All good things must come to an end.
That was the case for the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night. After entering the playoffs as the final wild-card team and knocking off the Western Conference giant Calgary Flames in the first round, the San Jose Sharks put an end to Colorado's Stanley Cup aspirations with a 3-2 victory in a series-deciding Game 7. It marked the end of a rollercoaster campaign, one that saw the Avalanche go from a battle for top spot in the conference with the Nashville Predators in early December to a stumble out of a playoff spot in late March.
And while it wasn't the result they wanted, it's hard to say the season wasn't a success. But the best part? The future is bright in the Centennial State.
For starters, when all three were healthy, the line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen was nearly unstoppable. Per Corsica, Colorado's top trio, which spent more than 1,100 minutes together at all strengths, generated more shot attempts (1,351) than any other unit in the league, boasted the best goal differential of any line at plus-59 and ranked first in goals for percentage (70.9 percent) among the 24 lines to play at least 450 minutes as a trio. All three players finished with career highs in points, with MacKinnon finishing one point shy of the century mark. MacKinnon ($6.3 million per season through 2022-23) and Landeskog ($5.57 million until 2020-21) are on cap-friendly deals, and with around $33 million in projected cap space next year, the Avalanche will have no issue locking up Rantanen long-term.
The talent level definitely drops off as you go deeper in the lineup, but Carl Soderberg (49 points) and Alexander Kerfoot (42 points) both had strong years. And with the cap room remaining after re-signing Rantanen, GM Joe Sakic should have no problem testing the waters for a solid second-line scoring option. There will be options available, too, such as Micheal Ferland or Gustav Nyquist.
Colorado will have some help on the way no matter who Sakic brings aboard, however. Though they may need some additional seasoning, prospects Martin Kaut and Shane Bowers are projected to arrive in the coming years, and with the No. 4 pick in the upcoming draft, a selection that came Colorado's way as part of the Matt Duchene deal with the Ottawa Senators, the Avalanche could bolster their offensive depth by targeting prospects such as Kirby Dach, Vasili Podkolzin or Trevor Zegras.
Weaknesses have also become strengths for Colorado.
During the early years of Sakic's reign in Denver, the lack of defensive depth was an issue. No longer. Tyson Barrie has steadily developed into one of the more capable two-way defenders in the NHL, and he posted a career-high 59 points in the regular season before adding eight points in 12 playoff contests. And the pipeline is strong. Samuel Girard's sophomore campaign was proof positive that he can be a permanent fixture in the top-four next season. Not enough can be said about his playoff partner Cale Makar, either, who already looks like the Calder Trophy frontrunner for 2019-20. Makar is one of the most promising defensemen the Avalanche have ever drafted, and it might not be long before he's in Norris Trophy contention.
And while his days as a top defenseman may be behind him, especially after a mediocre playoff run with Ian Cole on the team's top pairing, Erik Johnson should be able to hold the fort for at least a few years and offer leadership to what will be a young defense corps. Towering defender Nikita Zadorov hasn't seen his junior scoring numbers translate to the big league, but he could still develop into a physical shutdown defender. That's not to mention a healthy Conor Timmins should crack the lineup next year after concussions cost him this campaign. It might take him time before he can play a vital role in the NHL, however.
What does Colorado need moving forward? The Avalanche could use the 16th overall pick to add another promising defenseman, or they could go off the board to secure the top goalie in the draft, Spencer Knight, to boost their netminding depth behind Philipp Grubauer. If Grubauer truly is the real deal, then Colorado will be able to wait a few years for a prospect to develop. That up-and-coming goaltender isn't in the system right now, though.
The past decade for the Avalanche has been filled with mediocrity, with the anti-highlight being the 2016-17 season that saw the team finish with just 22 wins. This season, however, has shown that Colorado has a star-studded top line, a pair of outstanding young defensemen and a solid starting goaltender. The foundation is in place, and with an addition here or there to beef up the depth, the Avalanche look prepared to ice a Stanley Cup contender for years to come.
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