Avalanche training camp: 5 Burning questions as season looms

The Avalanche begins training camp Sunday — 10 days before its scheduled season-opener against the St. Louis Blues at Ball Arena.

And if there is one big question hanging over a season many think could end with the Avs hoisting the Stanley Cup, it’s this: Is Colorado good enough between the pipes?

The lack of available goalies is probably what prevented the Avs from advancing to the Western Conference finals in September. Both Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz were injured and unavailable to play in Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinal series loss to the Dallas Stars, who went on to advance to the Cup Final.

Grubauer was the No. 1 guy to begin the playoffs and went 4-0 against the Arizona Coyotes in the first round. He suffered a lower-body injury in Game 1 against the Stars and finished with a 1.87 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. Francouz went down in an ensuing game but tried to play through knee and hip injuries to little success.

Forced into action, third-stringer Michael Hutchinson played admirably in the final three games against Dallas, but his .857 save percentage in Game 7 wasn’t good enough as Colorado blew a late third-period lead and fell in OT.

Now, with a new season on the horizon, Grubauer and Francouz are back and represent the position group that elicits the most angst for Avs fans.

Avs general manager Joe Sakic and head coach Jared Bednar gave their undersized goalies a vote of confidence in September, but that’s not how the tandem is viewed around the league.

While Grubauer and Francouz have something to prove, the Avs’ stellar forward and defensive corps just need to build off last season.

Favored to win the Stanley Cup by DraftKings Sportsbook, Colorado begins on-ice drills Monday at Family Sports Center. The building will be closed to the public.

The Avs, like all NHL teams, will go straight from training camp to the regular season, with no preseason games. They can carry a maximum 23 players plus a taxi squad of four-to-six skaters and an unlimited amount of goalies.

With all of that in mind, here are five key questions outside of the Colorado crease on the eve of training camp:

Will the Avs begin camp healthy?

The two goalies and defenseman Erik Johnson were among seven players who finished the playoffs on the injured list Sept. 4.

Their lower-body ailments had them out indefinitely at the time, and there have been no updates on their status or the other five players during the offseason. Forwards Matt Calvert, Joonas Donskoi and Gabe Landeskog (skate-blade cut to leg) also missed Game 7 against the Dallas Stars, plus defenseman Conor Timmins.

Will top prospect Bo Byram make the team?

Byram, a 19-year-old defenseman, is co-captain of Canada’s World Junior Championship team and will join the Avs’ training camp before or after Tuesday’s gold-medal game in Edmonton.

Beyond camp, Byram will probably either make Colorado’s opening-night roster or the newly added taxi squad during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Avs are extraordinarily deep on the blue line. Without factoring in injuries, there is no available spot for him. But Byram is not eligible to play for the Colorado Eagles of the American Hockey League and his junior league, the Western Hockey League, has suspended play indefinitely.

Byram can play six NHL games before the first year of his three-year contract kicks in and he is guaranteed to stick with the Avs for the entire season. Does Colorado want to burn the first year of his entry-level contract?

Who will be Avs’ extra forwards, defensemen and goalies?

If everyone is healthy and no more free agents are added, there should spots up for grabs.

Tyson Jost and Logan O’Connor will probably compete for the Avs’ 12th forward, with Martin Kaut, T.J. Tynan, Michael Vecchione, Mikka Salomäki and Sheldon Dries also in the picture.

Beyond Byram on the blue line, newcomers Kyle Burroughs and Dennis Gilbert might become the seventh defenseman. Timmins could be in the mix too, if healthy.

Adam Werner is considered the Colorado Eagles’ No. 1 AHL goalie, thus he likely will serve as the mandatory third-string guy for the Avs.

Where will Brandon Saad and Devon Toews slot in?

An already deep Avalanche squad will add a pair of high-profile talents to the mix when Saad and Toews arrive for their first Colorado camp.

Saad likely will be the left winger on the second line, with center Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky, and serve as a net-front presence on the second power-play unit.

Toews will probably play on the first or second defensive pairing, opposite Cale Makar or Sam Girard, and have some kind of role on one of the power-play units. Toews might also play with Ryan Graves at even strength if the Avs go back to the Makar-Girard pairing.

Do the Avs have the cap flexibility to add another key player?

No — not without long-term injuries or trades.

Fully healthy, the Avs will be right up against the $81.5 million salary cap by adding a 13th forward and seventh defenseman. CapFriendly.com has Colorado just $1.8 million under the cap with just 20 players considered.

When the American Hockey League begins play in February, the Avs have the ability to carry just 21 or 22 players because of their ideal geographical affiliate in Loveland — the Eagles.

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