2014/15 Season Preview – Colorado Avalanche
2013/14 Season Record – 2nd in Western Conference, 1st in Central Division
2013/14 Season Recap
After an offseason overhaul which saw some former legends come back in senior roles, the season was a delightful surprise for the Avalanche and their fans as they went from 29th overall the previous season to defying the odds in winning the Central division.
The playoffs weren’t so successful, succumbing to the Wild in 7 games in the opening round. Joe Sakic became the executive VP of Hockey Operations and Patrick Roy became head coach (and VP of Hockey Operations in conjunction with Sakic) and began the turnaround by selecting Nathan MacKinnon with the #1 pick over D Seth Jones.
This proved to be a masterstroke as MacKinnon wowed the NHL en route to the Calder Trophy and helped pace the Avalanche with a growing role throughout the season culminating in being the joint leading scorer in the playoffs for the franchise.
The Avalanche were well represented for their season in Las Vegas as joining MacKinnon in picking up a trophy was Ryan O’Reilly (Lady Byng) and Coach Roy (Jack Adams), while Semyon Varlamov garnered a Vezina nomination after his career year.
|Gabriel Landeskog||Matt Duchene||Ryan O’Reilly|
|Alex Tanguay||Nathan MacKinnon||Jarome Iginla|
|Jamie McGinn||John Mitchell||Daniel Briere|
|Cody McLeod||Marc-André Cliche||Maxime Talbot|
|Brad Stuart||Erik Johnson|
|Jan Hejda||Tyson Barrie* (Still an RFA)|
|Nick Holden||Nate Guenin|
Top Call-Up Options
- Jarome Iginla (Free Agent – Boston)
- Daniel Briere (Trade with Montreal for P.A. Parenteau + 2015 5th round pick)
- Brad Stuart (Trade – 2016 2nd round pick + 2017 6th round pick)
- Jesse Winchester (Free Agent – Florida)
- Paul Stastny (Free Agent – St. Louis)
- P.A. Parenteau (Trade with Montreal + 2015 5th round pick for Daniel Briere)
- Brad Malone (Free Agent – Carolina)
Clearly the Avalanche’s strength is heading into the season with a top 6 that could compete with anyone in the NHL. The loss of Stastny will take some replacing due to his abilities in the faceoff circle and on the defensive side of the ice, but with the addition of Iginla in his roster spot the Avs should have a more natural balance to it.
There is obviously going to be some experimenting in camp and early season with the lines as only 2 of Duchene, MacKinnion and O’Reilly will play through the middle. As Roy has stated he wants a power forward on each line Landeskog and Iginla won’t be seeing ice time together, and I can’t see the Duchene/O’Reilly combo getting split up after having so much success last season, moving MacKinnon to his natural centre position therefore seems the thing to do.
As a group there is plenty of flexibility and they should finish the year amongst the leaders in team scoring. The bottom six was the Achilles heel last season, which was especially noticeable in the playoff defeat to the Wild, and the offseason moves do seem to have shored this up with an experienced clutch performer in Daniel Briere and having Jesse Winchester who looks much improved from his spell in Finland to call upon when required, plus a (hopefully!) healthy Joey Hishon maybe ready to join the big club after seeing some playoff action last season.
On paper the D looks better than last year but that isn’t really saying much! The shots against were way too high all year long and the addition of Brad Stuart should help, but I don’t personally think it will be enough.
The awfully high shots against total can be put down in part to the fact Patrick Roy came in and demanded more offense from his D; they obliged by knocking in 48 goals compared to just 5 in the lockout shortened season but there were lots of gaps and odd man rushes as a result.
The extra year of experience at NHL level for Tyson Barrie and the surprising AHL standout Nick Holden should give them a bit more hockey sense in knowing when to jump into the play and keep things tighter while still contributing on the offensive side.
The Avs are again going to be relying on Semyon Varlamov to carry a heavy workload and he’s going have to get close to last season’s numbers if the Avs expect to challenge in a stronger Central Division. There should be some regression expected but he’ll still be good enough to secure the Avalanche playoff Hockey.
As far as back-ups go there is little to inspire so an injury to Varlamov would be a devastating season-ender in all likelihood. J.S Giguere brought the curtain down on his wonderful career over the summer and the #2 role will be handled by Reto Berra; the Avs acquired him from Calgary for a 2nd round pick at the deadline and signed him to an extension, but he has struggled to date and doesn’t look like an NHL goaltender.
There are a couple of exciting prospects battling in Lake Erie in Sami Aittokallio and Calvin Pickard who could see some time if Berra continues failing to inspire confidence.
The Avs banged in 50 on the power play over last season, good for 19.8% and the NHL’s fifth best power play unit (while giving up just the 1 shorty), and with the majority of the contributors back it’s hard to see any drop off here – teams will have to be wary of taking penalties which should help the 5-on-5 play too.
The addition of 30 goal scorer (although just 4 on the PP) Iginla plus the open ice passing of Briere I’d be surprised to see them out of the top 5 this year. On the other side of the ice the Avs were middle of the pack in power play goals against (48) despite being one of the least penalised teams as they posted just an 80.7% kill, the loss of Stastny will be huge here. If Winchester doesn’t crack the line-up or nobody steps up to fill Stastny’s lost minutes things could be a real struggle, and a #24 ranked penalty kill seems slightly optimistic. It’s fair to say penalties on either side in the Avs games are going to be exciting/nail biting depending on which side you’re on.
I toyed with a few here, with Duchene, O’Reilly, Barrie and MacKinnon all coming close – the Avs played at times without top forwards last season and adapted well while the continued development of Barrie is crucial to the D corps, but the key for me is Semyon Varlamov.
On a team that looks to have a weak penalty kill and continues to give up lots of shots at 5-on-5 he’s going to be busy and with no real solid options as a back-up he’s looking at a 60-65 start campaign before the possibility of the playoffs on top.
I’m not expecting a repeat of last year’s numbers but something close is required for the Avs to contend in the postseason. The best hope for the Avs is to seal a playoff spot early to rest him up for a run.
Over the course of the summer I have read everything from Cup champion to joining the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, but personally I have somewhere in between as a fair expectation.
I do see the core of this side winning a Cup – just not yet. Real contender status is still a year or two away, so for this season more experience of the playoffs and the rigours involved before bowing out to one of Los Angeles/Chicago/St Louis seem the most likely option for me.
Injuries aside I can’t see them missing the playoffs as there is too much talent in the side. I have them behind Chicago, St Louis and Minnesota in the division and a Wild Card for the playoffs where anything can happen, so fingers crossed…