Colorado Avalanche: How Phase 3 and 4 Can Influence Next Season

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 10: Bernie, the mascot of the Colorado Avalanche takes to the ice prior to the game at the Pepsi Center on January 10, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Predators defeated the Avalanche 4-1. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 10: Bernie, the mascot of the Colorado Avalanche takes to the ice prior to the game at the Pepsi Center on January 10, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Predators defeated the Avalanche 4-1. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) /

“The Colorado Avalanche can use the upcoming training camp and subsequent post-season tournament to answer the lingering questions of next year”

Phase 3 of the NHL Return to Play initiative takes place on July 10th which will rally the 24 postseason eligible teams to their training camps.  This provides the teams the opportunity to assemble as a collective unit for the first time since early March. Putting the responsibility of reestablishing their physical fitness and cohesive synergy solely on the player’s shoulders. In October of 2019, every member of the Avalanche claimed winning the Stanley Cup as the central goal of the season, now its time to prove it.

As a die-hard fan myself of the boys in burgundy and blue, the first two phases of the Return to Play plan carried little tangible excitement as they represented benchmarks of an eventual return to play. Even with Phase 2 opening the door to isolated free skate sessions with a select number of players on the ice, it can’t be quantified as actual, legitimate, high octane hockey that we were enjoying in March when everything came to a halt.

However, we are knocking on the door of organized, fundamental, full team practices in Phase 3. A training camp in which Jared Bednar can reform his forward lines, defensive pairings, and net-minders in simulated drills and exercises. But most importantly he can see who carried that passion through 4 months of quarantine and uncertainty and still has their sights set on Lord Stanley’s cup. Because if you don’t have that passion now, when will you?

The 2020-2021 NHL season is slowly getting closer and the Avalanche find themselves are looking at a wealth of young talent, and favorable cap space for the upcoming season. With a respectable $5.4 million worth of cap room coming up next year the Avs have the luxury of retaining the core contracts of the lineup while having the money to make improvements if necessary. That also means the Avs do not have to feel obligated to resign those players who are not contributing to the goal of becoming an annual contender in the league.

The Avalanche will be seeing Colin Wilson, Matt Nieto, Vladislav Namestnikov, Mark Barberio, Kevin Connauton, and Michael Hutchinson all become unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) after this season. While Andre Burakovsky, Tyson Jost, Valeri Nichushkin, Vladislav Kamenev, Nakita Zadorov, and Ryan Graves will become restricted free agents (RFA’s). This Phase 3 training camp and then the Phase 4 playoffs will give these players a very substantial forum to prove their commitment to the future of the Avalanche organization.

With a top-heavy draft class, a deep free-agent market, and a minor league system full of young players chomping at the bit for the chance to make the main roster in 2020 it adds a certain amount of pressure for the previously mentioned players to establish their worth amongst the team. General Manager  Joe Sakic has been awarded a bonus training camp to evaluate the passion and grit with the players he has already in the fold and compare them to the other ventures they could pursue this off-season.

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If the Avalanche begins their first playoff series flat and devoid of the passion it takes to win a cup, Sakic has the cap room and options to dive into free agency and find that passion.  With players like Alex Pietrangelo, Torey Krug, and Taylor Hall headlining free agency they could be potential pieces Sakic would look to acquire to make an impact next season. Although Sakic doesn’t typically dip into the murky waters of free agency there is enough talent available this year where it would be hard not to entertain the option. To further spice up the market Corey Crawford, Robin Lehner, and Jacob Markstrom are also available goaltenders that might prompt Joe to bolster the backstop if he deems necessary.

But you might say “Joe Sakic never makes a splash in the free-agent pool, that’s not his style”, well then why not look up the road in Loveland, Colorado and examine the Eagles. A cheaper and more long term option might be letting Martin Kaut, Connor Timmins, or Hunter Miska join the Avs next season. After posting a 34-18-3 record in a shortened 2019-20 season, the Eagles had a very solid team this year and a very promising future crop of talent.

A select handful of the Eagles have had to be call-ups this year in relief of an injury-riddled Avalanche team and helped get the Avs where they are today. It is widely known that Sakic takes pride in his minor league development so calling up players from within is always an option in the offseason for the Avs.

Whether it be in free agency, postseason trades, or through the minor leagues, the acquisition of talent will not be a challenge this year. Even with the upcoming NHL Draft, in which the Avalanche are looking at a later first-round pick, the Avs could take advantage of acquiring some entry-level talent.

Colorado has seen some draft picks pay dividends for them in the past with the selections of Cale Makar, Alex Newhook, and Bowen Byram they could easily make some waves in this year’s draft as well. A solid few picks in this year’s draft would only strengthen the minor league system and make it harder to keep some of that existing talent from making the main roster in the next few years.

With other professional sports leagues fighting the challenges of restarting play, the NHL will have a great platform to put its best product forward on the international stage. With every in-game misstep, setback, and loss being amplified by the gravity of the Stanley Cup playoffs, a lack of effort and passion is not a look the Avalanche will be wanting to make.

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It has been 19 years since the Avalanche last won the Stanley Cup and after many ups and downs, they have finally rebuilt themselves into a consensus contender. With phase 3 and 4 upcoming, the Avalanche will be utilizing this chance to evaluate where and with who the future lies. This additional scouting period should only add to the intensity of an always raucous playoff season not just for the Avs but league-wide.

This year it will be a true test of determination and pride to prove who can drive the heartbeat of the team into that rarified air and hoist the trophy like all the legends before them. This could truly be a year of win or go home on many fronts, for many players, in more ways than one.