'Cale Makar good' is not exactly a white-hot take, but with the Avalanche having some rotten injury luck lately, how about some good news for those in the greater Denver area? In the midst of the Colorado defenseman's third NHL season, it's worth looking at how the sublimely talented Avs keystone has evolved - and how he will continue to evolve in the coming years.
Makar has been an offensive force from the blueline ever since he entered the league, first in a playoff stint with the Avs, then in his Calder Trophy-winning rookie campaign in 2019-20 where he posted 50 points in 57 games. Since then, his points per game has increased year over year and right now, he trails only Nashville's Roman Josi in offense from a defenseman in the NHL (Josi has 81 points to Makar's 73).
What is interesting to me is how Colorado GM Joe Sakic has built the team's blueline and how coach Jared Bednar has worked with the group. In Makar, Devon Toews and Samuel Girard (not to mention injured youngster Bowen Byram), the Avs have three thoroughly modern D-men who can move the puck up the ice and create offense. Considering the Avs have size and physicality elsewhere (new recruit Josh Manson plus Erik and Jack Johnson), the puck-moving trio are quite the luxury and Bednar wants them to play to their strengths come playoff time. Having said that, he also likes the growth he has seen in Makar.
"When he broke in, we had to see what he could do," Bednar told me. "You saw him do all these special things and you're working on his defensive game and the expectations gradually grow. He understands; you can be hard on him and he has taken on the challenge of improving the heaviness, physicality and stiffness in his game. He's a highly competitive guy and now he's killing penalties."
Bednar went on to cite Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay's Norris-winning defenseman, as an example of a player whose all-around elite game was something for Makar to aspire to and while the Avs defenseman is never going to be 6-foot-6 and 241 pounds, he can certainly impact play all 200 feet of ice. Bednar believes Makar has already made great strides in that area the past two years after taking on the challenge.
Last season, Makar was the runner-up for the Norris Trophy, which was claimed by New York's Adam Fox. This year, Makar will once again be one of the strongest contenders and it will be interesting to see the results - which, right now, probably favor Nashville's Josi. But it feels like we won't have to wait long for Makar to earn the honor. With his talent, it feels like it's only a matter of 'when' and not 'if.'
In the meantime, the Avalanche are focused on the Stanley Cup and Makar will play a big part of any run they go on. After a couple disappointing post-seasons in a row, the team is getting prepared for anything.
"Our focus is to make sure we are improving on how hard we are to play against, improving on our defensive details and how committed we have to be and at this point we've had a fantastic season," Bednar said. "It's a focused group and a hungry group. It's all about setting ourselves up to play the right way and being ready for anything a team throws at us come playoff time."