Avalanche’s top six is all but set in stone. Matt Duchene, along with Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay, as well as a second line of Carl Soderberg with Gabriel Landeskog and Nate MacKinnon, is seemingly all the team needs. However, that group may turn out to be worse than expected. Therefore, it would be smart to make a push to acquire another top six forward through free agency or trade, ideally before opening night.

The Avalanche’s top six doesn’t look too bad in theory, but it may turn out to be.

That top six doesn’t look too bad in theory, but it may turn out to be. After all, Iginla and Tanguay are aging stars, and Soderberg may just be a career third liner. Duchene and Landeskog are the only two established, yet young top six forwards, with MacKinnon looking ready to get there as well.

It is tough, but it’s a fact — Iginla and Tanguay are getting old, at 38 and 35, respectively. Not old for ordinary mortals, but quite old for top athletes. While conventional hockey wisdom implies that a player hits the prime of his career around the young age of 27, science set the age for body regression to around 30.

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Both Iginla and Tanguay used to be superstars. For the Colorado Avalanche, they still are two of the best players. In fact, Iginla tied Landeskog as the team’s top scorer in the 2014-15 season at 59 points, with Tanguay being a close third with 55 points — tied with Duchene and now-Sabre Ryan O’Reilly.

Meanwhile, there are more examples of players who remained great NHL players until they retired at a high age. The most recent example would be Martin St-Louis, who recorded 21 goals and 52 points in 74 regular season games this past season — as a 39-year-old. Then there’s Jaromir Jagr — the NHL’s No. 4 in all-time scoring — who is now 43 years old, but doesn’t seem to slow down.

However, there are other examples as well. NHL legend Rod Brind’Amour dropped from 51 points in 51 games to 51 points in 80 games, and eventually to 19 points in 80 games — all within the final three years of his career. Steve Yzerman, another NHL legend, recorded 51 points in 75 games in the 2003-04 season — similar to Iginla and Tanguay in 2014-15 — but then dropped to 34 points in 61 games in his final season, which he played after the 2004-05 NHL lockout.

It would only be natural for Iginla and Tanguay to regress sooner rather than later.

It is impossible to predict whether Iginla and Tanguay will be like St-Louis and Jagr, or like Brind’Amour and Yzerman. Fact is, however, that it would only be natural for the duo to regress sooner rather than later.

What that means for the Colorado Avalanche, is more than clear: if two of the team’s best scorers crash — or get injured for that matter — the team may have to bid the playoff race farewell once more. There are quite a few prospects hoping to get a chance next season, but it is highly questionable, whether that can be enough to compete in the league’s strongest division.

There are two players that seem to have the potential to fill a top six role as early as next season — Mikhail Grigorenko and Mikko Rantanen. Unfortunately, both of them are very young and inexperienced.

The combination of veterans and prospects may be enough. However, aging veterans, inexperienced prospects and a center that has never seen a second line in the NHL before, simply bring too much uncertainty to the roster — especially if the Avalanche wants to make the playoffs again.

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Therefore, the answer to the problem is just as clear as the issue itself: the Colorado Avalanche should make an effort to acquire another top six forward before the season starts.

If Soderberg turns out to not be good enough for the second line, MacKinnon can slide into his spot, which would leave an open spot on the wing. If Iginla and/or Tanguay aren’t good enough for the top six anymore, it would also open up a spot on the wing. Hence, the acquired forward should be a winger if possible.

Here comes the next issue, though. All top free agents are now under contract, and the Avalanche does not exactly have a big amount of high-value trade baits.

The current free agent market is mainly made up of middle-six players in their 30s. It wouldn’t make sense to sign one of them, regarding the fact that we want an insurance in case Iginla or Tanguay turn out to be exactly that — middle-six players in their 30s.

Feb 17, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes forward Jiri Tlusty (19) looks on before the game against the New York Islanders at PNC Arena. The New York Islanders defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

There is one exception to those players available — Jiry Tlusty. The 26-year-old winger is also one of the biggest surprises to still be unsigned at this time. Tlusty has shown that he can score at top-six level, when he recorded 38 points in 48 games for the Hurricanes in the 2012-13 season. However, other than that, he consistently failed to prove that he can be more than a third-line forward.

The most interesting restricted free agents left unsigned would be Jonathan Huberdeau and Carl Hagelin. Throwing an offer sheet at them likely won’t do anything, so they would have to be acquired via trade and given a contract. The problem here is that Huberdeau is one of the Florida Panthers’ most promising players, while Hagelin was just acquired by the Anaheim Ducks this off-season. Therefore, neither one is likely to be available for trade.

The conclusion is simple and yet so tough. If the Colorado Avalanche wants to acquire a top six winger before the season starts — and they should — they would have to find a way to trade for one. There are some interesting prospects in the system, including Calvin Pickard, Joey Hishon and Conner Bleackley, but it is questionable if that would be enough.

With the current composition of the club’s top six, the Colorado Avalanche would be wise to add another top six forward. Even if Iginla, Tanguay and Soderberg hold up, it would give the team a more balanced and experienced lineup. Unfortunately, chances are that it will be too tough to acquire anyone with the Avalanche’s assets.

What do you think? Is the Colorado Avalanche all set for the season? Let us know in the comments!

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