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If anyone doubts the transcendent nature of the Stanley Cup, consider this: Avs defenseman Jack Johnson not only let his kids eat ice cream out of the trophy during his day with the cup this past summer, but he also had them baptized with water held in the actual Stanley Cup trophy. Yes, really.
Johnson, who signed with the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason, wasn’t the only player from the Colorado Avalanche’s 2021-’22 Stanley Cup–winning team to lean into the sacred nature of the trophy. Nazem Kadri took the cup to a mosque in London, Ontario, Canada—marking what many believe is the first time the trophy had been to such a place of worship. Kadri, one of the heroes of the Avs’ championship season, also left in the off-season; he signed with the Calgary Flames after becoming a free agent.
Whether or not you believe the cup has divine powers, one thing is certain: If winning the Stanley Cup is exceedingly difficult, repeating as NHL champions is even harder. Head coach Jared Bednar & Co. will take all the supernatural help they can get.
Despite the off-season losses, the Avs are favorites to return to the Stanley Cup Finals, and their core still includes guys named Landeskog, MacKinnon, Makar, and Rantanen. But they’re not the same team they were when they hoisted Lord Stanley’s chalice. With the Avs entering the season as defending champs for the first time since 2001, here are three questions facing the squad when the puck drops for the season opener versus the Blackhawks at Ball Arena on October 12.
3 Ice-Cold Questions
Who will be the Avs’ goalie?
After moving on from Darcy Kuemper, who signed a five-year, $26.25 million deal with the Washington Capitals this offseason, one of the Avs’ biggest question marks is who will be between the pipes during the 2022-’23 campaign. The Avs signed New York Rangers backup netminder Alexandar Georgiev after letting Kuemper walk in free agency, and president of hockey operations Joe Sakic indicated that Georgiev would be the starter. But the reality is this: The Avs are entering the season with essentially two backups in Georgiev and Pavel Francouz, who played behind Keumper last season.
With one of the strongest defensive lines—if not the strongest—in the NHL in Cale Makar and Devon Toews, Bednar has some flexibility in net. Will he make Georgiev the starter? Or will Francouz win the job? Or will Bednar opt for a 1A/1B system and alternate his goaltenders based on the Avs’ opponents?
How will the team replace Kadri’s offensive punch?
Kadri had a hugely productive season as the second-line center and a fantastic postseason—which was made less fantastic by racist verbal attacks and death threats after he collided with and injured St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington—and it won’t be easy for the Avs to replace his offense.
When Kadri signed a seven-year, $49 million contract with the Flames, 21-year-old Alex Newhook looked to be the most likely second-line center. Newhook was a first-round pick in 2019, and during last year’s regular season he averaged 13:34 minutes on the ice and tallied 13 goals and 33 points. Although no one expects the youngster to replace Kadri’s production, Newhook told the Denver Post that after Kadri signed his contract this summer, the former teammate sent a text to Newhook that read: “Keep that swagger, and you’re gonna go far.” Sakic and Bednar certainly hope that will be the case.
Will defenseman Bowen Byram have a breakout season?
Byram, who is 21, has experienced two concussions over the past two seasons, and took extended time away from the game during the 2021-’22 campaign. It’s difficult to talk about players staying healthy when it comes to recovering from concussions, especially in the wake of NFL quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s recent head injuries, but NHL observers believe that Byram can build on his strong playoff performance (nine points in 20 games) and play a valuable role alongside veteran Josh Manson on the blue line if he doesn’t get hurt.
Byram—who was drafted fourth overall in 2019 but has only played 49 regular season NHL games—is a dynamic defenseman in the mold of his teammate Makar and is so talented that Bednar even experimented in the preseason with power play lineups that included an unheard-of three defenders, including Byram. Not to be overlooked: This is a contract year for Byram. It would behoove him, and help the Avs, if he can maintain his health and deliver a sensational season.
The Avs take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in a repeat of the Stanley Cup Finals matchup at Ball Arena on February 14.