The Colorado Avalanche made history on this day in 1996, winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season after moving to Denver. The eight-seed Avs came surprisingly close to getting back the Cup Final this year, upsetting the Calgary Flames in the first round and taking the San Jose Sharks to Game Seven in the second round. Colorado is closer to being a legitimate contender than some may have thought and are hoping to add some veteran pieces this off-season to improve their odds. GM Joe Sakic, a member of that ’96 team, is planning to be aggressive this summer, but his plan took an unexpected early hit when the Philadelphia Flyers acquired the negotiating rights of Kevin Hayes, expected to be one of Colorado’s top targets.
However, it’s already been a week since that trade was made and the Flyers and Hayes have not come to terms on a new contract. Talks are still reportedly progressing, but there’s less certainty that Hayes will end up signing with the team. In fact, BSN Denver’s AJ Haefele states that talks may not be going as well as Philadelphia would like fans to think, after surrendering a draft pick for the right to negotiate with Hayes. Haefele says that “things with Hayes and Philly haven’t really gone great so far”, adding that there’s still optimism but the clock is ticking toward the opening of free agency. If Hayes doesn’t come to terms with the Flyers and hits the open market, the Avalanche would have to be considered the favorite to land the two-way center given the many sources that have linked the two sides.
- Haefele had another intriguing note for Avs fans tonight regarding the first of the team’s two first round picks, the No. 4 overall selection. Haefele believes, based on discussions with several sources, that Colorado will be targeting a forward with the pick, and that’s regardless of whether or not Bowen Byram is available. Byram, the top defenseman in the draft by a wide margin, is considered by many to perhaps be the third-best prospect overall. However, given the considerable draft capital that the Chicago Blackhawks have used on defensemen in recent years, they may pass on Byram at No. 3. It seems the Avalanche would do the same, opting to focus on their need for secondary scoring rather than adding a top young defenseman, with Cale Makar and Conor Timmins already in the fold. This should come as good new for the Los Angeles Kings, who could desperately use a blue chip defensive prospect. As for the Avs, Dylan Cozens, Trevor Zegras, and Kirby Dach are among the top forward prospects who could be available in this scenario.
- There were clues to Colorado’s focus on a forward with their first pick before Haefele’s report, too. The team was curiously one of the few not to interview a number of projected late first-round forwards at the NHL Scouting Combine, leading many to assume that they would target a forward early and look elsewhere with their second pick, No. 16. The other explanation is that the Avalanche have already zeroed in one one specific player for that slot: top goaltender Spencer Knight. Although many are in agreement that Knight is a first-round caliber goalie, it’s easier for a team to stomach selecting a keeper that early if they have two picks in the round. Colorado is just one of five teams to pick twice in the first round this year, but they are the first team to use their second pick. Barring an unforeseen selection by a lottery team, the Avs could get ahead of the rest of the pack by selecting Knight at No. 16 and adding their goalie of the future. This is far from a guarantee, but certainly an idea that carries some merit.