Avs’ strong year could be a tough act to follow
Colorado went from one of the worst seasons in recent NHL history to a playoff spot a year later. Some will dismiss last season as an outlier. Others believe this is just the beginning. So, are the Avalanche a playoff team in 2018-19?
It’s troubling to see that the Avalanche outperformed their expected goals by such a wide margin last season. Colorado relied heavily on its top line. A career year from Nathan MacKinnon and a 20%+ shooting percentage from Alexander Kerfoot will be tough to replicate. The Avs struggled to win the high-quality shot differential battle, relying on efficient scoring and top-10 goaltending to get them into the playoffs.
What went right:
After a horrific 48-point campaign, the lengthy Matt Duchene saga and falling down to the 4th overall pick despite owning the top lottery odds, expectations were low in Colorado. Instead, the Avs surprised everyone by clinching a playoff berth on the last game of the season. They even gave Nashville, the President trophy winners, a run for its money in round one before losing in six games. Nathan MacKinnon had a monster year, finishing 5th in scoring with 97 points, and was a finalist for the Hart Trophy.
The Matt Duchene trade was a big win for GM, Joe Sakic. Often criticized for not pulling the trigger earlier, he ended up getting young defenseman Samuel Girard as well as Ottawa’s first-round pick in this year’s draft, as well as other pieces. That pick is one of the favorites to land first overall, especially now that Karlsson is no longer with the Senators, which makes it one of the most valuable trade assets across the league should Colorado want to pursue a superstar via trade. Colorado could also keep it and potentially get Jack Hughes to pair with Nathan MacKinnon, a pretty scary thought for the rest of the NHL.
What Went Wrong:
After a season that defied all expectation, any negativity feels like nitpicking, but there are some areas where the Avs performance was sub-par. Only one of their defensemen crossed the 70-game mark, with Erik Johnson missing over 20. Colorado finished next to last in zone entry denial rate, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres, and allowed the 8th most shots on net, both at even-strength. Secondary scoring was also poor, as Alexander Kerfoot was the only forward outside of their top line guys to score over 40 points.
Key Additions: Philipp Grubauer, Matt Calvert, Ian Cole
Key Departures: Nail Yakupov, Blake Comeau, Jonathan Bernier, Andrew Hammond
Other Key moves: New contract for Grubauer
Colorado didn’t make a big splash this off-season, but they made solid moves. A 2nd-round pick was a small price to pay to acquire Philipp Grubauer, who has the potential to take the starting role from Semyon Varlamov and have a breakout season. Acquiring him made Jonathan Bernier and Andrew Hammond expendable, so losing them isn’t a major blow. Nail Yakupov scored only 16 points last season, not enough to earn another NHL contract. He elected to go back to the KHL this season.
Adding Ian Cole is a sneaky good move. He won’t bring you much offensively, scoring more than 13 points once in his career, but he is among the best defensive defenseman in the NHL. He led the league in blocked passes per-20 minutes and ranked 15th in zone entry denial rate. Last season, the Avalanche finished bottom five in both categories, so Cole should be a nice boost to their defensive game.
Next season preview
What could go right?
Nathan MacKinnon will look to build on his breakout season and further establish himself as a premier player in the league with his deadly speed. Only Connor McDavid had more scoring chances off the rush than him last season. During the playoffs, he finished 10th in the same category with 13, one shy of a five-way tie for 5th. Just a reminder, MacKinnon only played 6 playoff games, while players ahead of him like Nikita Kucherov and Jakub Vrana had 14 rush chances in 17 and 23 games, respectively.
What could go wrong?
Colorado hasn’t done anything to address its scoring on their non-MacKinnon lines. The only forward they added was Matt Calvert, who, with a previous career-high of 24 points, isn’t going to move the needle offensively. Alexander Kerfoot, meanwhile could face some regression after a 19-goal campaign that saw him post a sky-high shooting percentage of 23.4%. Only seven other players since 2005-06 scored at least 20 goals while shooting over 23% and none of them accomplished the feat twice, so, if history tells us anything, he will have to shoot a lot more to maintain a 20-goal form next year. Erik Johnson is still an injury concern, having played 70 or more games only once in the last four seasons, not an encouraging sign for a player who turned 30-years old late last season. He was the best player on the team at denying entries against last season, shutting down 49% of attempts while the next best Avs defenseman was Tyson Barrie, at only 41%. Missing that kind of performance regularly is a big blow to their blueline.