The Colorado Avalanche ended the 2017-18 season with a 43-30-9 record, earning them their first playoff appearance since 2014. The team was led by a top-heavy attack headlined by Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen, who both enjoyed breakout seasons. Goaltenders Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier combined to give the Avs’ the league’s third-best even strength SV%. Added contributions from the likes of Tyson Barrie, Gabriel Landeskog, and Erik Johnson were enough to secure the final Western Conference wild card spot for Colorado.
The Avalanche had virtually everything go right for them last season and they only made the playoffs by a single point. Their dynamic top line, the driving force behind their offense, is bound for regression this season. The Avalanche play in one of the toughest divisions in the NHL. They’ll have to outpace St. Louis, Dallas, and Minnesota just to finish third in the Central. While their top-end talent is as good as any team’s in the league, the depth of the Avalanche pales in comparison to that of their divisional foes. Mackinnon and company will do the heavy lifting, but Colorado needs their younger players to breakthrough if they want to make it back to the playoffs this year.
➕ Philipp Grubauer (Trade)
➕ Ian Cole (Free Agency)
➕ Matt Calvert (Free Agency)
Colorado’s attack is led by one of the best lines in hockey. Mackinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog combined for 93 goals last season. The Avalanche outscored their opponents 48 to 27 at 5v5 when their top line was on the ice. They are a dominant force that will be a nightmare to matchup against again this season, but their numbers are due for a drop. Mackinnon’s personal and on-ice SH% were both well above his career average and he produced at an unsustainable rate on home ice. He had an astonishing 67 points in 39 home games, compared to 30 points in 35 games on the road. Mackinnon is a remarkable talent and a point-per-game threat, but a repeat of his 97-point campaign is doubtful. You can expect the production of Rantanen and Landeskog to suffer slightly as a result.
Jared Bednar’s decision to stack his top line leaves the Avalanche with slim pickings for their bottom-nine. Sven Andrighetto is a serviceable two-way forward, but he’s more suited for a bottom-six role. By not making any additions to their top-six this off-season, Colorado is banking on breakout years from Alexander Kerfoot and Tyson Jost. Kerfoot produced well in a limited role last season. The 24-year-old put up 19 goals and 24 assists in 79 games as a rookie, while playing just 13:27 a night. Given that his 19 goals came on just 81 shots (23.5%), Kerfoot will need to shoot the puck more if he wants to build on last years’ totals. It’s worth noting that he had 17 points on the powerplay as he regularly occupied the coveted fifth-spot on Colorado’s top unit. Kerfoot will need to battle his linemate Jost for that spot this year.
Jost had a mediocre rookie season, registering 12 goals and 10 assists in 65 games. The 113 shots he managed despite his limited time on ice bodes well for the former first-rounder. He is set to take on a much larger role this season and the Avs are happy with what he’s shown in the pre-season. The Avalanche need more from their second line this season, time will tell if Kerfoot and Jost can deliver. The Avalanche’s bottom-six has some decent pieces in Carl Soderberg and J.T. Compher, but they don’t have any viable options to move into their top-six should an injury occur. A lack of depth leaves the Avalanche one major injury away from a derailed season.
Colorado boasts one of the more underrated defensive corps in the league. You rarely hear much about anyone not named Tyson Barrie, but their top-six is filled with quality defenseman. After being acquired via the Matt Duchene trade, Samuel Girard had a strong rookie season for the Avs. The No. 47 overall pick from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft picked up 23 points in 73 games as a rookie. He bulked up considerably this off-season, addressing one of his biggest weaknesses from last season. The extra strength should afford him more opportunities to showcase his puck handling. He will continue to quarterback the Avalanche’s second powerplay unit and is paired with Johnson to start the season. The former No. 1 overall pick isn’t the flashiest defenseman but he’s the perfect stay-at-home complement to the young Girard.
Barrie and Nikita Zadarov round out the Avs’ top-four. Barrie is coming off a career season in which he picked up 14 goals and 43 assists in just 68 games. His numbers should see some regression along with the rest of the Avs’ heavy hitters, but a full 82 games should be more than enough for Barrie to notch another 50-point season. Injuries to the Colorado blueline caused Zadorov to see big minutes at times last season. He did an admirable job playing support for Barrie but is better-suited for a more sheltered role. Still, Bednar seems to trust him more than fellow left-handed defenseman Mark Barberio.
Barberio and the newly-signed Ian Cole project to make a strong third-pairing for the Avalanche. Cole is a strong puck-moving defenseman that’s capable of filling in on the powerplay should Barrie or Girard miss time. He picked up 20 points in 67 games split between the Penguins and Blue Jackets last season. He is an excellent addition to depth of the Colorado blueline. Barberio offers little offensive upside but is strong in his own end; Colorado’s opponents were limited to just 25 scoring chances per 60 at 5v5 when Barberio was on the ice. Him and Cole are the No. 6 rated third-pairing in the NHL, according to Corsica.
Varlamov was excellent when he played last season, but a mixture of groin and knee injuries limited him to just 47 starts. The Avalanche lost the insurance they had in the free-agent Bernier, so general manager Joe Sakic opted to make a move for longtime Capitals’ goalie Phillip Grubauer. With a .923 SV% or better in each of the last two seasons, Grubauer has earned a role larger than that of a traditional backup. He overtook control of the Capitals’ crease heading into the playoffs before Braden Holtby reclaimed it early in the first round. Varlamov is still Colorado’s number-one netminder but look for Grubauer to start upwards of 30 games this season. He is capable of holding down the number-one job should Varlamov struggle or miss time.
|N. MacKinnon (35)||N. MacKinnon (51)||N. MacKinnon (86)||Mikko Rantanen (9)|
|Mikko Rantanen (27)||Mikko Rantanen (47)||Mikko Rantanen (74)||N. MacKinnon (9)|
|G. Landeskog (20)||Tyson Barrie (39)||Tyson Barrie (52)||G. Landeskog (5)|
- 9. Nathan MacKinnon — C6
- 31. Mikko Rantanen — RW10
- 61. Tyson Barrie — D11
- 111. Gabriel Landeskog — LW20
- 152. Semyon Varlamov — G25
- 175. Philipp Grubauer — G28
- 252. Samuel Girard — D65
- 260. Alex Kerfoot — C56
- 272. Erik Johnson — D72
- 292. Tyson Jost — C64
Predicted Central Standings
The Avalanche will need their young, complementary forwards to step up their production to offset the regression of the first line. Mackinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog will be running the show either way, but they won’t get back to the post-season without notable contributions from Jost and Kerfoot on the second line. The blueline is a little low on premier talent but it is surprisingly deep, boasting three capable defensive-pairs. Assuming they get another year of strong goaltending, secondary scoring is the only thing holding this team back. They don’t match up well enough on paper for us to give them the nod over their divisional foes, but don’t be surprised to see the Avs challenge for a wild card spot again this year.