It might not feel like it now, with the disappointment of losing to the Minnesota Wild still fresh, but this season exceeded even the most optimistic projections for the Colorado Avalanche. All things considered, Patrick Roy's NHL coaching debut was a resounding success.
The exciting thing for Avalanche fans is that they’re just scratching the surface of what this group can accomplish. They have the elite talent to compete with the best in the West; now it’s about filling in all the gaps and gaining experience.
Here’s a look at the areas of focus for Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and Greg Sherman this summer:
1. Sign Paul Stastny
The Avalanche are loaded with talented centers, but there’s a reason Roy wants to bring Stastny back: He’s the veteran presence of the group.
He’s a gifted passer and playmaker, and a settling force on a team loaded with youth. Plus, how in the world don’t you bring back the Stastny, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog line that was so dominant at times? On a club that’s not a great possession team, Stastny was one of the few players on the team whose play resulted in the Avalanche generating over 50 percent of the shot attempts when he was on the ice during the regular season.
He’ll be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market, so signing him won’t come cheap, which might be the biggest obstacle.
2. Extend the contract of Ryan O'Reilly
He showed his versatility this season by playing on the wing because the Avalanche were so deep at center, and he found a huge supporter in Roy, who loves the way O’Reilly plays.
O’Reilly is a strong two-way player who, like Stastny, won’t come cheap. Because of the offer sheet he signed with the Calgary Flames (which was subsequently matched), he’s due a qualifying offer in July of $6.5 million if he doesn’t have a new deal done before then. If the Avalanche are smart, they won’t let it get that far.
3. Add an impact defenseman through trade or free agency
Tyson Barrie is a restricted free agent, and needs to be re-signed. For the right price, Colorado should bring back Andre Benoit, too. The Avalanche have been a budget team for the last few years, but with their success this season, ownership should be compelled to spend closer to the salary cap and invest on defense.
The Avalanche don’t have a single defenseman making more than Erik Johnson's $3.75 million, which is pretty remarkable for a division winner. There aren’t a ton of great defensemen available on the market, with Matt Niskanen emerging as the best free agent option, so if Sakic and Roy don’t like what they see, a trade might be the better route. Rekindling talks with Florida over Dmitry Kulikov would be a wise place to start.