This is Part Two of our coverage of the Zoom video conference featuring Colorado Avalanche Assistant Manager Chris MacFarland and various members of Altitude Sports and Entertainment during an exclusive season ticket holder event Wednesday morning. For Part One of this conversation, click here!
On expectations of what life in Edmonton will look like for players and staff: “We know the setup there for the group here that’s been to the JW Marriott, and it’s right next to the rink. What it will look like in terms of activities and restaurants, we’ll be fully briefed on that in the days ahead before we go, but I think it’ll be a living, breathing animal as we get there and see it and be able to report back with a little more definitive answer on that once we get there. […] We’ll be able to go the games and have our own seating area and be able to watch nine hours of hockey a day, so the scout in me will really enjoy that part of it, for sure, so it’ll be good to have. I think we’re all craving hockey back, and we miss it, so that’ll be something to look forward to, for sure.”
On whether there’s a Western Conference team the Avs match up best with in the first round: “If you’re a playoff team, you’re a good hockey team. You’re a dangerous hockey team. Last year, we went into a match-up with Calgary, and Calgary had 107 points. You got to be ready to play or you’re going to get your teeth kicked in. That’s how we’re focused on this. We want to get home ice for the match-ups, but there are no easy games, whether it’s regular season and then it’s amplified in the playoffs. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night if you don’t have your ‘A’ game, and you’re not ready to play. There are no match-ups that we’re looking forward to, but I will say this: when we have our ‘A’ game, we’re not shying away from anyone.”
On deciding which additional players to bring up that weren’t already part of the Avs roster when the season was paused: “Positional needs was [sic] the first part of it, and talking with our staff with the Colorado Eagles up the road to see what they were thinking on the players. Obviously, Joe, and myself, and [Assistant General Manager] Craig Billington spent a lot of time up there and have a good feel for those guys. Good conversations with [Bednar], and [Colorado Eagles head] coach [Greg] Cronin on the likes of T.J. Tynan and Logan O’Connor, and that sort of thing. […] The speed of a Tynan and O’Connor and [Sheldon] Dries up front was really important, and the old adage, ‘You can never have enough defenseman.’ I’ve heard you [Altitude] guys talk about that, so if we’re hopeful to advance in this, we’re going to need our defense. As many of them as we possibly can. You rarely get through with the six you have. It’s tough. Playoffs are hard.”
On why Martin Kaut was not one of the players selected: “He’s a guy that is a top prospect for us. There’s a CBA rule that, if a player plays a tenth game, then his contract year would count. When looking at that, and looking at a flat cap, and looking at where our salary structure is going, it was just too important for us to not lose the [contract] year for one more game on that when we’re going to want to have him on this contract for the next three years. He had a very solid year. He’s an important player for us going forward, so that was probably the single biggest one that we hemmed and hawed on.”
On Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar: “We think we have a franchise center in MacKinnon, who is still so young, so competitive. [He’s] one of the best players on the planet and for the Avs. [For] the organization to be able to watch this guy on a daily basis, watching practice on a daily basis, watch how he prepares, it’s really unique. It’s really special. I know our fans love watching this guy, and to be able to see him play for the next eight, ten, twelve, years. He’s special.
“You follow that up after the really rough year we had a few years ago, and then to go from one to four in the draft, and to end up with Cale. He’s another special offensive type defenseman on the back end. He’s up for the Calder, but guys, in a few years, the sky’s the limit for Cale. He could be up for Norris trophies, and Nate is up for Hart trophies, but the thing that really shines through with these two guys–and the awards are nice, and they’re really good recognition for two wonderful hockey players and great people, and we’re thrilled for them–but what I think what drives them is they’re excited about having a chance to win the big one, and that’s what our group is about. I think they feel it, and whether it’s hopefully soon, but they want to be in the Cup discussion for the next five, six, seven, eight years, hopefully, if we can keep the group together and we don’t screw it up up here.”
On Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook: “We are really bullish on both of them, along with some of the other guys, like Conor Timmins and Sampo Ranta. I think they’re going to be really important, not only because they’re good hockey players, but also because of where our team is headed: flat cap. We’re going to need entry-level talent to play significant roles for us, you know. The flat [cap] will be a challenge. Guys are going to take jumps in their salaries now, whether it’s a lower price point or an entry-level deal, to getting paid more money. That’s great: they’ve earned it, and that’s the way it’s supposed to go when you have a good team: it becomes more expensive. We’re going to need those guys to come in and play roles for us, and I think what’s exciting about those two in particular is that they have a chance to play as [a] top four defenseman or a top six forward, and those are the pricier points on your roster.
“Byram is here now. He’s skating with our guys; he’s getting a taste of it. He’s going to see if he can earn his way onto the roster to go to Edmonton and see what the playoffs are all about. But we see a future puck-moving guy there, with some offensive skill-set. He’s put on some weight since what he was last fall, so we got high hopes for him. What [Alex Newhook] did in college as a true freshman, that’s tough to do. He was an offensive force, an impact player as a first year college guy. That’s impressive. With Alex, I think we’ve got a burgeoning top six forward.”
On prospect development with the Colorado Eagles: “You got to earn to learn. Nothing’s going to be given. If you’re going to make the Avalanche hockey team, you’re going to knock somebody out of the box. It’s not going to be easy, but as Joe has said, and told us and our scouts, it’s not supposed to be easy. Winning’s hard, and our guys in the American [Hockey] League are learning that. They’ve got to earn to learn down there, and when they get a chance to come up here, they’ve got to kick the door in and show that they’re ready for the National Hockey League, and trust us that we’ll know when they are ready, and that’s our job to make room for them.”
On preparations for the NHL Draft in October: “There was some talks that some of the European leagues were going to start up in August or September, that you might get some more viewings on draft picks before an October draft. Whether that happens or not will remain to be seen. I think our list is good; it’s ready to go. There’s always some massaging. We’ve got to be careful of not changing too much. Just because time is going by, and there’s no hockey to watch, I think our list will basically be locked down, and hopefully we’ll be able to get together as a staff before we go to the show and have to make selections.”
On approaching contract negotiations with a flat salary cap: “We’re going to have some tough decisions to make over the next few years, and the cap, unfortunately, is not rising at a time where our team is entering a phase of its development where it’s just going to be getting more expensive. That’s going to make for a tough decision here and there. We’re going to have some unique opportunities, I think, to explore around the League, but I think we’re also going to have to look at a year from now. Let’s face it, Cale is going to be the biggest increase of our cap pie as we talk about it, the biggest cap slice, from his current contract to likely where he’s going. That’s one that we’ll have to figure out, and then Gabe’s [Landeskog] contract has one more year. Grubauer. Thankfully, we locked up [Sam] Girard last year in the summer, but guys like Ryan Graves and Val Nichushkin, Tyson Jost, they’ll need new deals. Graves and Nichushkin in particular, have [salary arbitration], so there’s that sort of dynamic, too. It’ll be a challenge, but we’ll examine every decision through the multiple lenses that we run them through, and filters, and we’re confident we’ll be able to ice a very competitive team for the years to come.”
On the upcoming Seattle Kraken expansion draft: “You throw in the expansion wrinkle, and how that will play a role as well, so our expansion decision will be a little different this time around as opposed to last time. Tougher decisions, definitely. It’ll more painful this go-round, but it’s an exciting time for the Avs. I think we’re a young team, and our goal is to be a quality, competitive hockey team for as long as we can, and with the age of our group, we see no reason why can’t happen.”
The Avs face the Minnesota Wild in exhibition play on Wednesday, July 29, before beginning postseason round robin play against the defending champion St. Louis Blues on Sunday, August 02.
Special thanks to Chris MacFarland for his insights on the Avalanche organization, and to Altitude Sports and Entertainment for facilitating this conversation.