Have the Colorado Avalanche Entered the “Cup or Bust” Stage?

A third consecutive second-round exit has many hockey fans wondering if the Colorado Avalanche truly have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. A large portion of hockey fans like myself have considered this current era of Avalanche hockey to be the next great hockey dynasty. That they are the “up and coming team” that general manager Joe Sakic molded together. The issue with this claim is, well, they have made the postseason four straight years. How long will we have to wait until they get past the second round? Is their window closing? Why can’t they get over this hump?

Roster

With a core built around the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, not to mention cornerstone defenceman Cale Makar, one would think that the Avalanche will be great for years to come. Those three have a great supporting cast in Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, Nazem Kadri, and of course, captain Gabriel Landeskog who was recently extended for eight years. They have a respectable prospect pool highlighted by Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook. Some pieces they lost in the offseason include Ryan Graves, Joonas Donskoi, Brandon Saad, and Vezina Trophy-nominee Philipp Grubauer. They acquired Darcy Kuemper as a replacement for Grubauer, as the two goalies are very similar in caliber. The team definitely lacks scoring depth after losing Donskoi and Saad. My belief is that the Colorado Avalanche still have the best roster in the NHL. This is not the issue, although the roster has noticeably weakened. Their lineup will always be competitive in the next decade to come.

Leadership

As previously mentioned, the Avalanche and captain Landeskog were able to reach terms on a contract extension which ends in 2029. The Avs have three alternate captains, those being MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Erik Johnson who played just four games in 2020-21. A lack of leadership could definitely have to do with their second-round failures. While adding players to provide a veteran presence is not always the answer to winning a Stanley Cup (looking at you, Toronto), it could be a factor to help this young team succeed. Teams that are considered “contenders” like the Avalanche typically have older players than those teams that aren’t contending. During their 4-year run of being in the playoffs Going into next season, the oldest player on the Avalanche is currently 34-year-old, Darren Helm.

Salary Cap Situation

While the Avalanche have been experts at acquiring players for less than what they’re worth, they have now exited the entry-level phase of Makar, which had previously helped them get lots of talent since he was making peanuts. The team currently owns a bit over $2 million in cap space heading into next season, and it is obvious that the team took a hit in the offseason, as did many other top-tier teams in the NHL. Kadri and Andre Burakovsky are both pending UFAs at the end of the 2021-22 season and should look for raises from their previous contracts. All in all, the Avalanche missed their opportunity to win the Stanley Cup while Makar and Landeskog were making much less. This does not necessarily mean that they will never win the Cup again, but they can no longer take advantage of their young talent making under $1 million per season.

Conclusion

The three factors listed above should always be considered when deciding the quality of a team. Their roster is fine even if it got worse in the offseason, the leadership and experience are very suspect, and they missed out on taking advantage of cheap contracts on their team. The question still stands: are the Avs in the “cup or bust” stage? Well, no. Even the Capitals won the Stanley Cup eventually. There is no doubt in my mind that this team will become a third-round team, it’s just a matter of when. However, it is very disappointing that they are not that team that we all expected them to be, yet.

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