Colorado Avalanche 2023-24 season reflections

The Avalanche season may be over , but there are plenty of reasons to remain optimistic about this team's championship window.
Colorado Avalanche v Dallas Stars - Game Five
Colorado Avalanche v Dallas Stars - Game Five / Sam Hodde/GettyImages

It has been roughly a week since the Coloado Avalanche were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The sting of defeat never feels great for a team with legitimately high expectations or their fans. Still, the Avalanche accomplished some important things this year and recognizing some of them should be an early step in preparing for the offseason.

It might seem obvious or a tad simplistic to point out, but the Avalanche core is still incredibly solid. Colorado has the key pieces to compete at a championship level for years to come. National commentators and broadcasters may be fond of calling this team top-heavy, but show me an organization that would not be thrilled to count Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, and Mikko Rantanen among their roster.

Nathan MacKinnon just put up Hart Trophy numbers. MacKinnon's 140 points in the regular season gave him the Avalanche single-season record. The total put Nate's name over hall-of-famers Joe Sakic, Peter Stastny, Michel Goulet and Peter Forsberg. Although Mackinnon has been an MVP nominee before, this would be his first win of the award. We here at MHS believe he will be crowned Hart winner.

Considering Cale Makar and his likewise all-time-great trajectory is another factor in a favorable future. Makar had what some thought to be down-year in 2023-24 and was still excellent. He struggled at times with nagging injuries that might have kept his overall production down. Even so, with 21 goals and 69 assists Makar earned a fourth straight Norris Trophy nomination.

The fact that Quinn Hughes will likely win this year, with two more total points is nothing to be ashamed of for Makar. In just five seasons Cale Makar has become the Avalanche all-time leader in points by a D-man with 336. Before he is done, Makar will probably be so far in front of all Avalanche blue-liners in numbers that his only fair comparisons will be hall-of-famers.

Mikko Rantanen meanwhile continues to amass his own monster stats. The Moose tallied 104 points this year, his second season in a row of passing the 100 point mark. Last year, Rantanen scored 55 goals, the most by an Avalanche player since the move to Denver. Technically, Michel Goulet has him beat in the franchise books from the Nordiques seasons passed in Quebec.

With elite scoring ability and some dry-spells it may not be surprising that Rantanen in particular seemed to bear the brunt of fan criticism this year. However, I would personally pump the brakes on laying Colorado's playoff fate at Mikko's feet. His 4 goals and 10 assists in the postseason may leave something to be desired given his potential, but make no mistake, Mikko Rantanen is a playoff beast.

So far in 81 postseason games, just one shy of a full extra season, Rantanen has 103 total points. That is well over a point per game pace when it matters most. When I see Avs fans advocating for trading Mikko on social media I have to remind myself that people are mostly just being emotional. The idea that the front office would seriously seek to move on from Rantanen is not at all likely, nor should it be.

Aside from the all-world talents currently healthy and on the active roster, the Avalanche have reason to be hopeful for improving health of major contributors. I speak mainly of Captain Gabriel Landeskog. Gabe is coming off of missing two whole seasons with his knee injury he suffered in successful pursuit of the 2022 Cup. Despite some fear of early retirement it was announced today that Landeskog is still working on his return and the team as ever, are behind him.

Colorado's commitment to their Captain might be hard for some observers to understand after such a lengthy absence. In my opinion however, it stems from a well-earned loyalty and speaks to a tight-knit team culture. As a fan I love to see that attitude from management. I have to believe it is appreciated in the locker-room as well. Especially in a cut-throat business of professional sports.

Another Avalanche forward set to return after injury this season is Logan O'Connor. O'Connor set a new career-high in goals this year with 13, despite having his season ended early. The sad situation led to the Avs being more busy at the deadline than they probably wanted. LOC was a key piece of the Colorado PK which did suffer come the postseason.

On the positive side of that reality is that both Yakov Trenin and Brandon Duhaime looked like perfectly serviceable bottom-six guys. I would not be opposed to either or even both returning to the lineup next season, provided the team can make it work financially.

Logan O'Connor's Rolling 20's line with Miles Wood and Ross Colton never quite recovered their mojo entirely after LOC went down. Given that all three are under contract for next season, I do expect them to be reunited. As a third line I believe they can and will thrive. Remember that much of their best stretch came as a de-facto second line, pressed into that spot by other issues.

Issues that were presumably, and quite admirably solved at the deadline. The acquisition of Casey Mittelstadt answered a question that Colorado has been wrestling with for a few years. So many clubs struggle with 2C problems in the NHL, just look at the way contending teams reached for solutions this year. In the West alone Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg were all active in the market. Colorado is arguably the only one who improved for the long-term future with Mittelstadt.

Mittelstadt was a major difference-maker in the First Round series against the Jets. His skating speed could get better for sure. A full season training at altitude could be just what he needs to get his wind up and blossom under coach Bednar.

Finally, a last positive that can be taken from this season, Colorado remains a prime spot for free-agents with something to prove. The feel-good case of Jonathan Drouin showed how this team can revive careers. Jonathan Drouin might be thought of as a special case, given his closeness with Nate MacKinnon, but career-best numbers speak for themselves.

Drouin was reborn in Colorado this season. His 56 points were not just a career-high, but were all the more impressive after a slow start. Both Drouin and the Avalanche have expressed mutual interest in an extension of some kind after he came in on a league minimum deal. His perseverance was recognized by a deserved Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy nomination. The honour is bestowed by the National Hockey Writers Association for remarkable turn-arounds and overall commitment to the game.

As much as I do hope Drouin is back with the Avalanche next year, the organization should be proud of the move as much as any they inked in the offseason. Colorado's recent track-record of reclamation projects extends beyond Jonathan Drouin too. Remember Evan Rodrigues' one year stint in 2023? He sure does, as it helped him net a healthy payday from the Florida Panthers.

Colorado is still a tantalizing destination for Cup-chasing vets like Zach Parise as well. I know the team is disappointed they didn't get it done for Parise, but the chance to play with some of hockey's best will continue to make Colorado attractive. While it's hard to know who might fit these profiles for next the campaign I trust that Chris McFarland is already kicking the appropriate tires.

Fans who fret over the cap situation while we wait to hear definitive news about Landeskog or Valeri Nichushkin might do themselves some good by taking stock of recent history. The Colorado Avalanche are not far removed from the hockey mountaintop. Boasting a roster still loaded with talent, and a front office that is committed to winning, it would be unwise to predict their championship window shut in the short or long-term.