The Colorado Avalanche surged to the top of the Central Division last season, but did they play over their heads? We look towards Colorado’s 2014-15 season and project them to finish fifth in the Central Division. Do you agree?
Acquisitions: Brad Stuart, Jesse Winchester, Zach Redmond, Jarome Iginla, Bruno Gervais, Daniel Briere
Departures: Andre Benoit, Matt Hunwick, Paul Stastny, P-A Parenteau
Top five fantasy players: Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly, Jarome Iginla
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Potential is, pardon the pun, mile-high in Denver. The Avalanche went from basement dwellers to Central Division champs in one season and much of what went right remains intact. Reigning Jack Adams Award winner Patrick Roy has the utmost trust of his players and has transformed the career of goalie Semyon Varlamov.
Colorado has one of the league’s most enviable stables of young talent at forward. Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon bring blazing speed, Gabriel Landeskog adds leadership and physicality to his scoring touch and Ryan O’Reilly is a versatile two-way presence when he’s signed and happy. The scary part: each member of that quartet is under 24. Internal growth should offset the loss of center Paul Stastny, who left for St. Louis.
In the 2014 playoffs, MacKinnon, 19, was a world-beater. A leap toward elite offensive production isn’t out of the question. If he becomes a superstar in Year 2, he could make Colorado an immediate Stanley Cup threat and a repeat division winner. Free agent signee Jarome Iginla brings useful experience to the table, too.
Bust: The flipside to the Iginla signing: despite potting 30 goals as a Bruin last season, ‘Iggy’ has lost a step and he’s joining a team whose calling card is a breakneck tempo. He’s not an ideal fit.
The Avs’ defense lacks elite shutdown ability and the team didn’t address that need sufficiently over the off-season, as freshly signed Brad Stuart is a mere minutes eater at this stage of his career. Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda would be a second pairing on most contenders, but Colorado relies on them to face opponents’ top lines. Tyson Barrie broke out as an exciting offensive D-man last season, but he isn’t an imposing defensive presence.
The possession numbers also suggest Colorado was lucky and overly reliant on Varlamov’s goaltending. The team ranked near the bottom of the NHL in Corsi and Fenwick. Any slip in Varlamov’s play spells regression with a capital ‘R’ for Colorado.
Bottom Line: Colorado has a blindingly bright future, but this team was ahead of schedule in 2013-14. The Avs’ defensive deficiencies will catch up to them in their vicious division, and they’ll slide back toward the low playoff seeds. If you don’t believe a poor possession game catches up to you, look at what happened to the Toronto Maple Leafs last season after a strong start. A post-season berth isn’t a lock despite this team’s considerable talent.
Prospect To Watch: The Avalanche have two of the past three Calder Trophy winners on their roster, but it will be hard for another rookie to crack this year’s lineup. After last season’s surge to the top of the Central Division, the Avalanche are ready to shift into the next gear, one that saw them add veteran experience in the summer instead of creating room for more youth. If a youngster does crack the roster, though, Joey Hishon is the best bet. The 17th overall pick from 2010 scored 10 goals and 24 points in 50 games with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters last year, his first full professional season. He even got into three playoff games with the Avs and scored one assist in three games. He’s had concussion problems in the past and missed the entire 2011-12 season with post-concussion syndrome, but it didn’t affect him last season. If he doesn’t make the team out of camp, look for him to get a call-up or two.
THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Fifth in Central Division, wild card playoff team
Contributors: Matt Larkin, Rory Boylen