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Central Division Preview: Colorado Avalanche

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Our Central Division preview series continues with the Predators’ first-round adversaries.

Colorado Avalanche v Nashville Predators - Game Five Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Oh, how one season can change everything.

One year after finishing with the worst record in the NHL, the Colorado Avalanche won a playoff spot on the last day of the regular season. This earned them a first-round series with Nashville in which the Avalanche played extremely well and did everything but win four games, eventually being eliminated by the Predators in six games.

This season, the Avalanche are hoping to prove that last season was not a fluke. One of the youngest teams in the NHL, the Avalanche believe that another year of development will be a bigger addition than any big-name free agent. Nathan MacKinnon announced his arrival as one of hockey’s biggest stars last season by scoring 97 points over 74 games. Had he played in all 82 games, there is no doubt he would have eclipsed 100 points. On the back end, Samuel Girard’s arrival via the Matt Duchene and Kyle Turris three-way trade helped stabilize the second and third defensive pairings. As teams stopped scoring on the Avalanche at will, the Avalanche’s first line of MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen turned the tables, finishing with a spectacularly productive season.

This season, the Colorado Avalanche want to prove that last season was no fluke. Can they do so and make the playoffs in a challenging Central Division for a second straight season?

Key Additions

The Avalanche did not do much with their roster this off-season, bringing nearly the same team back for this upcoming season. They signed two depth pieces from the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency, Matt Calvert and Ian Cole.

Cole is irrelevant and a back-end liability due to his lack of speed and refusal to pick his head up when gathering the puck, leading to hasty no-look passes in his own defensive zone.

Ian Cole is not known for his stellar defensive play.
Micah Blake McCurdy/@IneffectiveMath, hockeyviz.com

However, Matt Calvert will be a great depth piece and is a known locker room leader. Furthermore, he is a center who can kill penalties for the Avalanche. If he can score 25 points this season, he will have been money very well spent.

Perhaps their biggest move was a cap-based trade with the Washington Capitals that involved Colorado acquiring Brooks Orpik and buying him out. In return, the Avalanche acquired Philipp Grubauer, who’d actually started in goal for the Capitals as the playoffs began. Neither Jonathan Bernier or Andrew Hammond provided a consistent back-up presence for the Avalanche last year. If anything happens to starter Semyon Varlamov this season, the Avalanche should feel much safer in staying afloat in the Central Division.

Key Departures

Just as the Avalanche did not make any big moves to acquire anyone in the off-season, they also didn’t lose any big names. Obviously they lost both Jonathan Bernier and Andrew Hammond, but that is because they replaced them with Phillip Grubauer. Nearly everyone from their run last season will be returning.

Best Case Scenario

The Colorado Avalanche build on last season’s momentum and start the season where they finished last season: giving the top teams in the Central Division fits. Calvert’s presence on the third line really rounds out the bottom of their lineup, and he and Colin Wilson find a lot of chemistry. With another year of development, Samuel Girard and the Avalanche’s crop of defensive prospects continue to improve. Their top line runs through opponents like a buzz saw again and the Avalanche finish 3rd in the Central.

Worst Case Scenario

Maybe last season was a fluke. Maybe Philipp Grubauer is the goalie who showed up against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of last season rather than the one putting up incredible numbers down the stretch. Maybe this is still a young team that is prone to injury. Maybe Erik Johnson comes back from his patella injury and is a shell of his former self.

There still are a lot of questions for the Avalanche. Even though they look fine on paper, this is still a young and relatively inexperienced team, and a team that suffers a lot of injuries. Perhaps giving the Predators a run for their money is the absolute ceiling of this team and they should average a worse performance.

Prediction: 4th in the Central Division

St Louis Blues v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Colorado Avalanche are a good team. They proved that as an injury-riddled roster down their starting goaltender and Erik Johnson still made the Nashville Predators work extremely hard to advance past the first round. Were the Avalanche healthy last spring, perhaps the Predators would have been sent home a round earlier.

Nathan MacKinnon gives this team a chance to win every night; the rest of the first line makes it happen. The Avalanche are not as deep as the Blues, but this is still a playoff team. The Avalanche take the last wild card in the west again, but this is a team built to win two years from now. Remember how they have Ottawa’s first-round draft pick this season? The Avalanche could make the playoffs and still draft first overall. This is a good team that will only be getting better.