The Colorado Avalanche are facing an unprecedented opportunity in this upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs to claim the title of Elite.
The 2019-2020 campaign for the Colorado Avalanche was on course for a battle for the top spot in the Western Conference against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. Ultimately the race came down to a 2 point differential between Colorado and first place. The tenacious but yet injury-riddled club had its sights set on the last remaining 12 games after a win against the Rangers on March 11th.
Then the next day the COVID-19 pandemic put the entire globe on a quarantined pause and the league suspended operations on March 12th. Now fast forward almost 3 months later and league Commissioner Gary Bettman begins to lay out the groundwork for the resumption of play in a 24 team Stanley Cup Playoffs. This new playoff format, as unprecedented as it may be, has had its fair share of vocal support and criticism.
Under the new structure of the playoffs, it will see the 24 teams split into 2 hub cities according to their conference alignment. This will create an environment very similar to what we see in the World Hockey Junior Tournament each year, with the one glaring exception is the lack of fan attendance. The top 4 teams of each division play each other round-robin style for their seeding in the next round, while the remaining 16 teams battle in play-in rounds to advance in the playoffs.
These playoffs won’t be taking place until July at the earliest, which means these teams, including the Avs, haven’t played organized hockey for 4 months. To offset the inevitable rust and lack of game shape a 2-4 week training camp will be completed with an expanded playoff roster consisting of 28 skaters and as many goalies as teams determine adequate. With all of these roster additions, self-quarantine, and injury rehab this sets us up for the healthiest Stanley Cup playoffs we have ever seen in quite some time.
This provides the Colorado Avalanche a premium proving ground to finally establish itself amongst the top echelon in the league. There have been many points in the 2019-2020 year that injuries have taken its toll on the roster for the Burgandy and Blue but yet they haven’t let it derail their Stanley Cup aspirations. This current construction of the roster has found ways to win despite losing key players throughout the year and is further evidence of the character and grit this team has lacked in previous years.
With stars like Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, and Andre Burakovsky leading in the point totals for the team, unexpected contributions from Ryan Graves, Valeri Nichushkin, and Nazem Kadri, and lockdown goaltending from Phillip Grubauer and Pavel Francouz this team seems to be geared for long term greatness. For years the Avs relied heavily on the top line of MacK, Gabe Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen as the source of points and used lines 2-4 to just play a ” bend but don’t break” style until they could wheel the top guys back out there, but those days are behind us.
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General Manager Joe Sakic has constructed this team through player scouting, underutilized free agents, and the draft allowing cap space and the ability to keep this team together for the long term. Much like the early days of Colorado Avalance hockey, in which Joe Sakic was the captain, this team has a swagger, skill from top to bottom, and a sense of established longevity that could see this team back to the top for years to come.
As fans we know this, we believe this, and we have seen this storm building for years, that’s why this playoff is our chance to show the world what we know. The general television audience is starving for live sports and the NHL has put themselves at the forefront by announcing these playoffs. The buzz has already started and the curiosity of fans no matter their involvement with hockey has garnered interest in the upcoming playoffs. Luckily for Avs fans, this might be the best team we have put on the ice in 20 years, which means the fringe fans and newcomers alike will be jumping on the bandwagon.
We are on the brink of a new Golden era in Avalanche hockey and these playoffs can be the proving grounds we need. The NHL will have 24 teams battling it out for Lord Stanley’s Cup in a playoff where hot and cold streaks, injuries, and rest will have no bearing on the series going in and it’s as close to a video game as we will ever get. Best versus best, Skill versus skill and Passion versus passion. This year excuses are irrelevant and the prize is more challenging to capture but the battle will be observed by the hungry masses of sports fans clamoring for the competition that we have loved for years.