Denver Post sports writer Mike Chambers responds to questions in the Avs Mailbag every other week during the regular season.
Pose an Avalanche- or NHL-related question for the Avs Mailbag.
When I saw Bo Byram last year in spring training he clearly looked like the best player on the ice most shifts. I could understand as an 18-year-old to send him back to his junior team for another year of seasoning. Now in your latest article about the acquisition of Devon Toews you suggest Dennis Gilbert or Kyle Burroughs may be the extra defenseman this year with Byram going back to his junior team for another year. Did Bo Byram take a step “back” after he looked so good last preseason or was I fantasizing that he looked as good as Makar at such a young age?
— Scott, Lakewood
Hey Scott, I’m not sure what you’re talking about “spring training” — but assuming you mean the 2019 development camp in late June/early July right after he was drafted. If that’s the case, yes, he looked good but he was playing with and against players around the same age. Byram hasn’t taken a step back. I hear he’s developing quite nicely. But the Avs don’t want to rush him and all signs point towards him returning to his junior team since the club acquired Toews, who is what Byram hopes to become — and possibly more. On paper, Byram is on the outside of Colorado’s top six and he won’t serve as the seventh or eighth guy — that’s why Gilbert and Burroughs were brought in. Byram needs to play, and since he cannot play in the AHL because of the major-junior rule, he’ll likely return to the WHL’s Vancouver Giants. Expect Byram to become a full-time Avs D-man in 2021-22, replacing the expired contract of Ian Cole.
What is our goaltending situation right now? Do the Avs have the right guys between the pipes to lead them on a deep postseason run?
— Walker, Denver
That’s the most-asked question about this group. Locally and throughout North America, seems like the majority of folks don’t think Philipp Grubauer or Pavel Francouz is good enough to lead this team to a deep run. But that’s what they said about Anton Khudobin before the career backup led Dallas to the Stanley Cup Final and then signed a big deal to remain with the Stars. Grubauer and Francouz are both around 5-foot-11 or 6-foot, very similar to Khudobin, and people don’t believe in the smaller guys unless they deliver big. The Avs certainly believe in Grubauer and Francouz, and let’s face it, they would have faired a lot better in the recent playoffs if one of them wasn’t on the injured list.
Love the retro Quebec Nordiques jerseys the Avalanche just released. Is this something they are going to wear all season? Any chance they make this part of a permanent rotation, would love your thoughts on the new/old school look.
— Billy, Denver
They’ll don those uniforms at least once next season, but probably more. They will announce the schedule at a later date. Also, it’s not just the new jersey — they’re going with new blue breezers, gloves and helmets to support that look.
I saw Pepsi Center is no more as the naming rights have changed. Are there any other updates being made to the arena before next season?
— Jen, Englewood
I haven’t heard of any updates, Jen, and given that they might not play before any fans in the building or a small percentage of the 18,000-plus capacity, I don’t expect any. Ball Arena might rub off on folks — the guy who runs Ball Corp in Broomfield is a hockey guy and former owner of the Denver Cutthroats. Here is the link to that story.
Mike, it appears the Avs have strengthened their roster with the recent additions; however, other than the Saad for Zadorov trade and the addition of Toews they really didn’t make the big splash that was anticipated. Mainly, the signing of Taylor Hall or Alex Pietrangelo. Sakic, understandably, refuses to discuss a deal and/or negotiation that didn’t happen. Do you have any insight on whether the Avs: A) made an offer to either of those guys, and b) do you have any info that they may still be looking for another forward that brings more “grit” to the position? In my opinion, the past Stanley Cup playoffs exposed their lack of toughness as Dallas’ big guys pushed us around somewhat.
— Dan Rish, Albuquerque, NM
Great questions. First of all, yes, they need a third- or fourth-line grinder, a tough guy like Kyle Clifford or Matt Martin, the latter of whom is still on the market. Problem is, the Avs are just $1.8 million under the salary cap — and that’s based on just 20 players. They still need an extra forward and an extra D, or one or the other. As for the trades for Saad and Toews, two brilliant moves by Sakic and his staff. No, they didn’t make a big slash in free agency but they didn’t have to — while moving a player they no longer wanted (Zadorov) and using only draft picks (two second-rounders) to get Toews. This was already a really good team and Saad and Toews will fit in well. As for Hall and others, no, Sakic declined to say if he went after them. But I’m betting he didn’t have a long conversation with anyone.
Hi Mike, great talking hockey with you via the mailbag. With the start of hockey season pushed back, what other changes can we see the Avs making to better this team before the season starts up? Thanks.
— Joe, Denver
Just a tough guy who can skate at depth forward, Joe. But we don’t know the extent of the injured guys. If some guys aren’t 100 percent, perhaps they continue to tinker. A buddy saw Erik Johnson playing golf with no brace or limp, etc., and we thought EJ might have blown out a knee in Game 1 against Dallas. If everyone is cleared to begin camp, I don’t see them doing anything big. I have thought of one possibility: Trading Sam Girard if they think Byram is ready and just as good. That would free up more than $4 million in cap space (Girard begins his $5 million annual cap hit next season and Byram is on his entry-level contract at $894K). Probably won’t happen but the addition of Toews definitely makes Girard somewhat expendable.
Dear Mr. Chambers. The Avs just acquired the most under rated player in minor league hockey who will be the biggest surprise in the NHL this season. I’ve watched college hockey for decades and I’ve never seen a smarter, more gifted, fast-decision-making-and-scoring player ready for the NHL than Mike Vecchione. I don’t know him personally, I’ve never met, him, I don’t know his family nor do I know anyone who knows him….but I watched him play at Union College and then taken for granted in the minors as an UFA. My question: wWill you remember to write these words from your mailbag when this young man scores goals in 10 consecutive games this season? Thank you.
— Michael J. Hallisey, M.D., Wethersfield, CT
Thank you, Dr. Hallisey. I’m with you on Vecchione. I covered DU at the 2017 Frozen Four when defenseman Will Butcher won the Hobey Baker Award over Vecchione and Zach Aston-Reese, who is playing for the Penguins. So when the Avs signed Vecchione I did a little research and learned he had 21 goals in 61 AHL games last season. He’s a right-shot goal-scorer, and he wore the “C” for Union — so I have no idea why the Blues didn’t resign the guy. He signed a relatively standard one-year, two-way deal with Colorado at $700K/$290K. Maybe the $290K was the best-guaranteed AHL offer he received. Anyway, yes, I’ll remember this “conversation” if Vecchione becomes the player you forecast.
Mike, are there any updates on the 2021 season and where the Avs are going to play? Will there be any games played here in Denver with fans in attendance? I know fans missed this team during the playoffs.
— Kenny, Lakewood
Still all up in the air, Kenny. Sounds like they want to play in four temporary divisions, including an all-Canadian loop, and play baseball-like mini-series against the same team at home rinks. Just divisional games. But nothing has been finalized and other ideas are out there.
Hi Mike, with the Avs celebrating 25 years here in Denver, are there any plans for in-person games and celebrations? Do you see the team bringing back any players from past championship teams to honor the history of the franchise?
— Chris, Aurora
I sure do, Chris. I suspect Mr. Joe Sakic and the other five guys with retired jerseys will be special guests at a game or two. Adam Foote and Milan Hejduk still live here, along with Sakic, by the way.
Mike, what can we expect from the Avs’ young prospects? Do you see any of them making the jump and having an impact on the team this coming season? Feels like this team is in win-now mode and are hungry to win the Stanley Cup.
— Alexander, Centennial
It’s absolutely win-now. Look up the Avs at CapFriendly.com and see the salary structure. There is a window and it’s definitely now, plus the next 2-3 years. As for prospects, I think Logan O’Connor will become a full-time third/fourth-line forward and primary penalty killer. Please read above about Byram. Then Connor Timmins. Next year Alex Newhook. Hard to predict if 18-year-old draft picks will pan out, but Newhook appears to be a steal at No. 16 in 2019.
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