DENVER — Almost nothing was expected of the 2017-18 Avalanche. No hyperbole, just the truth. But now that the Avs pushed the top-seeded Predators into a Game 6 in the Stanley Cup playoffs, will the franchise get greedy and make it rain cash during the first offseason of a new era?
Don’t count on it, Joe Sakic said.
“Stay the course,” the calm-and-collected general manager echoed a handful of times on Monday as he detailed the good (a lot), the bad (not much) and the future (bright but not guaranteed) of the Avalanche.
Colorado played some of its best hockey in a riveting series with Nashville. The Avs were also totally overwhelmed in a 5-0 loss Sunday. After seeing the way Nathan MacKinnon scared the Preds, and how young’uns like Sam Girard stood tall in Game 82 against the Blues, I’m not buying the idea the Avs won’t be more inclined to test the temperature of some high-profile free agents this offseason. So it must be noted that while Sakic reiterated he’s going to stick with the plan, man, he didn’t slam the door on an active July.
"We're planning on staying the course. If there's free agents out there we may want to look at and speak to, we definitely will," Sakic said. "But I don't plan on going into free agency and trying to sign a bunch of free agents."
What I want to see is how the Avs approach the goaltending issue. And it is an issue. Incumbent starter Semyon Varlamov missed 14 of 19 games due to a lower-body injury before the club shut him down on the final day of March. He's played 75 games the past two seasons. With a No. 1 who seems to be breaking down, identifying a quality backup would be paramount once again. And the Avs don't have a choice; backup Jonathan Bernier is an unrestricted free agent and possibly due for a raise from the $2.75 million he made this season. And the season closed with Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond — who's also a free agent! — in net.
"Certain people, their bar is only so high. He's shown signs to have a really high bar as a goaltender," said Chris Bergeron, who coached Hammond in college at Bowling Green. "I think from a consistency standpoint that's still yet to be seen."
(Fun fact I need to use here, in case The 'Burglar soon is pilfering drive-thrus elsewhere: only one guy who played for the Avs in the playoffs has received Hart Trophy votes prior to this season. That’s right — it’s the Hamburglar, who got nine votes after he carried the Senators in 2015. OK, thanks for letting me use that.)
Decisions, decisions. If he’s healthy, Varly is plenty stout enough to lead a team through the first round. But he has also been fragile enough to prove a capable backup is more than a good idea. It’s a necessity.
"This is not a major injury," Varlamov said after Game 6. "I have a lot of time to recover."
At other spots across the roster? So far, so good for one of the most intriguing processes west of Philadelphia.
“Except for (Sunday’s) game where we ran out of gas, it was a heck of a series for our guys,” Sakic said.
“The key for us is we’re going to stay the course,” Sakic said. “We had an amazing year from our guys. We have a young team. It’s not like our guys are going to be seven-year pros all the sudden. We expect growth from them. We’re going to stay young. Over the next couple years we may even get younger. If we can, we may even get a little quicker and faster out there.
“I love the way we play the game. It’s fast, it’s entertaining. You see the Pepsi Center over the last couple months with a new generation of fans. The building’s alive — back to where it once was,” Sakic said.
Now the mission is to make certain this trip to the postseason isn’t like the last trip to the postseason. The Avs have been in this spot before — same spot, same month, same building. It was only four years ago an upstart Avs squad jumped from nowhere and into the playoffs, looked promising in doing so and lost at home in the first round. I still remember MacKinnon at his locker after the Wild series, taking it harder than anyone. (Same thing Sunday). Then reality set in and the Avs crashed to earth, splat.
The man charged with providing a rise and preventing a repeat is going to be around for a while longer. The Avs and Jared Bednar agreed on a contract extension that keeps the coach here at least through the 2019-20 season.
"He did an amazing job," Sakic said.
It's a start.