Philipp Grubauer
Philipp Grubauer could cause problems for the cash strapped Colorado Avalanche if his Vezina Trophy caliber season continues. Photo: Candice Ward/USA TODAY Sports

One of the reasons the Colorado Avalanche is challenging this season despite having numerous injuries throughout the year is the goaltending performances of Philipp Grubauer. The German goaltender had something to prove after two years hindered by injury, none-more-so than last year where he missed the end of the season and then went down again during the playoffs. During the offseason, a lot was made of General Manager Joe Sakic not strengthening in the goaltending position, but with changes to his training regimen, Grubauer has without doubt been the standout performer as the Avalanche season approaches the halfway mark. Now the question is ‘How does it affect the Avalanche going forward?’

So far this season Grubauer leads the league in GAA with an incredible 1.71. He’s also second in wins with 19 and tied for second with Marc-Andre Fleury with a .931SV%. Lastly, he leads the league with five shutouts and time on ice.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR GRU AND THE AVALANCHE

In the short term, if Philipp Grubauer continues his rich vein of form and stays injury-free, he could lead the Avs to a first Stanley Cup in 20 years. On a personal note, he should also be in the Vezina Trophy conversation along with Andrei Vasilevskiy and Marc-Andre Fleury. It could also lead to a substantial jump in pay as he becomes a UFA in the summer. That’s where things get dicey for the Colorado Avalanche.

Joe Sakic has $24 million in cap space to work within the offseason, but a majority of that will be used to re-sign captain Gabriel Landeskog and star defenseman Cale Makar. Hypothetically if you re-sign Landeskog to an 8-year $7.5 million AAV contract and Cale Makar signs a 5-year deal at $8.5 million AAV that leaves you only $8 million to re-sign UFA’s Brandon Saad, Matt Calvert, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, and Grubauer. Then there are also the RFA’s of Tyson Jost and Connor Timmins to figure out.

When you think of the company he’s keeping in the Vezina Trophy conversation, if Philipp Grubauer helps the Colorado Avalanche lift a Stanley Cup there is no argument against him earning between $7 million and $8.5 million AAV. But that leaves the Avalanche completely cash strapped. Someone will be taken by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft which may free up enough cap space to do deals with Jost and Timmins but not much else.

WHO LOSES OUT?

While Calvert and Bellemere are good depth pieces they are also easily replaceable. Logan O’Connor has already shown he can play that fourth-line role effectively this season, while prospects like Shane Bowers, Martin Kaut, and Alex Newhook should also be ready to step in for a cheaper AAV. Given his performances with the AHL Colorado Eagles this season you could also make a case for Jean-Luc Foudy, who will be heading back to the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL should a season ever start.

The one player Grubauer’s form does affect that cannot be as easily replaced is Brandon Saad. Picked up from the Chicago Blackhawks during the offseason Saad has given the Avalanche a veteran presence (while still only 28 years old) and a winning mentality, having lifted two Stanley cups with the Blackhawks. After starting the season slowly with only one point in his first six games the forward then put up 18 points in the last 24 games and it looks like the second line of Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky and Saad are finding some chemistry.

With Landeskog, Makar, and Grubauer all needing extensions that should leave Saad as the odd man out. I say should because Joe Sakic is probably the greatest GM of all time so never say never. Even for him though, keeping all four would be out of this world. 

FOLLOW THE LIGHTNING

There is a blueprint to work the system with what the Tampa Bay Lightning have done this season with Nikita Kucherov. After winning the Stanley Cup and up against the cap, the Lightning announced Kucherov would be receiving hip surgery and miss the entire season as they placed him on the Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR). This meant his $9.5 million cap wouldn’t count against them, but also meant he could be available for the playoffs when salary caps are not in place. The forward is now back on the ice training with the Lightning as fans of other teams cry foul.

With that mentality, you could place injury-prone defenseman Erik Johnson on the LTIR next season and use his $6 million AAV to re-sign Saad. It’s not like the Avalanche defense is struggling without Johnson this season as Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, and Makar all stepped up in his absence. This would then keep Johnson for the playoffs where his experience would be invaluable.

The other option is to let Saad walk and look to replace him in the top six with Kaut, Bowers, or possibly even Sampo Ranta. The young Finnish forward has been outstanding this season for the University of Minnesota averaging a point a game. While it would be more ideal to give him a year learning to play professional hockey in the AHL, if he comes out all guns blazing it would be hard to hold him back.

You’ve also got to remember this is the same Joe Sakic who robbed the New York Islanders of Devon Toews for two measly second-round picks. Would it surprise anyone to see him get Landeskog (8x$7million), Makar (5x$7.5 million), and Philipp Grubauer (2x$4.5 million) all signed with enough money to re-sign Saad (2x$4 million) and have money left over? I for one wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest.

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