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Even with free agent issues, Avalanche is built to last

Chew on this scary thought: the Colorado Avalanche is built to last. In other words, this may not be the only time the Nathan MacKinnon-Cale Makar-era Avalanche have lifted the Stanley Cup.

Now that don’t mean it will be easy. They may very well win only one. Obviously, the Avalanche’s future Stanley Cup victories are threatened by free agent issues, the overall salary cap and a competitive NHL.

Still, when you think about the building blocks of a contender, the Avalanche might flirt with repeats much like the Lightning franchise they just dethroned.

And, honestly, the Lightning still have enough groundwork to give the hockey world a Stanley Cup rematch with the Avalanche. We never know.

Keeping Stanley Cup depth won’t be easy, but Avalanche retain elite core

This offseason, PHT will take a closer look at what the Avalanche need to do to keep as much of that Stanley Cup core together as the salary cap will allow.

We can think about possible free agent exits for Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin, Darcy Kuemper and others like Josh Manson.

Here’s the thing, though. The Avalanche’s savvy, analysis-focused front office has already left its opponents in the dust by identifying talent before it blossoms. After a takeover by the Stars, Nichushkin was a salvage project. Nazem Kadri was basically kicked out of the city of Toronto. And the Islanders could barely get anything for an elite defenseman in Devon Toews.

[Generally, other GMs should’ve avoided the Avalanche’s trade calls]

So even though the Avalanche let most of their biggest free agents go (Kadri, Nichushkin, Kuemper), they could still be a force. Just a different appearance.

Consider all the key things they boast about, and how many of them are in or around their early years:

  • Fast superstar center Nathan MacKinnon is just 26 years old. Although it will cost more after its $6.3 million cap expires after 2022-2023, it’s hard to imagine the Avalanche not moving Heaven, Earth, several snow-capped mountains for the To keep. He was a machine against Tampa Bay.
  • Reigning Norris and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cale Makar is just 23 years old. This market runs until 2026-27.
  • Mikko Rantanen is 25 and Gabriel Landeskog is 29. They are two big wingers who can do the difference in tough situations in the playoffs.

[Young defense powers Avs’ attack]

  • Even now, Devon Toews is vastly underrated. He is only 28 years old and costs only $7 million in AAV for the next two seasons.
  • Do you keep Samuel Girard, who is a bargain at $5 million and also young at just 24? Not the worst issue to consider.
  • With Girard out after a hit from Evander Kane, Bowen Byram took advantage of his opportunity. He looked dangerous and dynamic, without sacrificing too much on defense. He’s also 21 and eligible for an extension that could add to the Avalanche’s almost unfair bounty of modern, talented young defensemen.
  • There are also players on the perimeter who could play bigger roles. Alex Newhook, 21, could gradually grow from young upstart to core stalwart.

Pretty impressive, huh?

Avalanche has a salary cap to bring back one or more Nichushkin, Kadri, Kuemper – if they want

With all of these forces in mind, Avalanche free agent situations feel less do-or-die, and more “what do I load at the buffet.”

It should be noted that this world-class organization has set itself up with incredible flexibility for a competitor. Via Cap Friendly, the Avalanche enter an offseason of free agent challenges with a spacious $25 million salary cap space.

To be clear: this can be a little misleading.

More importantly, the Avalanche obviously realize that Nathan MacKinnon deserves a raise after next season. This increase could very well almost double its cap of $6.3 million.

So, it might create some hesitation to give Nazem Kadri and/or Valeri Nichushkin not just a lot of money, but a risky term. You should know that Kadri is already 31 years old.

[Nichushkin may have priced himself out of Colorado with star-making Stanley Cup run]

Either way, the Avs have some leeway. Maybe the Avalanche could even convince Kadri, Nichushkin or someone else to accept a big one-year contract to try to repeat?

With Pavel Francouz stuck at $2 million for two seasons, the Avalanche must either bring Kuemper back or find another goaltender. It’s the kind of thing that will also eat away at cap space.

But…again, the Avalanche are built to last as Stanley Cup contenders. It won’t be easy to supplement core players with the kind of difference makers that can tip the scales, but the Avs often seem to be one step ahead of everyone else.

That goes for the ice and with their front office moves. As far as we know, the Avalanche have just started their Stanley Cup dynasty. Maybe Joe Sakic will earn more as a general manager than as a Hall of Fame player?