The Colorado Avalanche made some tough choices in the offseason, and so far they’re paying off.

Colorado signed Josh Manson and Valeri Nichushkin to long-term deals, which didn’t leave enough cap space to keep Nazem Kadri around. Keeping Manson and Nichushkin have looked like good decisions three games into the new season.

Both scored in a 6-3 win at Minnesota on Monday night to complete a quick two-game road trip. Now the Avalanche head home to face the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night.

Nichushkin revitalized his career with Colorado and was rewarded with an eight-year, $49 million contract in the summer. Manson, acquired at the trade deadline last season, is locked up for four years.

Both have played a vital role in the first three games this season. Manson ended up having the game-winning goal against the Wild; Nichushkin added an empty-netter to go along with his two assists, and he now has four goals playing on the top line.

But Colorado’s motor is Nathan MacKinnon, who signed an extension that will kick in after this season and, for now, will make him the highest paid player in the NHL. He has done nothing to make the Avalanche regret the investment; he has two goals and five assists in the first three games.

He’s producing despite being the focus of every defense.

“He’s playing his game — playing fast and heavy and smart and making nice plays and getting rewarded for it,” center J.T. Compher said. “Whether he gets points or not, he’s driving the bus and we try to feed off that.”

Wednesday will be the second straight game and third of the first four against a Central Division foe.

Winnipeg has split its first two games and has yet to have head coach Rick Bowness behind the bench for the regular season. Bowness tested positive for COVID-19 before the Jets’ opener on Friday and didn’t make the trip to Dallas to coach against the team he led to the Stanley Cup finals in 2020.

The coach’s presence was missed.

“He sets the tone for the whole group,” Kyle Connor said. “Just the whole mentality. He’s got such a presence in the room as well.”

Associate head coach Scott Arniel led the team for the first two games, but Winnipeg hopes Bowness can take the reins against Colorado on Wednesday night.

The Jets hope for a bounce-back performance after losing 4-1 to the Stars on Sunday night.

Winnipeg, like the Avalanche, has gotten some much-needed production from its stars. Mark Scheifele has scored three of the team’s five goals so far and Nikolaj Ehlers has three assists.

The challenge for the Jets will be stopping Colorado’s speed and keeping the action on the wings while in the defensive zone. That was a problem in the loss to Dallas.

“Our whole premise of our D-zone coverage is protecting the guts of the ice,” Arniel said after the loss. “We let people get in there alone. We let them get some pretty good looks.”

–Field Level Media