Looking at a pair of intriguing Colorado Avalanche UFAs
As the Colorado Avalanche head to their first conference final in 20 years and in contention for their first Stanley Cup championship since 2001, much has been said about their impending UFAs and their ability to re-sign them. Much of this discussion has focused on the center of the stars Nazem Kadri and starting goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper, both of whom were brought on to take Colorado to the next level as a playoff team, and the noise surrounding them has been more than justified. Kuemper had another solid season, his first in Colorado, with a .921 save percentage and a 2.54 goals-against average. Kadri, already a strong performer, has had nothing short of a sensational year, with 28 goals and 59 assists in 71 games. Unsurprisingly, the two took their production all the way to the playoffs. If and when Kadri or Kuemper hit the UFA market in July, they will be of great interest.
While the talk around these two is warranted, there are two key Avalanche plays also on the heels of breakout seasons, headed toward free agency, that seem to be getting a lot less buzz. Despite lacking hype, or perhaps overshadowed by a star-studded team, forwards Valery Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky will hit free agency with, one might expect, solid markets for their services.
Burakovsky’s production isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, as the winger is averaging 0.79 points per game over his three seasons at Colorado, with his 61 points in 2021-22 actually representing a (very small ) drops to 0.76 points per game. , but that’s a major step up from the 0.44 points per game he averaged with the Washington Capitals before. For the most part, disruptions to the schedule from COVID-19 are responsible for Burakovsky’s lower point totals in the two seasons leading up to this one, but this season represents Burakovsky’s ability to produce at this rate not on 50-60 games, but over a full NHL season. Although Burakovsky amassed his numbers on an incredible offensive team like Colorado, during a period of league-wide scoring increases he showed the ability to stay in the lineup and produce steadily, and at just 27 he looks ripe for a longer-term contract.
Unlike Burakovsky, Nichuskin had a true breakout season, setting a career high with 52 points, 18 more than his previous career high of 34 set in his 2013-14 rookie season with the Dallas Stars. After three seasons with Dallas, Nichushkin left the NHL to play with KHL’s CSKA Moscow, but returned for the 2018-19 season, where he struggled to get just 10 assists in 57 games for Dallas. He would leave Dallas for Colorado, where he would find consistent production ahead of a strong 2021-22 season. Although Nichushkin lacked Burakovsky’s consistency, he showed the ability to adapt and produce throughout his career, entering the league at age 18, where he tallied 34 points. He’s shown an ability to produce in the NHL since then, and while his home production in the KHL wasn’t any more impressive than his NHL production to date, he’s proven he can take his game to the next level. ‘a league and from one side of the globe to another and produce, then again. Nichushkin also has a factor in his game that can’t be taught or taken away: his size. Listed at 6’4 and 210 pounds, Nichushkin is able to use his body to assert himself and create space for himself and his teammates.
Nichushkin may struggle to find the term Burakovsky might be capable of, but his unique skills and recent production should be enough to land him a contract with a strong AAV, and at just 27, if he can continue to match his 2021 -22 production on the duration of a shorter contract, maybe two or three years, he could be in line for a long-term contract in the future.
Watching the market for these two certainly doesn’t mean Colorado won’t be able to retain one or both, but the organization has several questions to ask. The first and most important of these is how do they fit in with the attempt to re-sign the aforementioned Kadri and Kuemper? After leaving the keeper Philippe Grubauer sign to Seattle, replacing him with Kuemper, Colorado will likely push to keep Kuemper. As bright as Kadri has been this season, he’s likely heading for a long-term deal with a reasonably high AAV this offseason, and at 32 on opening night, that might not be the investment. more cautious for Colorado, especially if they can re-sign both Nichushkin and Burakovsky instead.
With $26.485 million in projected cap space this offseason, Colorado could, in theory, bring back all four, leaving things a little tight cap-wise (and would likely require Josh Manson departure in free agency). However, problems arise after next season, when Nathan MacKinnon becomes a UFA and would require a significant increase from its current team-friendly cap of $6.3 million. Defender Erik Johnson’s $6 million cap would also expire, and while he could accept a reduced salary to stay on, that probably wouldn’t be enough to balance MacKinnon’s raise, all before considering J.T. CompherUFA status of and expiration of Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook‘s ELC. As much as some of these things seem like future issues for Colorado, the questions they pose now and how the organization might approach this upcoming offseason with four of their key plays slated to become UFAs.