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Avalanche are Facing Pivotal Offseason

In the 2013-2014 season the Colorado Avalanche dominated the Western Conference, winning the Central Division title and placing second behind only the Anaheim Ducks in the conference standings. Just a year later, the Avs finished dead last in the Central and 11th overall in the West.

Advanced stats supporters will tell you the numbers predicted a significant drop-off, but regardless, Colorado needs a lot of help this coming offseason.

When former Avalanche legend Joe Sakic took over as GM in Colorado and hired Patrick Roy as head coach, the franchise seemed to be headed in the right direction. Fresh off selecting Nathan MacKinnon first overall at the 2013 NHL draft, the Avs became a team to look out for as a potential playoff contender for the 13-14 season – but no one knew just how great a year it would be for Colorado.

The aforementioned division and conference records speak for themselves, plus Roy won the Jack Adams Award as the best head coach, MacKinnon won the Calder Trophy for top rookie and Ryan O’Reilly won the Lady Byng Trophy for being the most sportsmanlike player.

Paul Stastny, MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog formed one of the most dominant forward lines in the league (and it showed in their first round series against the Minnesota Wild) and both Matt Duchene and O’Reilly had exceptional seasons as well.

However, the dream season came to a halt when Nino Niederreiter ended the Avs’ playoff run in overtime of Game 7 in their quarterfinal matchup.

The offseason moves that followed changed everything for Colorado and set them up for a disappointing followup campaign. Stastny signed with his hometown St. Louis Blues during free agency; the Avs signed Jarome Iginla who struggled often in the 14-15 season and Sakic traded top-six forward P.A. Parenteau to the Montreal Canadiens for the aging Daniel Briere.

The moves made last offseason did not work out as expected, and the team bottomed out in 2014-15. It’s one thing to have one disappointing season, but Sakic has work to do this summer to make his club competitive again.

The Avalanche lack a true top-line right wing, a top pairing left-handed defenseman and overall forward depth. Iginla played on the top line this past season, but the winger would be better suited at this stage of his career on the second or third line. The Avalanche have a potential blockbuster trade chip in O’Reilly; the left-winger/center has had rocky contract talks with the Avalanche recently and has been the subject of many trade rumors for the past few years.

O’Reilly is one of the best up-and-coming two-way forwards in the league and is a former 60-plus point scorer, so he could be excellent trade bait for the Avs.

One potential right wing target could include Phil Kessel; whose name has been floated around trade talks for the past few months; after newly-hired Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock indicated last week that he is committed to a long-term process, Kessel be on his way out of Toronto. O’Reilly and Kessel would be fair centerpieces for both teams in a hypothetical trade.

The Avalanche have just two UFAs (Briere and Jan Hejda), both of whom are unlikely to be re-signed this offseason, so their current cap space of about $11 million (as per GeneralFanager) is what they will be able to work with in terms of free agency and trades. Trading O’Reilly’s $6 million contract would put the Avs at $1 million above the salary cap floor; that’s $17 million in cap space to work with.

The defense has been a glaring issue dating back several seasons for Colorado, but if Sakic chooses not to wait out the development of defense prospects Will Butcher, Chris Bigras, and several others, he could make a trade for a top left-handed d-man. Right-handed defensemen Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie have taken off under the direction of Roy, but the Avs are extremely weak on the left side.

And finally, the forward depth will most likely be addressed during free agency. Antoine Vermette could be a big name to watch out for as the Avalanche look to fill the third-line center role, and there are plenty of other forward options available to fill the openings on the wings.

The Avalanche pick 10th overall at the 2015 NHL Draft, and big names who could be available at that point are top defense prospect Zack Werenski and top wingers Pavel Zacha, Mikko Rantanen, Timo Meier and Travis Konecny. With a combination of trades, free agency and the draft, the Avalanche may make a postseason appearance once again in the 2015-2016 season.

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