The Colorado Avalanche ended a 21-year wait to win the Stanley Cup last season and despite some significant changes to the roster are among the favourites to be crowned champions again in 2022/23.
Like every champion in the tight salary cap era, the Avalanche haven't been able to keep all their Stanley Cup winning heroes together, but they have managed to retain several of the key pieces.
These include forwards Valeri Nichushkin (eight-year contract), Artturi Lehkonen (five-year contract), Andrew Cogliano (one-year contract), and Darren Helm (one-year contract), plus rugged defenceman Josh Manson (four-year contract).
Each played a significant role in getting Colorado over the second-round hump where they stumbled for three seasons straight, and Lehkonen scored the Western Conference and Stanley Cup clinching goal.
|What||NHL Season 2022/23|
|Where||USA and Canada|
|When||October 7th 2022 - June 2023|
|How to watch||ESPN+, Star+, NHL.TV & bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||COL Avalanche +425, TOR Maple Leafs +800, FLA Panthers +900, TB Lightning +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1100|
Colorado were forced to allow some players walk in free agency, most notably forwards Andre Burakovsky - who signed with the Seattle Kraken - and Nazem Kadri, who joined the Calgary Flames, plus goalie Darcy Kuemper, who moved to Washington Capitals.
Kuemper's departure was quickly addressed with the acquisition of Alexander Georgiev from the New York Rangers and he will form a tandem with Pavel Francouz, who performed excellently when called upon in the playoffs.
Colorado will look to Nichushkin and Lehkonen to build off their career best seasons to replace the production lost by Burakovsky (61 points in 80 games) and Kadri (87 points in 71 games).
Nichushkin had NHL career highs in goals (25), assists (27) and points (52) in 62 regular season games last season, and Lehkonen set career highs in goals (19) and points (38) in 74 games with the Avalanche and Montreal Canadiens.
Twenty-one-year-old Alex Newhook, who had 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists) in 71 games as a rookie last season is also expected to be given more opportunity to impress.
The goalie move is the most intriguing part of the Colorado's off-season, and perhaps the biggest question mark heading into the new season.
Never the number-one previously, 26-year-old Georgiev has made 129 NHL appearances (117) starts over five years in the NHL with a .908 save-percentage and 2.94 GAA, which is slightly lower than Kuemper's .918 career save percentage and .921 in 57 regular season games for the Avalanche last season.
Georgiev signed a three-year deal with the Avalanche with a $3.4 million annual cap hit, significantly less than Kuemper's request of $5.2 million which he achieved from the Capitals.
The Russian's workload will significantly increase with the Avalanche, and a story line of the early season will be how he deals with that pressure.
But, as evidenced by Kuemper's drop to a .902 save percentage in his 16 playoff games, the Avalanche have proven they don't necessarily need world class net minding to be successful and so, even if Georgiev and Francouz continue to perform to their past career standards, they should offer Colorado the opportunity to win again.
In forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and defenceman Cale Makar, Colorado has a core of players as good as anyone in the NHL and, as long as they remain together, the Avalanche will expect to challenge for the cup.
MacKinnon scored 88 points (32 goals, 56 assists) in 65 games last season which was his fifth straight year producing over a point-per-game.
Rantanen led the team in goals (36) and points (92) in 75 games, while Makar had an astonishing 86 points (28 goals, 58 assists) in 77 games from the blue-line.
The hugely talented 23-year-old also led Colorado for points in the post-season (29 points, eight goals, 21 assists in 20 games). He won the Norris Trophy as best defenceman and Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.
Captain Landeskog adds leadership and physicality while still contributing offensively recording 59 points (30 goals, 29 assists) in 51 games last season.
After completing his championship mission as General Manager, adding the Stanley Cup to the two he won as Captain of Colorado in 1996 and 2001, Joe Sakic has been promoted to President of hockey operations for the Avalanche and his long-time assistant Chris McFarland promoted to the GM role.
Fifty-two-year-old McFarland has been regarded as a strong candidate for a NHL general manager role for last few years, prompting his and Sakic’s internal promotion.
Sakic, 53, was named General Manager of the year last season and has received the lion’s share of the credit for transforming the Avalanche into a powerhouse organisation, but McFarland has been by his side for the last seven seasons.
With outstanding coach Jared Bednar also at the helm, Colorado appears in safe hands as they aim to pursue further success in 2022/23.