What Should The Avalanche Do? The Veterans Edition

Colorado Hockey Now

Everyone loves a good veteran in their locker room, and the Colorado Avalanche had not one, but two elder statesmen (in NHL terms) as regulars on their team last year.

Both Jack Johnson and Andrew Cogliano are set to become unrestricted free agents again this summer. Will they continue playing? It certainly sounds like Johnson wants to continue, while Cogliano wasn’t quite sure what his plans were going to be next season. Neither would break the bank on one-year extensions, but should the Avalanche bring either of them back or is it time for them to move on?

The Fit

Both of these guys played pretty defined roles this past season.

Unlike the previous year, where the Avalanche used Cogliano in a third line role for a large portion of the season due to injuries and lack of depth, he mostly played on the fourth line during the 2023-24 campaign. That’s a good thing, because with too many minutes, the warts in his game start to show a bit more.

Same goes for Jack Johnson. He was almost always the sixth defenseman in terms of ice-time most nights, and really wasn’t used all that much on the penalty kill.

If there was anything to nitpick on my end, it’s that both were used as regulars pretty much every night. Johnson turned 37 in the middle of the season, but still played 80 games. I know he battled through a groin injury at times as well. In the playoffs, he looked a little worn down, especially as the Dallas series went on. Cogliano played 75, missing a few games here and there due to injuries.

I’m not sure either of these guys need to be regular players who play every night at this point in their careers, and nights off to give a younger player a look wouldn’t have been the worst thing. Obviously, that’s easier said than done with players who pride themselves on being available every night, but it could have helped in the long run.

The Numbers

Jack Johnson has never been an analytical darling, and that won’t change at this point in his career. With him on the ice, the Avalanche were outshot and out-chanced, and his expected goals-for percentage was well below 50%. Every defenseman on the team sees their numbers dip when next to Johnson, but he’s someone who the staff trusts to stick to the system, so he gets those regular minutes.

Cogliano has slightly better numbers when on the ice, but his expected goals-for percentage is only slightly higher than Johnson’s. The issue with Cogliano comes on the penalty kill, where he’s trusted a lot by the staff. His penalty kill numbers just were not good, but when it came time to kill a penalty, he was usually one of the first forwards thrown out there, especially after Logan O’Connor’s injury. That didn’t improve in the playoffs.

So yes, both players were trusted a lot by the staff because they understand what is being asked of them and don’t stray from the system, but maybe trusted too much?

The Contracts

This one will be pretty simple. If either come back for another year with the Avalanche, it will be for league minimum, or close to it. Johnson played for the league minimum last season, while Cogliano played at just above it. Neither would break the bank, but that isn’t really the concern here.

What’s The Verdict?

Chris MacFarland made it clear last week in his press conference that the Avalanche will need lower AAV players next season to help with the salary cap. He also said that he believes both can still play in this league, but that the team will meet in the coming weeks to decide on a next step.

If I was making the call, I’d probably move on from both of them. It’s a tough choice, because both are big parts of the leadership crew on the Avalanche, but tough decisions have to be made. Both players just aren’t as effective anymore, and although they’re important in the locker room, if they aren’t cutting it on the ice, you have to find someone that will. It’s tough to say this, as I have a lot of respect for both of these guys, as they put their bodies on the line (especially Cogliano) every single night and never short you on effort.

Do I think the Avalanche will move on from both of them? I have my doubts. Between the two, I think there’s a good chance Johnson comes back. However, if that does happen, it has to be as that extra on defense, in my opinion. Keep him around because you trust him and you know he will keep himself ready when the time comes to play, but he doesn’t need to be in the lineup every night.

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