Avalanche vs. Lightning: Colorado can start their own potential dynasty by ending Tampa’s in Stanley Cup Final

It’s no secret that the Tampa Bay Lightning will join some elite company if they’re able to win their third consecutive Stanley Cup. But what about the Colorado Avalanche? Could they also be the franchise that’s on the cusp on something special in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.

In order to have the makings of a dynasty, a team needs a few championships under their belt. That’s where I think the Avalanche are going to be headed when the dust settles on the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.

Can the Avalanche hoist the Stanley Cup this season?

This is one of the more evenly-matched Stanley Cup Finals that the hockey world has seen in quite some time. There’s no debating that. There’s also no debating that the Lightning have the advantage in between the pipes, due to the super human efforts of Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Still, the Avalanche possess just too deep of a roster to get tripped up in a series like this.

The Avalanche won both of their matchups against the Lightning during the regular season. Colorado came away with a 4-3 shootout win and a 3-2 win behind three-point performances from Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog

This is a group that has proved to be a juggernaut throughout the regular season and in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Since 1987, the Avalanche are just the eighth team to only suffer two losses prior to the Stanley Cup Final. The Avalanche have also averaged a league-best 4.6 goals-per-game and are tied for the NHL lead in goals (65). In addition, Colorado is converting 31.1 percent of its power-play opportunities, which is the second-best clip across the league behind the now eliminated New York Rangers.

As I noted above, it’s not possible to say that Colorado’s Darcy Kuemper is a better netminder than Vasilevskiy. But as long as Kuemper can stay healthy, the veteran goalie can do enough to keep the Avalanche in games — and the team’s offense can take care of the rest.

Up to this point, the Avalanche have faced two of the top five scoring offenses in the postseason in the Oilers and St. Louis Blues. While the Lightning possess some dangerous goal-scoring threats, this is a group that isn’t nearly as lethal as they average just 3.1 goals-per-game.

Will it be the start of a dynasty if the Avalanche beat the Lightning?

In order to lay the groundwork for a potential dynasty, the Avalanche will need to defeat a team in the Lightning that has won 11 consecutive playoff series. If they do that, there’s no doubt in my mind that Colorado can establish itself as the next great NHL dynasty.

Just look at Colorado’s deep, young core group of talent. The likes of star forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Artturi Lehkonen and defenseman Cale Makar are all 26 or younger. Gabriel Landeskog is just 29.

Furthermore, here’s a look at the Avalanche’s core group’s contract situations as they currently stand:

  • Rantanen is in the third year of a six-year, $55 million contract and is locked up through the 2024-25 season
  • Makar is in the first year of a six-year, $54 million contract and is signed through the 2026-27 campaign
  • Landeskog is in the first year of a eight-year, $56 million contract and is locked up through the 2028-29 season
  • MacKinnon is in the sixth year of a seven-year, $44.1 million contract and can be an unrestricted free agent following the 2023-24 season
  • Lehkonen is on a one-year, $2.3 million contract that he signed with the Montreal Canadiens last summer before being traded to the Avalanche

Arguably the most important piece of this group is Makar, who has quickly become one of the most-gifted two-way defensemen that the sport has to offer. His 22 points and 17 assists are both the most recorded by an Avalanche defenseman during a single postseason. 

The 25-year-old star also has the second-most playoff points among defensemen in Colorado’s storied history. That’s more than Rob Blake and Sandis Ozolinsh — two of the greatest defensemen in the franchise’s history.

The two wild cards in this scenario are MacKinnon and Lehkonen.

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Lehkonen is slated to become a restricted free agent following the 2021-22 season. While it’s not ideal for Colorado that Lehkonen can test the market, it’s hard to imagine him wanting to walk away from a situation as great as this.

Finally, MacKinnon is slated to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2022-23 campaign. Championship-contending teams obviously have to make difficult decisions when it comes to retaining elite personnel (as Tampa has in the last few seasons), but it’s tough to see the Avalanche not doing whatever it takes to hang onto MacKinnon in what will be the prime of his career. He has registered the third-most points (442) in the league over the past five seasons behind only Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl

With younger assets like MacKinnon and Lehkonen up for free agency, a third tough decision may pertain to fellow forward Nazem Kadri, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent. 

Kadri is coming off a career season in which he recorded a career-high 87 points (28 goals and 59 assists) while adding 14 points (six goals and eight assists) during Colorado’s playoff run. While he’s seen a ton of success with the Avalanche, he is also going to be turning 32 prior to the 2022-23 season. Since Kadri is likely going to command quite a hefty salary on the free agent market, Colorado could choose to just let him walk, with players like MacKinnon and Lehkonen also up for free agency over the next year.

As you can see, the building blocks are already in place, but a Stanley Cup win over the Lightning would really get the ball rolling on a potential dynasty. If the Avalanche can financially keep this core group together, that dynasty is very much in the cards.

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