DENVER – The Colorado Avalanche had a busy start to free agency Wednesday, locking up three veterans and seeing three of the players from this year’s Stanley Cup champion team depart as they start their quest for a repeat.
As of 4 p.m. MT Wednesday, the biggest question was what will happen with forward Nazem Kadri, who had one of the best years of his career this year with the Avs. The Denver Post reported that newly promoted general manager Chris MacFarland said the Avalanche were still in play for Kadri around 5 p.m. Wednesday.
But he and newly promoted president of hockey operations Joe Sakic quickly re-signed three of the veterans who they acquired over the past year who helped them win the Cup.
The Avs first signed defenseman Josh Manson to a four-year contract through the 2025-26 season. Manson, 30, was acquired from Anaheim in March and had seven points in his 22 games with the Avs this season. He also had nearly twice as many hits over those 22 games than any other Avalanche player. Manson recorded eight points – three goals and five assists – during the Stanley Cup playoffs and scored the overtime game winter in Game 1 of th Avs’ series against the Blues.
"He played big minutes on our second pairing throughout the postseason, providing a tough, steady presence in the defensive zone while also contributing on the offensive end with some key goals,” MacFarland, who was newly appointed to the general manager role, said in a statement. “Getting him under contract for the next four years helps further solidify our blue line."
The next big re-signing for the Avalanche was forward Artturi Lehkonen, who signed a five-year deal through the 2026-27 season. The Avalanche brought the 27-year-old Lehkonen over from Montreal in March. He set career highs with 19 goals and 28 points between the Avalanche and Canadiens this season, including nine points in 16 regular-season games with Colorado.
In the playoffs, Lehkonen had eight goals and six assists, including four game-winning goals and the one that clinched the Stanley Cup.
"He is incredibly versatile, can play anywhere up and down the lineup. He has a non-stop motor and never takes a shift off. He's really smart, highly competitive, knows his role no matter what is asked of him,” MacFarland said. “Getting length and term for a player of his quality was a top offseason priority and we're thrilled to have him for the next five years."
And the Avs re-signed veteran forward Darren Helm to another one-year contract through the next season. Helm, 35, signed a one-year deal with the Avalanche last summer after spending the entire start of his career with Detroit. He had 15 points in the regular season and five points in the playoffs, and was strong on the boards and on the penalty kill for Colorado.
“Darren was an invaluable member of our championship team last season, especially during the playoffs,” MacFarland said. “He brings a high-compete, high-energy level and veteran leadership to our group. We are excited to have him back for another season.”
The Avalanche re-signed forward Valeri Nichushkin this week ahead of free agency.
But several other key players on this year’s team departed Colorado, as was expected.
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper, 32, signed a five-year, $26 million deal with the Washington Capitals – which was expected after the Avs traded for Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev last week.
Forward Andre Burakovsky signed a five-year deal with the Seattle Kraken after three seasons in Colorado – the most recent of which was the best year of his career. He finished the regular season with 61 points (22 goals, 39 assists) and +12. And he had eight points in the playoffs, including a goal and two assists in the final game against the Predators.
And forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He signed with Colorado shortly into this past season and had 22 points for the Avs on 11 goals and 11 assists, finishing +14 for the regular season. But he did not tally a point during the playoffs.
The Avalanche also signed Chicago Wolves defenseman Josh Jacobs to a one-year deal, forward Spencer Smallman to a two-year contract, forward Charles Hudon to a one-year deal, and defenseman Andreas Englund to a one-year deal.