The Colorado Avalanche’s first fifth of the season was largely overshadowed by trade rumours and the Global Series.
The Colorado Avalanche played their first 16 games of the season with a pair of distractions looming overhead. One was the Matt Duchene situation, and the other was the Global Series in Sweden. Now with both those things in the rear-view mirror, the Avalanche can focus exclusively on their game.
Having a player that didn’t want to play for the Avalanche around during training camp and the early parts of the season was a major distraction for the team. The questions about whether he’d show up to camp, the comments from Peter Forsberg suggesting Duchene should be benched and traded, and the endless media speculation cause quite a circus. All the attention on something other then their game doubtlessly sapped their focus.
At the same time, the Colorado Avalanche were preparing for the Global Series games against the Ottawa Senators in Stockholm, Sweden. While it no doubt a positive experience for all involved, it also drew some of the team’s focus away from their game. If nothing else, it threw a wrench into their schedule, leading to four breaks of four days before the 20 game mark.
Now, thankfully, both distractions are in the past. As an added bonus, they’ve already played against their former teammate, eliminating that diversion as well. Now, there’s nothing extraneous swirling around. The Avalanche can focus entirely on their game, and the only questions left will be answered by their play on the ice.
Who’s it going to be?
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The Colorado Avalanche have a few mercurial players on their roster. Fortunately, most of them seem to be at the top of their game. For now anyway.
Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Carl Soderberg, Blake Comeau, Tyson Barrie and Semyon Varlamov have all had some Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde moments in the past year. All of them are playing extremely well right now. But they’ve also had struggled at times.
Soderberg and Varlamov both had awful years last year. Barrie and Landeskog had very down years offensively and Comeau looked completely lost, especially on breakaways.
All of them are now contributing well, especially in the last 9 games. Which just happens to coincide with MacKinnon’s emergence.
MacKinnon wasn’t really struggling his first ten games this year so much as not playing up to his potential. He had 1 goal, 5 points and was -7. The offence was decent, though not spectacular. Not anymore. In his last 9 games, MacKinnon has exploded for 17 points, including a career-high five-point night (1 goal, 4 assists) against the Washington Capitals..
Now, he looks to be establishing himself as an elite player. The question, which applies to the entire team, is can he keep it going? Which version of these guys are the Colorado Avalanche going to get for the rest of the season?
Who’s it Going 2C?
There’s no doubt MacKinnon is the #1 centre for the Colorado Avalanche. But the Duchene trade blew open a spot for the second centre position, and there’s a tonne of competition for it. And everyone vying for it is in prove it mode.
The top candidates are Alexander Kerfoot, JT Compher, Tyson Jost and Soderberg. Vladislav Kamenev would have been on this list, but his injury means he won’t be in the conversation any time soon.
That still leaves four guys.
After last season, Soderberg probably wasn’t even on the radar for the role. But he never gave up, never lost confidence, and has returned to form, drawing continuous praise from his coach. If his play keeps up, the Avalanche could do worse than having him as their 2C.
But then there’s the youth movement. Kerfoot, Compher, Jost and Kamenev represent the Avalanche’s future. Compher was the name that popped into Head Coach Jared Bednar’s mind immediately upon being asked who would fill Duchene’s shoes. But he’s just getting back to speed, and Kerfoot had something to say about it.
With 6 points in the 3+ games after Duchene was traded, Kerfoot moved himself near the top of the rookie scoring race, and may have given himself an edge in the competition.
That leaves Jost and Kamenev as wildcards. Both have the potential to slot in right away. When they get back healthy and up to speed, they will throw an extra kink into the depth chart.
Despite losing Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and Paul Stastny in the past four years, the Colorado Avalanche still have tremendous depth up the middle, especially with Dominic Toninato being recalled. Who’s going to end up taking Duchene’s old spot? Who gets bumped to the wing, and who gets bumped down the depth chart?
Who’s it going to D?
The question as old as the salary cap for the Colorado Avalanche. There were supposed to be some answers this year. Nikita Zadorov was supposed to emerge as a top flight defender. Andrei Mironov was supposed to make a seamless transition to the NHL. Mark Barberio was supposed to be a stable puck moving presence in the bottom 4. Anton Lindholm and/or Chris Bigras were supposed to break through and establish themselves.
None of that’s happened. Yet.
There’s still 4/5ths of the season for things to change, but the Avalanche blueline is a quagmire. Erik Johnson and Barrie are the only guys who haven’t been in and out of the lineup. Their partners have been a mishmash of everything else the Avalanche have ready to play in the NHL.
Hopefully the addition of Samuel Girard helps calm things down a bit. As long as he stays in the NHL. He will have to show he’s ready for the grind of the NHL season at 19 years old. He’s been very good so far, but can he maintain that level the rest of the season? If so, the Avalanche may finally be getting some clarity on the blueline, especially if Patrik Nemeth returns to give Barrie a solid defensive partner.
Can the Avalanche finally get the left half of their top 4 sorted out? If so, which of the seven guys fighting for those spots will grab them? Or will the franchise go into yet another off-season looking for somebody to play with Johnson and/or Barrie?
The Colorado Avalanche had a whirlwind start to their season. With the Duchene trade drama and the Global Series, the team wasn’t completely honed in on their game. They couldn’t be. Now, with everything behind them, they don’t have anything to divert their focus.
The foreseeable future will be all about what they do on the ice. Not the disgruntled star asking to be traded by his childhood idol, not the guy in the room who doesn’t want to be there, not the spectacle surrounding the games in Sweden, and not the quirky schedule required to accommodate them. Granted, there will be probably be more trades, but nothing seems imminent.
Instead, we get to see what the Avalanche can do with what they have. So far, so good. The boys hung a 7-2 beating on the reigning President’s Trophy champion Washington Capitals. Of course the first 4-1 goal was called back because Matt Nieto impeded a superstar’s chance to win the goalie’s glove, so it was officially 6-2. Nevertheless, it was a great start to the distraction-free remainder of the season.
And for once, everything was about how the team played on the ice. As it should be.