Colorado Avalanche Should Target Blackhawks’ Fleury for Trade

The Colorado Avalanche entered the 2021-22 season as one of the favourites to win the Stanley Cup, but they’ve struggled with some adversity to start the campaign. They currently rank third in the NHL in points percentage, behind only Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes. However, their rampaging offense (first on goals-per-game), has overshadowed the poor performances of their goaltenders. The Avalanche cannot afford to waste another season of contention with their Stanley Cup window open and a nearing salary cap crunch.

Marc-Andre Fleury, now of the Chicago Blackhawks – Colorado’s savior in net? (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

Colorado should turn to Marc-Andre Fleury (now of the Chicago Blackhawks) to solve its goaltending problems. Let’s dig in.

Avalanche Goaltending Hasn’t Met Expectations

Joe Sakic, general manager, was hired. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes’ goaltender, was the Avalanche’s choice for their goaltending position in the offseason. Kuemper, who had at least 50 NHL appearances, posted a.922 save rate (SV%) between 2018-19 and 2020-21. This is the fourth-best NHL mark. It was a clear possibility that Kuemper could bring that level of performance to Denver, given that he did it behind a often poor Coyotes team. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case, and Kuemper has allowed two more goals above expected (GSAx) this season MoneyPuck, with a .905 SV% the main culprit for this season’s poor results.

Although it can take some time for a new team to get used to, it’s worth it. Kuemper hasn’t been much betterSince December began, the team has posted a.909SV%. It’s not as though the Avalanche aren’t offering him defensive support, as the team ranks highly in terms of the rate at which they concede chance quality (seventh in expected goals against per-60) and scoring chances (third in SCA/60) at 5v5 play.

Although Pavel Francouz is back from injury, his risky injury profile and age make him a questionable bet for the Avalanche crease as they race to the finish line of the playoffs. It’s within reason that one of the pair could stand on their heads come the postseason, but it’s not exactly a risk that Colorado’s competitive timeline appears to be capable of handling with so much riding on the need to win before Nathan MacKinnon’s contract extension takes effect.

Pavel Francouz Colorado Avalanche
Pavel Francouz, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers

For what it’s worth, Fleury’s performance this season isn’t particularly impressive (.910 SV%, -8.6 GSAx), but he’s stood behind a Blackhawks squad in the midst of an organizational transition. It stands to reason that his play could see a bump behind a steadier group, but that’s always an uncertain gamble, especially with older goalies. He did win the Vezina Trophy, though it was controversially, last season so there is still some fuel left.

Avalanche Stanley Cup Window is Wide Open

The Avalanche have slowly made their ascent up the NHL’s hierarchy since finishing dead-last in the 2016-17 season, and have emerged as one of the league’s formidable forces to start the 2020s. Colorado has been second in regular-season wins since the 2019-20 season. Leads the NHL in points percentageOver that time, they have won (.695). Whatever your opinion on their roster construction, it’s inarguable that they are one of the biggest favourites to win the Stanley Cup this season and for the foreseeable future. Capitalizing on such an opportunity in the salary cap era is the primary goal for this group, and goaltending remains their Achilles’ heel despite repeated attempts at resolving their problems in that area.

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Underlining their current contention window is MacKinnon’s looming contract extension, a future deal that comes into effect starting with the 2023-24 season. The Avalanche superstar is due for a gargantuan raise on his relatively pitiful cap hit of $6.3 million, and the jump in pay could dismantle Colorado’s carefully structure wage structure. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was less of an issue, with predicted increases in the salary cap presumed to cover MacKinnon’s eventual raise, but the reality is that the Cap will remain staticFor several seasons, it has put a dent in those plans.

Fleury’s contract is set to expire this offseason, and his $7 million commitment can be shaved down through salary retention and sending another player Chicago’s way, meaning that this isn’t an impossible trade to facilitate. While general manager Joe Sakic is a master of cunning required to maneuver around a strict cap structure, MacKinnon’s future contract represents the biggest test of his managerial tenure. Can they afford to let the surplus-value afforded by MacKinnon’s current pact go to waste by ignoring their greatest flaw?

Fleury Offers Avalanche Crease a Key Playoff Experience

Fleury stands out from the rest in the goalie market because of his extensive postseason experience as the most decorated goaltender of this generation. He’s been a part of five Stanley Cup Final runs and three championships split between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Vegas Golden Knights, and his experience could be a boon for an Avalanche squad struggling to pass the second-round hurdle.

Vegas Golden Knights Marc-Andre Fleury
Marc-Andre Fleury (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu), then of the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Quebec native made his postseason debut in 2006-07 and has since played in 160 games and won 90. He also posted a.912SV% (19th) throughout his postseason career. That towers over Kuemper’s playoff portfolio (18 games), and Fleury’s enjoyed recent success to boot (.918 SV% in 16 games last year), including vanquishing the Avalanche in a thrilling six-game second-round series in the 2021 Playoffs.

Fleury led the Golden Knights to an unexpected Stanley Cup final berth in their inaugural season. He ranks second in wins (28), and ninth in SV% (9.920) among qualified goaltenders with minimum 14 playoff games. It’s arguable that he’s been better in the twilight of his career, rather than in the prime of his youth. Is the Avalanche enticed to part with their valuable assets by the wealth of recent success?

Fleury is the answer in Colorado’s Net?

It’s entirely possible that Fleury is beyond his best-before date, and the Avalanche could be buying what is the tail end of a storied career. Further, the potential for one of Kuemper or Francouz to return to form and make the net their own is something that could give Colorado’s management group pause on pulling the trigger on a significant deadline deal. A variety of more cost-effective options will likely enter the trade market, allowing the Avalanche to have more resources for strengthening its roster in other areas. It’s an important decision fraught with several complicating factors, but that’s never stopped Joe Sakic from calling his shot before, and I bet that isn’t going to stop him now. Fleury is Fleury’s equivalent to the Patrick Roy trade? You are welcome to think about it, dear readers.

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