Three ways The Colorado Avalanche improved going into the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft

Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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Gabriel Landeskog (92)
Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The Colorado Avalanche was named the way too early favorite for the 2022 Stanley Cup before the championship boat parade in Tampa Bay was even completed.

The sports betting community does not wait around for anything. Despite a Second Round Playoff collapse against the Vegas Golden Knights, the recognition is not surprising. Nathan MacKinnon is a top-three player in the NHL and the Avs have a number of young stars who have yet reached their prime.

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After years of irrelevance and a historically bad 48 point season in 2017, the Avalanche have now exited the second round of the NHL Playoffs for three straight seasons. In this “flat-cap” era where the salary cap is not scheduled to rise anytime soon, the compiled talent on Colorado is going to need to get paid.

This offseason, those include team captain Gabriel Landeskog, Norris Trophy finalist Cale Makar, and Vezina Trophy finalist in goaltender Philipp Grubauer. With all of this, the future re-signing of Nathan Mackinnon looms over the heads of Colorado’s front office.

The Avalanche somehow has to improve enough to get over their Second Round woes, while figuring out a way to maintain the key pieces of the franchise and do it all while still having money left over to pay a full NHL roster. General Manager Joe Sakic, is well on his way to trying to accomplish just that. Here is how:

Three ways the Colorado Avalanche improved heading into 2021 NHL Expansion Draft

Ryan Graves (27)
Ryan Graves #27 of the Colorado Avalanche. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

1. The trade of Ryan Graves (on ice solutions)

Ryan Graves was a surprise revelation in the 2019-2020 season. He won a role in the Avalanche starting lineup out of nowhere. He was brought to Colorado in a low-key, change-of-scenery type of trade. This is the type of surprise that teams all hope for and yet trading Graves away was a two-fold success – this explains the on-ice solutions.

Playing alongside Cale Makar in the stud rookie’s 2019-2020 Calder Memorial Trophy-winning season, Graves tallied 26 points in 69 games during the shortened year. If plus/minus rating means anything important to you, Graves also led the NHL at +40 in the same year.

His 2020-2021 year was not as productive, but still very effective with 15 points in 56 games and he was one of Colorado’s top penalty killers in a season where the team won the President’s Trophy.

So how exactly did the Avalanche get better when trading away arguably its best defensive defenseman to the New Jersey Devils? Well, Colorado has quite the traffic jam at its blueline. Longtime defensive anchor and former number 1 overall pick, Erik Johnson played in only four games last season and Colorado ended up getting by without him. If Johnson is healthy next year, he is a welcomed veteran presence.

Rookie Bowen Byram was another defenseman who made appearances for Colorado last season. Byram made his NHL debut and played 19 total games last year before taking a hit to the head from Vegas forward Keegan Kolesar on March 25th of last year. Byram was obviously trusted by the Colorado coaching staff before his injury, averaging 17:31 in time on ice. Another year of development will have Byram primed for huge steps forward at only 20 years of age.

In addition to freeing up some room for another defenseman, we cannot forget that Colorado added a Second Round draft pick, giving them three total draft picks in the top 100 picks of the upcoming 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Also from the Devils, the Avalanche received potential bottom-six forward Mikhail Maltsev. Maltsev is signed at under one million dollars and could possibly help replace veteran Pierre-Edouard Bellemare who will not be re-signed by Colorado before Free Agency officially begins.