After an almost historically bad season, the Avalanche are looking for any signs of improvement. But has Colorado done enough to crawl out of the NHL’s basement?
The Hockey News is rolling out its 2017-18 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds, until the start of the season. Today, the 2016-17 season’s last-place team, the Colorado Avalanche.
Stanley Cup odds: 125-1
Key additions: Colin Wilson, LW; Jonathan Bernier, G; Nail Yakupov, RW; Alexander Kerfoot, C
Key departures: Francois Beauchemin, D; Mikhail Grigorenko, C; Calvin Pickard, G; Rene Bourque, LW; Patrick Wiercioch, D
When will the teardown begin?
As currently constructed, the Avs cannot compete in the Central Division, let alone the West. But GM Joe Sakic does have two fantastic assets on his hands that would really help Colorado get on track: Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. Both forwards are signed for at least the next two seasons (Landeskog until the summer of 2021) and are in the primes of their careers. Many pundits speculated that one or both would have been dealt at the draft, but it didn’t happen. Sakic needs a home-run return if and when he makes a deal and that must involve getting a top-four defenseman in return. Two such blueliners would be ideal and if it means losing the speedy Duchene and captain Landeskog, so be it.
Colorado made a swift selection at the draft this summer by netting ace puckmoving defenseman Cale Makar fourth overall and the UMass commit will certainly help down the road, but more help is needed and the potential Duchene/Landeskog trades are the place to make it happen. This is especially crucial since the franchise lost defenseman Will Butcher to New Jersey when the 2013 fifth-rounder and Hobey Baker winner decided not to sign with the Avs.
BEST CASE SCENARIO:
Only the most optimistic of Avs fans can envision a happy 2017-18 season in Colorado. A successful year won’t mean making the playoffs but could mean certain things go right. Rookie center Tyson Jost profiles as a high-impact player if he can stick with the team. Maybe he does and challenges for the Calder Trophy. Mikko Rantanen led Colorado with 20 goals last season and will push for at least 25 this year. Sakic signed Yakupov and acquired Wilson for relatively cheap, so maybe each player realizes some untapped potential. If enough of the forwards make strides, we can finally see Nathan MacKinnon play to the ability that made him the No. 1 draft pick in 2013. He hasn’t had much help, but MacKinnon’s career-highs remain the 24 goals and 63 points from his rookie year. He’s running out of excuses. Better contributions from his linemates would up his odds of a breakout.
The Avs did well drafting Makar fourth overall in June, and any other big-talent assets they secure for their rebuild would be wins. Ideally, they trade Duchene for a high-end prospect plus a first-round pick.
WORST CASE SCENARIO:
It’s difficult to imagine the Avs doing worse than 2016-17, when they had 48 points, the fewest by any team in the salary cap era. It’s easy to imagine a similar season, though. On paper, the roster looks worse than last year. Yakupov, Wilson and backup goalie Bernier are Sakic’s biggest additions, whereas Colorado lost center Grigorenko, defensemen Beauchemin and Wiercioch and goalie Pickard. The rest of the Central looks as vicious as ever, so the Avs will be the division’s whipping boy again.
If a Duchene trade happens and nets futures, that would temporarily weaken Colorado’s depth chart even more, nudging them toward Vegas in a battle for the best draft lottery odds. But that type of Duchene deal isn’t Colorado’s worst-case scenario. Trading him for good young prospects and suffering temporarily is the wise play. The disaster will be if the saga drags on all year and Sakic ends up dealing Duchene at a reduced cost. Once 2017-18 ends, Duchene has just a year left on his deal and might only fetch a rental price unless he signs an extension with his new team.
THN’s Prediction: 7th in the Central. Starting goalie Semyon Varlamov is coming back from hip surgery and he’ll once again have to play behind one of the worst defenses in the league. The offense also ranked 30th last year and didn’t get much better during the summer, so expect a lot of pain in Denver again.
Previously: Vegas Golden Knights