When the sun rises above Colorado’s empty eastern plains on Wednesday morning, its dawn light will mark the start of another hopeful season for the Colorado Avalanche.
Expectations—as has been the standard in recent seasons—are as high as the Rocky Mountains that reign further west over the Centennial State.
Yes, hockey season is here.
And sure, the Avs are once again favored by Vegas bookies and other opinionated outlets.
And no, this will not be a column replete with rah-rah, hyper-optimism and dreams of raising Cups and banners.
I refuse. The past couple of seasons, in particular, have turned me into a cold-hearted cynic. My guess is a healthy majority of you are in the same boat as me, slowly drifting along the River of Doubt.
Now, that’s not to say part of me does not believe—because part of me really does.
Or, I want to at least. But I have my doubts.
Last season was the season. I was sure of it. I bought into the hype. I clung onto every word of that self-dubbed pre-season mantra—“the favorites, or whatever.”
Then the season started. The Avalanche looked great. They scored in droves. Their defense was arguably the NHL’s best. A Vezina finalist goaltender. A Norris Trophy finalist. Presidents’ Trophy winners. All validating metrics.
And then the playoffs. A complete and utter collapse. A third straight year falling out of favor in the Stanley Cup’s second round.
Then a tough offseason. You lose your aforementioned Vezina finalist to Seattle money. Depth scoring looks depleted. Some problem areas were addressed. Many were not. One step forward, two steps back. Now what.
See, I told you there wouldn’t be much in the way of rah-rah in my writing.
But let’s maybe reel it in a little bit. Here’s what I do believe about this year’s Colorado Avalanche: they are capable of playing just as well as last season’s regular-season team. I still have questions about their post-season abilities, however.
Outside of the top line, I have questions. Can Val Nichushkin or J.T. Compher or Alex Newhook or (insert name here) step in and plug that hole in the second line? Will depth scoring take as much of a step back as many are already assuming it will? Can Darcy Kuemper, a) provide as much assurance in net as Grubauer did last season, and b) stay healthy? Can anyone stay healthy?
Perhaps the biggest question I have is whether or not this team has the toughness, mental or physical.
The Avalanche got younger this season, at least at forward. Are they capable of going the distance in the postseason with so much inexperience? How healthy will the roster look come that time of the year? Can they get punched, punch back, and close a series? That’s the mental toughness part of it.
Physically? Well, it appears little has been done to address the lack of snarl and stick-up-for-yourself that is required in the playoffs. Kurtis MacDermid has spoken at length about his willingness to do so, but who knows how many games he gets with the big club. Newcomers like the aging Darren Helm or inexperienced Sampo Ranta likely won’t do much to address the lack of physical presence. Logan O’Connor? Sure. But still, I’m not convinced that enough has been done.
So that’s the question I have: did the Avalanche do enough?
Enough to address holes in the roster. Enough to get tougher. Enough to compete in a division that’s improved since last season. Enough to go the distance. Enough to play—and win—the final game of the season.
Those are the questions that are being asked as the sun rises on the season’s opening on Wednesday.
And those are the questions that will continue to loom until the sun dips behind those Rocky Mountains on the final game of the season.
Whenever that might be.