Colorado Avalanche: Is 4th In The Central The Best Case Scenario?
After the long drawn out saga of Ryan O’Reilly and his contract came to an end just shy of an arbitration hearing, there is just the re-signing of RFA Tyson Barrie (plus maybe a small trade to come under the cap) to close the book on the summer roster work done by Joe Sakic and co.
Avs fans can now firmly cast an eye on the season ahead and wonder what to expect from this exciting team.
- Key Ins: Jarome Iginala (FA), Danny Briere (trade), Brad Stuart (trade)
- Key Outs: Paul Stastny (FA), Cory Sarich (FA), Jean-Sebastien Giguere (FA), PA Parenteau (trade)
Firstly, looking at the Avalanche forward corps the loss of Stastny to the Blues can’t be understated, his faceoff ability in his own zone a particular blow with such a large percentage of his shift starts coming on the defensive side of the ice. Despite this, the Avs are still deep at centre with a combination of Duchene, O’Reilly, MacKinnon, Briere and Mitchell able to provide a solid 1-2-3 punch.
The addition of highly touted free agent Jarome Iginla in Stastny’s roster spot could give an already potent offense a better balance as he’s a natural winger and the wily clutch play of another new addition, Danny Briere (acquired for PA Parenteau), plus a years’ experience in the pocket of Calder winner MacKinnon means there should be no drop off in goals.
On The Back End
At the other end of the ice things still look more than a little shaky despite management giving up a 2nd rounder to the Sharks in exchange for veteran Brad Stuart. It’s pretty reasonable to assume the Avs will be up near the league leaders in shots allowed and also it will also be a tough ask for the D to chip in with as many goals again after a huge jump from 5 in the shortened 2012/2013 season to 48 last year.
As I expect to see some regression in Varlamov’s numbers following a stunning career year, the goals against will creep up under the pressure of shots against especially with no back-up to provide confidence – I’ve seen nothing from Berra to suggest he’s an NHL goaltender (and certainly not worth a 2nd rounder); while there’s talent on the farm both Pickard and Aittokallio are not NHL ready yet.
Any lengthy injury to Varlamov and the season will be on the rails and the prospect of Connor McDavid will be greater than the prospect of playoff hockey.
The problem with the Avalanche being on a par with last season’s surprising side is that the rest of the Central (Winnipeg aside) are not. The Blues improved with the addition of Stastny, the Hawks found a #2 centre in Brad Richards for a bargain, the Wild added another scoring threat in Vanek, the Stars were busy adding Spezza and Hemsky and the Preds added James Neal, Mike Riberio, Anton Volchenkov, and have a healthy Pekke Rinne behind them.
At this point the Avs going 19-6-3 in interdivision games again seems a huge stretch, as does repeating as Central division champions. They will still win their fair share of games and with Roy behind the bench there’s certainly going to be no slacking but putting up the record that was reached last year is going to be beyond tough.
All Things Considered
In my opinion the Avalanche are still a playoff team and I personally have them falling to 4th in the Central, but can this be a good thing? To make the Stanley Cup Final it’s almost certain they would have to go through 1 or maybe both of the powerhouses of the Hawks and Blues and that’s a huge mountain to climb just to get to take on the winners of the Pacific and then the East.
As I see the 2 wild card teams coming from the Central (Dallas and Colorado), a 4th place finish would afford the chance of taking on the teams in the Pacific. Obviously this means the defending champions Los Angeles or the retooled Ducks, plus maybe the now rebuilding Sharks; it’s possibly a better set of match-up’s to get through before then running into the winner of the Central battle (and it’s safe to say it will be a battle) who will have just gone through 2 gruelling, hard-hitting series.
Roll on October 9th in Minnesota to see how the new roster reacts, and whether or not the match-up against the team that bumped them out of the playoffs can spark them off to a hot start to banish the disappointments of last year.
Overall, another season to be optimistic, at least until the puck drops…