Avalanche look to take next step after adding Saad

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After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2020-21 regular season, which is targeted to start Jan. 1. Today, the Colorado Avalanche:

The Colorado Avalanche didn’t make a big splash in free agency in an effort to get over the hump in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.

Instead, Colorado focused on locking up its key restricted free agents, including forwards Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin, signing each to a two-year contract Oct. 10, and defenseman Ryan Graves, who signed a three-year contract Oct. 12 after leading the NHL with a plus-40 rating last season.

“You just have to be really careful looking into the future,” Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said. “We know the contracts we have coming up (forward Gabriel Landeskog, goalie Philipp Grubauer), we wanted to make sure we were keeping our flexibility. Once we know the numbers there, we can put in the pieces from there. But it is, it’s a different situation (because of the flat NHL salary cap of $81.5 million).”

 

[RELATED: Complete Team Reset coverage]

 

The Avalanche acquired forward Brandon Saad and defenseman Dennis Gilbert in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks for defensemen Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm on Oct. 11. They then added defenseman Devon Toews in a trade from the New York Islanders for a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and 2022 NHL Draft the following day.

Saad has scored at least 21 goals in five of the past six seasons, including 21 in 2019-20, but more importantly, he is a two-time Stanley Cup champion who will bring valuable playoff experience to the Avalanche, who fell short of expectations last season when they were eliminated by the Dallas Stars in seven games in the Western Conference Second Round.

To acquire Saad, Colorado gave up its biggest physical presence, Zadorov (6-foot-6, 235 pounds), who ranked seventh in the NHL among defensemen with 175 hits last season. However, with defenseman prospects Bowen Byram and Conor Timmins knocking on the door, it was a move Sakic could afford to make.

“You have to have depth to win. We’ve addressed that,” Sakic said. 

“We feel [Graves], he’s a big guy (6-5, 220), he’s a defender. We feel with him, Erik [Johnson], Ian [Cole], they give us a physical presence. Cale [Makar] can play a physical style too. You don’t want him banging out there, but he’s a strong kid. He won’t shy away. We feel our defense is going to be fine.” 

Here is what the Avalanche look like today:

 

Key arrivals

Brandon Saad, F: The 27-year-old scored 33 points (21 goals, 12 assists) in 58 regular-season games and five points (two goals, three assists) in nine postseason games last season for the Blackhawks, who he helped win the Cup in 2013 and 2015. … Devon Toews, D: The 26-year-old, who is a restricted free agent with an NHL salary arbitration hearing scheduled for Oct. 31, scored 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 68 regular-season games last season for the Islanders, his second in the NHL, and 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 22 postseason games.

Video: Saad traded to Avs in a four-player deal with Hawks

 

Key departures

Nikita Zadorov, D: Scored 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 64 regular-season games and five points (three goals, two assists) in 15 postseason games last season. He led the Avalanche in hits in each of his four full seasons with Colorado, including an NHL career-high 278 in 2017-18. … Vladislav Namestnikov, F: Signed a two-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 11 after he scored 31 points (17 goals, 14 assists) in 65 games last season, including six (four goals, two assists) in nine games for the Avalanche after they acquired him in a trade from the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 24.

 

On the cusp

Conor Timmins, D: Selected in the second round (No. 32) of the 2017 NHL Draft, Timmins scored 27 points (three goals, 24 assists) in 40 games for the Colorado Eagles of the American Hockey League last season. The 22-year-old also played two games against the Stars in the second round, and Sakic said he’s seen enough to “know he’s ready to maybe take the next step.” … Bowen Byram, D: Selected with the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Byram scored 52 points (14 goals, 38 assists) in 50 games with Vancouver of the Western Hockey League last season. Sakic said the 19-year-old, like Timmins, will get every chance to replace Zadorov. … Martin Kaut, F: A first-round pick (No. 16) in the 2018 NHL Draft, Kaut was a late-season call-up and scored three points (two goals, one assists) in nine NHL games. The 21-year-old scored 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 34 AHL games, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he started this season with the Avalanche. … Alex Newhook, F: The 19-year-old, selected in the first round (No. 16) of the 2019 draft, was tied for seventh in the NCAA with 42 points (19 goals, 23 assists) in 34 games as a freshman for Boston College last season. 

 

What they still need

A No. 1 goalie. Grubauer was brought in two seasons ago to be that guy, but inconsistent play and injuries haven’t allowed that to happen. Last season, Grubauer (18-12-4, 2.63 goals-against average, .916 save percentage) was outplayed in the regular season by backup Pavel Francouz (21-7-4, 2.41 GAA, .923 save percentage) before sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 1 of the second round against the Stars.

Video: COL@DAL, RR: Francouz makes history with shutout

 

Fantasy focus

With likely exposure to Colorado’s top forwards, Saad could be a deep fantasy sleeper after being acquired from Chicago. He averaged the third-most 5-on-5 ice time per game (13:19) among Chicago forwards last season and could capture a role on either the top line with No. 1 ranked fantasy player Nathan MacKinnon or second line with valuable center Nazem Kadri. Saad has averaged 23.3 goals the past six seasons and should produce at an even better rate within a stacked Avalanche offense this season. — Rob Reese

 

Projected lineup

Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen

Brandon Saad — Nazem Kadri — Andre Burakovsky

J.T. CompherPierre-Edouard Bellemare — Valeri Nichushkin

Matt CalvertTyson JostJoonas Donskoi

Ryan Graves — Cale Makar

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Devon Toews — Ian Cole

Philipp Grubauer

Pavel Francouz

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