Colorado Avalanche: Looking Back To Look Forward

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 22: Drew Helleson, 47th overall pick of the Colorado Avalanche, is greeted at the team draft table by general manager Joe Sakic during Rounds 2-7 of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 22, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 22: Drew Helleson, 47th overall pick of the Colorado Avalanche, is greeted at the team draft table by general manager Joe Sakic during Rounds 2-7 of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 22, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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Reviewing the 2018-19 Colorado Avalanche season, and previewing the next steps for the organisation in the off-season.

The postseason is over, the draft has happened and the dust is settling. Now is the time for the Colorado Avalanche to take stock and work out where they go from here.

In order to work out what requirements the club has for next season, a brief review is called for. The stats will tell you that the Avalanche posted a record of 38 wins, 30 losses and 14 overtime losses, good for 90 points, 5th place in the central division and the second wildcard position. They also compiled a 7-5 record in the playoffs, losing in the second round to San Jose.

A slightly worse record than 2017-18 in the regular season, but twice as many playoff games and a first series win since 2008, when they beat the Minnesota Wild. Basically, the regular season translated to 5 less wins and 5 more overtime losses.

The season started really well, with the continued dominance of the “9296” line of captain Gabriel Landeskog, superstar Nathan MacKinnon and giant Finnish winger Mikko Rantanen combining for a huge amount of points. This garnered national attention and had some, if not all pundits saying that this line was better than the Boston trio of Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak.

Sadly, this media attention got opposing coaches thinking of how to neutralize this line.

With Colorado relying on secondary scoring and coach Bednar trying to tweak the lineup to engineer a win or two, the Avalanche plummeted down the standings from mid-December to mid-February. It was not just the forwards’ fault – the defense went awry and the goalies were suddenly unable to stop routine shots. Something was fundamentally wrong.

In the middle of February, things turned a corner. Semyon Varlamov turned up to play against Vegas. From there, the Avalanche went on a tear. Five of the Avalanche’s six wins in February came during those last six games. Galvanized by this, the Avalanche started playing better and when given a chance to start between the pipes, Philipp Grubauer recorded his first shutout of the season.

The Avalanche had 22 wins at that point of the season, chalking up another 16 wins to close out the regular season strongly.

On the individual front, there were career years for MacKinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog, Barrie, Compher, Girard, Calvert and Jost for points. Big Ol’ Carl Soderberg set a new career high for goals scored and made a case for him being the Avalanche’s second line center. We now know that GM Joe Sakic has other ideas.

Factor in a strong showing from rookie D-Man, Ryan Graves and another unlucky injury for Vladislav Kamenev and you can say that the Avalanche are looking in a good position moving forward.

No team in the league is perfect. Not the newly crowned champion St Louis Blues, not the legendary dynasty teams of the Canadiens, Islanders and Oilers of the 50s, 70s and 80s. You always need to look to improve, as Avalanche GM Joe Sakic has no doubt been doing since the day that the Sharks eliminated the Avalanche.

So, let’s look at areas that need to be improved upon:

Contracts

The Avalanche currently have 13 players signed to play in the 2019-20 season. 5 forwards, 7 defensemen and one goalie. Obviously, this does not count current AHL players, such as Pavel Francouz, Logan O’Connor and Martin Kaut

But, if you’re going to promote from within, then you need to replenish the farm system, too. 8 draft picks probably helped that along the way.

Decisions need to be taken on UFAs – Colin Wilson, Derrick Brassard, Gabriel Bourque, Patrik Nemeth and Semyon Varlamov. Do you re-sign any of them? Just a couple? All of them? I doubt that it will be all of them, in fact I can only honestly see Wilson and perhaps Nemeth back in burgundy & blue next season.

Next you have your RFAs and getting business done with them. Who gets a raise? How much? Do you send any of the eligible RFAs to arbitration?

We already know that Sven Andrighetto was not given a qualifying offer. Now this might be a case that Sakic is thinking of bringing the Swiss back next season, but is keen to renegotiate a deal, as he feels a qualifying offer would be too pricey for the amount of minutes Sven is likely to play. This is largely dependent upon who else will be taking up right wing minutes for the Avs.

Forwards

We’re looking beyond the first line here. Mikko Rantanen should be re-signed with the Avalanche shortly, so I’m calling it a non-issue here. Beyond that, scoring depth falls off a cliff. It has been a problem all season, highlighted particularly when the top line stopped scoring around mid-December.

You have a promising crop of young forwards who could develop into the players to fill that void in Compher, Jost, Kerfoot and Kamenev, with Kaut and O’Connor currently in Loveland, too. But can you wait for them to develop? Do you bring in a free agent to give that a kick start?

Kevin Hayes’ name was mentioned before he was traded to Philly and signed a ridiculous contract with the Flyers. That’s pricey for a player who would only be a second line center for the Avalanche. There are other options out there, but I am sure we will examine some of those in later posts.

Defense

More from Mile High Sticking

Oh wait, this isn’t an area that really needs improvement upon – the pieces are already there, but more something that requires a few minor coaching tweaks to make the unit better as a whole.

Erik Johnson – Tyson Barrie

Cale Makar – Sam Girard

Nikita Zadorov – Ian Cole

Factor in that you have Connor Timmins, Ryan Graves, Patrik Nemeth, Mark Barberio and even #4 overall draft selection Bowen Byram waiting in the wings and the defense is set. Some have even said that Byram’s selection makes Barrie expendable. I’ve heard that before and I’m still not going to bite. I think Tyson Barrie will be a part of the Avalanche’s plans for at least the whole of next season.

Barrie has put up career numbers in each of the last two seasons and I cannot see his production falling. If he can improve his control on the blueline during powerplays, I can only see the number of assists climbing even closer to 50 in a season. He was 7th in the league in assists last term, with 45. That was 22 behind Brent Burns for the league lead, but only 12 shy of John Carlson for second.

I’m not committing to defensive pairings, nor will Jared Bednar yet (if ever). They are likely to change a lot between now and the first game against Calgary. Right now, I expect these six guys to dress on the D-core.

Zadorov reduced his PIMs last season, but he still needs to continue that trend, plus Ian Cole took a large increase in his PIM total in his first season in burgundy & blue. That needs to stop, but I think he is capable of making those adjustments.

Goalie

Now, while the battle between the Avalanche’s pair of number 1 goalies was well and truly won by Philipp Grubauer last season in March / April, the preceding months still need some work. He did set new career highs in games, starts, wins, shots faced, saves and minutes played.

With all signs pointing toward the departure of incumbent first choice, Semyon Varlamov and his bionic groin, this sets the stage for Pavel Francouz to take up the mantle of backup to Grubauer. Frankie is two years younger than Varly and has less mileage on his legs to boot. Colorado GM Joe Sakic has been unwilling to sign Francouz for more than a year at a time. This does offer the benefit that Francouz is only signed for $950,000

Conclusions

When the 2018-19 season drew to a close, many of us fans were devastated. Mostly in the manner of the defeat, but with what has happened in the draft, that should at least help to calm the emotions a little.

The Colorado Avalanche have gone from strength to strength over the past few seasons, rising from unlikely postseason contender to apparent bookmaker’s 5th favourite for the Stanley Cup in 2020.

Our GM has a vision – he sticks to the plan and makes things work. He got eight players for Matt Duchene (Andrew Hammond, Samuel Girard, Shane Bowers, Vladislav Kamenev, Justus Annunen, Danilla Zhuravlyov, Bowen Byram and Matthew Stienburg) after flipping one of the draft picks received in the original trade for two more.

It remains to be seen who made the best of that trade, but with the fact that Ottawa cut their losses with Duchene and Turris didn’t perform that well for the Predators last season, the Avs may well have won the trade just on the strength of Girard alone.

The Colorado Avalanche have a good coaching setup. The systems work for the most part and the team is looking better for them. Add to that a wonderful locker room chemistry, highlighted by Gabe Landeskog’s antics when the Avs are winning and his “no man left behind” attitude when they are losing and this is a fantastic team that the free agents will want to play for.

Next. Dreaming about Panarin in Denver. dark

The future is bright in Denver. Nathan MacKinnon and his team are ready to challenge for the Stanley Cup and they are ready to challenge every year for quite some time.