Regression And The Colorado Avalanche

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Regression. That was the word that most Hockey people had for the Avalanche before the season started and while I was expecting some too, it’s staggering just how far the team have fallen compared to last season. A year ago the Avs were winning rave reviews as they were battling the Blues and Hawks for the Central Division – a battle they would win – and this year much the same roster is propping it up.

Barring a minor miracle the Avs will be playing golf when the playoff start, so what’s next?

The season to this point mostly can be filed away under “poor” with parts under “unwatchable”. There have been moments over a few 3 or 4 or 5 game stretches where it looked like they were turning the corner (again), but this kept turning out to be flattering-to-deceive as things quickly slumped back in to bad habits and losing runs.

There have been some bright spots on the season though, and so let’s try to have a balanced look at where the team lies with the deadline looming.

In Net

Varlamov’s numbers last season were sensational but with little help from in front they were always looking unsustainable; throw in several injury niggles too and while Varly has had some good nights he’s not been able to drag the team to 2 points as he so often did last year.

The injuries did allow us to get a better look at the goalie depth though. Reto Berra took a shot at starting and blew it – giving up a 2nd rounder was a mistake, giving him 3 years was another mistake – if there’s anyone willing to take him (whatever the offer!) the Avs should move on because the beneficiary of his ineptitude was Calvin Pickard. He has long been heralded as the Avs net minder of tomorrow and he’s shown he belongs in his stint with the big team. Tomorrow is now today for him. A duo of Varlamov/Pickard with around a 50-55/27-32 game split between the two should be good for Varly’s health and Pickard’s development.

On D

Again the Avalanche’s catalyst for trouble with just the 24nd ranked D, and with the number of bad turnovers and clear shooting lanes it’s still a cause for concern. The difference this season is the offense isn’t bailing it out in games. The defensive corps simply isn’t good enough. Tyson Barrie has continued to grow and Erik Johnson has finally looked like his promise has suggested, as highlighted with his All-Star vote, but there isn’t much else underneath the Avs need D badly.

It looks inevitable that Ryan O’Reilly gets shipped and it’s probably best to wait until summer for the maximum number of suitors but the return must include a top 4 D-man. It’s also worth the Avs picking up the phone to let teams know Jan Hejda is available on deadline day – he is reliable but nothing more and there should be a few playoff bound teams after his experience and depth.

The Avs should also dip into Lake Erie for the stretch and give Elliot and Siemens some guaranteed ice time. If Siemens can handle it, his promotion would be a huge boost with his size looking to next year.

Up front

Despite the amount of talent on the top 2 lines, and the devastation they caused last season, the Avs have struggled up front to 25th on offense, while the horrific power-play has clocked in at just 82.4% – which is ‘good’ for 29th. There just isn’t the chemistry there.

At this point the Avs could luck into either McDavid or Eichel, which would soften/erase the probable O’Reilly trade. The overall depth is okay and the only free agent is Daniel Briere so there are plenty of chips available to move in hockey deals even if there’s a lack of rentals to ship out. Most of the forward group looks set to return, hopefully a key addition in free agency or at the draft can respark what we know is already possible

The most glaring stat on the year is shots and their differential; only Buffalo have allowed more than the Avs 33.6 per game, while they’ve taken just 28.5 with only 6 teams taking less – even though 2 of those look playoff bound. The 5.1 difference is the second worst behind Buffalo, who already look set to take huge steps forward next season.

___________________________________________

Good smart hockey will help but more is required. After the deadline it would be nice to see Berra, Hejda and Briere gone with a couple of picks in the cupboard before taking a swing on moving O’Reilly for a home run prior to the draft.

Follow Tony on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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