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Entering this past NHL season, the Colorado Avalanche were the Stanley Cup favorites. They held that position wire-to-wire, as the market never soured on them. They finished with the second-best record in the league during the regular season and then went 16-4 in the playoffs to claim the Cup. The Avalanche became just the fifth preseason favorite since 1990 to go on and win the Stanley Cup.
Colorado will enter the 2022-23 NHL season in the same role as it entered this past season: favorite to win it all. BetMGM has installed the Avalanche as +450 favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2023, a clear favorite as no other team is lower than +850. Not only is it rare for a preseason favorite to win the Stanley Cup, it's also rare for a team to repeat. Only twice during the salary cap era has a team won back-to-back championships: the Penguins in 2016 and 2017, and the Lightning in 2020 and 2021. Colorado will look to join that list.
Colorado will need a creative offseason
Repeating as Stanley Cup champions is a very hard thing to do, and the main reason for that is the salary cap. Since the NHL implemented the Stanley Cup in 2005, only twice have teams won back-to-back titles. Colorado looks to join that list, and they're +450 favorites to do so. However, it will require a creative offseason from general manager Joe Sakic.
The Avalanche have ten unrestricted free agents and two restricted free agents this upcoming offseason. They have just over $25 million in cap space and will need to either retain or replace a significant part of their forward group, bolster their defensive depth and bring in a starting goaltender.
Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky all played significant parts of this season and playoff run in Colorado's top-6 forward group. All three are unrestricted free agents and could probably command salaries of $5 million-plus on the open market. Artturi Lehkonen played a key role for the Avalanche and scored the Stanley Cup winning goal, and he also needs a new contract as a restricted free agent. Depth up front was a big key for Colorado, and key depth pieces like Andrew Cogliano, Darren Helm, Nico Sturm and Nicolas Aube-Kubel will also need new deals.
On the defensive side, the Avalanche are in better shape. Their big three of Cale Makar, Devon Toews and Bowen Byram are locked up, and so is Erik Johnson. However, Josh Manson and Jack Johnson are unrestricted free agents. There's been rumblings about the team potentially trading Samuel Girard to free up cap space. The defenseman missed a lot of the playoffs with a scary injury, but he's a very good player.
In net, Colorado traded significant assets last offseason to bring in Darcy Kuemper. It was obviously a worthwhile move as he backstopped them to a Stanley Cup, but he too now is an unrestricted free agent. Kuemper struggled at times in the playoffs, but was one of the very best goalies in the league during the regular season. He too will get paid.
While $25 million is a lot of cap space, the Avalanche will also need to extend Nathan MacKinnon during this upcoming season as he's a free agent in 2023. Unless all of these free agents decide to take sweetheart deals in an attempt to run it back, this team will look different next season. Sakic is one of the best GMs in the league, and the core is in place, but it'll be interesting to see what Colorado's roster looks like on opening night.
Who else is in the picture?
Coming off three straight Stanley Cup Finals appearances, and winners of the two prior to this season, it's no surprise the Tampa Bay Lightning are near the top of the leaderboard again. The Lightning are already projected to be $2 million over the salary cap, and Ondrej Palat and Nick Paul are unrestricted free agents. Tampa Bay has manipulated the cap in the past, so I'm sure they'll figure it out, but general manager Julien Brisebois will need to make some moves as well. Tampa Bay is +900 to win their third Stanley Cup in four years.
The team with the second best odds to win the Cup is the Toronto Maple Leafs. As we all know by now, the Leafs are loaded with elite talent and often dominate during the regular season. They finished with the fourth best record in hockey this past regular season. However, Toronto hasn't won a playoff series since 2004. They fell to the Lightning in a grueling seven game series in the first round this year. Will this team ever get over the hump? Oddsmakers think they have a very good chance.
The Florida Panthers won the President's Trophy as the league's best team during the regular season, but their season too was ended by the Lightning in the second round of the playoffs. Florida hired Paul Maurice as their new coach and enters the new season with 10-to-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup.
The conference finalists from this past season find themselves in the middle of the pack. The Edmonton Oilers are 16-to-1 to win it all in 2023, while the New York Rangers are 20-to-1. Carolina is 12-to-1, while the Vegas Golden Knights are 14-to-1. Calgary and Minnesota are both 18-to-1 to win the Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh comes in at 20-to-1. All other teams are higher than that.