NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three important questions facing the Colorado Avalanche.
[Avalanche 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]
1. Will Mikko Rantanen sign before training camp?
Rantanen is a restricted free agent who plays right wing on the Avalanche's top line with center Nathan MacKinnon and left wing Gabriel Landeskog. The 22-year-old had an NHL career-high 87 points (31 goals, 56 assists) in 74 games and 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
Colorado general manager Joe Sakic said he met with Rantanen's agent, Mike Liut, at the 2019 NHL Draft in June.
"We prefer long term," Sakic said. "If it has to be short term, it has to be short term. We want to make sure we have him signed. There's a lot of players (in the NHL) in that same situation, a lot of great hockey players that are coming up. We'll just see how all the players and agents handle that. There are comparable numbers that are starting to come in. We're open to different possibilities."
Video: 31 in 31: Colorado Avalanche 2019-20 season preview
2. How will heavier workload affect Philipp Grubauer?
Colorado begins a new era with Grubauer as its No. 1 goalie after Semyon Varlamov ended an eight-season stay by signing a four-year contract with the New York Islanders on July 1.
Grubauer started 13 of the final 14 regular-season games, going 9-2-2 with a 1.44 goals-against average and .956 save percentage to help Colorado earn the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. The 27-year-old played all 12 postseason games and was 7-5 with a 2.30 GAA and .925 save percentage.
The Avalanche will need Grubauer to play at least as well again, especially with untested Pavel Francouz as the backup. Grubauer is expected to play 55-60 games, and how he handles a heavier workload is a major key for the Avalanche. He played an NHL career-high 37 games (33 starts) last season, going 18-9-5 with a 2.64 GAA and .917 save percentage.
3. Can the Avalanche improve in overtime?
It took the Avalanche 81 games to clinch a playoff berth, forcing overtime to gain the point they needed in a 3-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets on April 4, their third in 15 overtime games.
Colorado might have secured a playoff berth earlier if it hadn't squandered so many points in overtime. It will need to play significantly better to reach its goals of making the playoffs for a third straight season and gaining home-ice advantage.
The Avalanche were 2-2 in the shootout but during one stretch lost 11 of 12 overtime games that included eight straight losses.
"We have to do better when we get into overtime," Sakic said. "That could've made life a lot easier for us down the stretch if we did a better job in that area."