Who will have the biggest impact on the Colorado Avalanche this season?
If you were to open up any social media platform and search “Colorado Avalanche offseason”, the vast majority of the feedback would be negative . The Avs did have a couple moves that had people shaking their heads in either confusion or disappointment but they had a few good moves that have not received the credit they deserve. Out of the seven bonafide NHLers the Avs acquired this offseason, it’s likely that all seven will provide more good than bad in the 2021-22 season. With that said,these are the three that I believe will provide the biggest impact/change.
The first and possibly the most puzzling to most of the fanbase was the acquisition of Kurtis MacDermid – a 6’ 5”, 233 lbs enforcer – for a 2023 4th Round pick. MacDermid has played all four years of his NHL career with the Los Angeles Kings and was Seattle’s selection from the Kings in the 2021 Expansion Draft. Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic acquired MacDermid, most likely, for his old fashioned bodyguard style of hockey, something many have thought the Avs have lacked in the Jared Bednar era. Although many (including myself), disagree with these claims, there is some solid reasoning behind it. The Avs are a highly skilled team and their leading fighters from the 2020-21 season were Dan Renouf and Liam O’ Brien, who are both not with the team anymore. The only regulars on the Avs who have shown a consistent willingness to fight are Nazem Kadri, Gabriel Landeskog, and even Nathan MacKinnon, all three of whom aren’t who you want dropping the gloves if you’re Jared Bednar. There are a few other guys on the roster that will throw down if need be but not consistently and well enough to actually be effective. MacDermid has shown an ability to not only fight, but send a message when he does so and with a skilled team like the Avs that’s important. Instead of a skilled player like the three listed above, MacDermid is more expendable and the team can lose him for five minutes as a consequence of him showing the other team why they shouldn’t mess with the Avs’ studs. It’s debatable whether or not any enforcer is necessary in today’s NHL but if you’re set on having one, you can do a lot worse than MacDermid.
In a move that originally appeared as little more than a salary cap dump and expansion draft maneuvering, the Avalanche acquired Mikhail Maltsev and a second round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft – that turned into defenseman Sean Behrens of the USNTDP – from the New Jersey Devils for defender Ryan Graves. The trade was a definite win for the Avs, not only because they got a second round pick, which by itself would have made the trade an Avs win but also because they got a promising, young, bottom six winger in Maltsev. The Avalanche have a plethora of future bottom sixers, such as Martin Kaut, Shane Bowers, and Andreas Wingerli (another offseason acquisition), however, of the four mentioned, Maltsev has the best chance of having his name on the opening night roster this October. Maltsev played his rookie season with the Devils last year and put up an admirable 9 points in 33 games. Maltsev has also shown good underlying numbers, having 52.17% of the chances go in his favor when he was on the ice, which is pretty solid for a bottom six player on a weak New Jersey team. One of the most valuable aspects of the acquisition of Maltsev is that he is on an entry level contract for the upcoming season and will likely get another cheap contract afterwards, something extremely valuable for a team that needs to monitor it’s cap space closely.
The third player on this list will come as no surprise to any Avalanche fan – Darcy Kuemper. Sakic may have paid a heavy price for Kuemper but it was necessary to keep this team in Cup contention. The biggest doubt plaguing the Kuemper deal is his ability to stay healthy but the Avs are no stranger to having a high caliber starting goalie who is prone to injury. Kuemper has only played more than thirty games twice in his career, in 2014-15 he played 31 and again in 2018-19 where he played 55. Although Kuemper has had a health problem, he has been a top-10 goalie in the NHL and Avs fans have experienced his talent firsthand. Since the 2017-18 season (when he first started in Arizona), Kuemper has put up a .920 SV% (5th*) and a 2.39 GAA (6th*). Although those seem great, both finish behind former Avalanche starter Philip Grubauer who put up a .933 SV% (2nd*) and a 2.02 GAA (3rd). Here is where it is important to remember that Kuemper played behind a mediocre Arizona team who made the playoffs only once in that stretch, and Grubauer never missed the playoffs in that time, winning the Stanley Cup as a backup in Washington and the Presidents Trophy as a starter in Colorado. This leads to another reason to be even more excited about the Kuemper deal, the team in front of him. As previously stated, Kuemper put up stellar numbers behind a mediocre (at best) Arizona team, which should give Avs fans hope for his tenure in Colorado. The Avalanche have arguably the best defense in the NHL, very different from Arizona who had a below average defense to say the least. This will allow Kuemper to perform even better and could drastically decrease his chances of getting injured, both of which will make the trade much more valuable.
Despite the opinions of many armchair GMs and the lack of big name acquisitions by the Avs, Joe Sakic had a good offseason and has improved his already Cup contending team.
*=among goalies who played over 4500 minutes 2017-2021