5 burning questions on the eve of avalanche coaching camp – The Denver Put up
The Avalanche begins on Sunday with the training camp – 10 days before the planned season opener against the St. Louis Blues in the Ball Arena.
And if there's one big question in a season that many believe could end with the Avs pulling up the Stanley Cup, it is this: is Colorado good enough between the pipes?
The lack of available goalkeepers likely prevented the Avs from reaching the Western Conference final in September. Both Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz were injured and could not play in the seventh game of their loss to the Dallas Stars, who qualified for the cup final.
Grubauer was number 1 in the playoffs and went 4-0 against the Arizona Coyotes in the first round. He suffered a lower body injury in Game 1 against the Stars and ended with 1.87 goals against the average and a saving of 0.922 percent. Francouz dropped out in a subsequent game, but tried to play through knee and hip injuries with little success.
Forced third stringer Michael Hutchinson played admirably in the last three games against Dallas, but his 0.857 saving in Game 7 wasn't good enough as Colorado took the lead late in the third half and fell in OT.
Now, with a new season on the horizon, Grubauer and Francouz are back, representing the positional group that most worries Avs fans.
Av's general manager Joe Sakic and head coach Jared Bednar gave their under-sized goalkeepers a vote of confidence in September, but that's not how the tandem is seen in the league.
While Grubauer and Francouz have something to prove, the Avs' outstanding strikers and defensive corps didn't have to build up until last season.
Colorado, which won the Stanley Cup from DraftKings Sportsbook, begins practice on the ice at the Family Sports Center on Monday. The building will be closed to the public.
Like all NHL teams, the Avs will go straight from training camp to the regular season, with no preparation games. You can carry a maximum of 23 players plus a taxi with four to six skaters and an unlimited number of goalkeepers.
With that in mind, here are five key questions outside the Colorado fold on the eve of training camp:
Will the Avs start camp healthy?
The pair of goalkeepers and defensemen Erik Johnson were among the seven players who ended the playoffs on the injured list on September 4th.
Due to their lower body discomfort, they were indefinitely out at the time, and there were no updates to their status or the other five players during the off-season. Strikers Matt Calvert, Joonas Donskoi and Gabe Landeskog (skate blade cut to leg) also missed Game 7 against the Dallas Stars and defender Conor Timmins.
Will top prospect Bo Byram make the team?
Byram, a 19-year-old defender, is co-captain of the Canadian Junior World Championship team and will attend the Avs training camp before or after Tuesday's gold medal game in Edmonton.
Outside the camp, Byram will likely make up either the Colorado opening list or the newly added taxi team during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Avs are extraordinarily deep in the blue line. Without taking injuries into account, there is no free space for him. But Byram isn't eligible to play for the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles, and his junior league, the Western Hockey League, has suspended play indefinitely.
Byram can play six NHL games before the first year of his three-year contract begins, and he's guaranteed to stay with the Avs all season. Does Colorado want to burn the first year of its entry-level contract?
Who will be the Avs' additional strikers, defenders and goalkeepers?
When everyone is healthy and no more free active ingredients are added, seats should be free.
Tyson Jost and Logan O’Connor will likely be with Martin Kaut, T.J. Tynan, Michael Vecchione, Mikka Salomäki and Sheldon Dries are also in the picture.
After Byram on the blue line, newcomers Kyle Burroughs and Dennis Gilbert could become the seventh defender. Timmins could also be in the mix if they're healthy.
Adam Werner is considered the # 1 AHL goalkeeper for the Colorado Eagles, so he will likely serve as the mandatory third for the Avs.
Where will Brandon Saad and Devon Toews get in?
An already strong Avalanche roster will add two high-profile talent to the mix when Saad and Toews arrive for their first camp in Colorado.
Saad will likely be the left winger on the second row, with center Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky, serving as the net-front presence in the second power play unit.
Toews will likely play in the first or second defensive pairing against Cale Makar or Sam Girard and play a role in one of the power play units. Toews could also play in even strength with Ryan Graves if the Avs return to the Makar-Girard pairing.
Do the Avs have the flexibility to add another key player?
No – not without long-term injuries or business.
Completely healthy, the Avs will take on the $ 81.5 million salary cap by adding a 13th forward and a seventh defender. CapFriendly.com has Colorado just $ 1.8 million below the cap, counting only 20 players.
When the American Hockey League starts playing in February, the Avs can only carry 21 or 22 players due to their ideal geographic location in Loveland – the Eagles.