Chambers: Avalanche poised to remain the Stanley Cup favorite in 2022-23

Chambers: Avalanche poised to remain the Stanley Cup favorite in 2022-23

With or without second-line center Nazem Kadri, the Avalanche will again likely be the Stanley Cup favorite when NHL training camps begin in September.

The reigning champions, who are in the final stages of finalizing another star-studded roster, have thus far retained much more than they lost during free agency. They are poised to again be the powerhouse of the Western Conference. And if they can find the necessary cap money to keep Kadri, the league’s prized unsigned player, there will be absolutely no holes in the lineup.

Preventing power forward Valeri Nichushkin and shutdown defenseman Josh Manson from testing the UFA market were all-star moves. And locking up restricted free agent forward Artturi Lehkonen to a five-year contract was similarly as shrewd. Every championship team needs a special fourth line and Colorado prevented Darren Helm and Andrew Cogliano from signing elsewhere and losing two-thirds of that trio.

But defense wins championships. And with the Avs, they arguably have the best group of defensemen in the league. They again won’t have to have Patrick Roy in net to win the Stanley Cup. They can again hoist it with prototype backup goalie Pavel Francouz playing behind newcomer Alexandar Georgiev instead of Darcy Kuemper.

Georgiev is the only primary newcomer — which is a good thing for a Cup winner. And he’ll play behind a blueline that other teams can only dream about. Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar will again do his thing with unsung star partner Devon Toews on the first pairing. Young Bo Byram, 21, who could become the left-shot version of the right-shot Makar, will continue to blossom into Makar’s future first-pair partner beside Manson or fellow shutdown D Erik Johnson. And savvy puck-man Sam Girard will be back after missing the final 13 games of the postseason with a broken sternum.

“We feel really good about it,” general manager Chris MacFarland said of the Avs’ stellar defensemen. “They all bring something different and I’d add that (enforcer) Kurtis McDermid is a key part of that … They were really strong in the playoffs. They moved the puck, obviously, Cale and Taser and Bo and G — they have really good puck skill. And Josh has skill as well, and he and EJ bring size and strength and penalty-kill ability.

“So we really liked the mix and they did they played really well in the playoffs. And we get G back into that group, healthy. We feel good about it. It’s a solid part of our lineup.”

Offensively, there also is no weakness. Expections for 2021 first-round draft pick Oskar Olausson are high. The young Swede, 19, should step in nicely for older countryman Andre Burakovsky — the Avs’ only seemingly costly free-agent loss thus far.

DU pride. The Denver Pioneers had two former coaches get NHL head-coaching jobs within days last week. Jim Montgomery, who led DU to the 2017 NCAA championship in Year 5 of his six-year tenure, became the 29th head coach of the Boston Bruins. And Derek Lalonde, a DU assistant under George Gwozdecky for five years through 2011, became the 28th head coach of the Detroit Red Wings.

“Two DU coaches that are behind Original Six benches is pretty special and we’re really proud of both guys,” Pioneers head coach David Carle said.

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