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Scott Takes: Did the Avalanche do enough?

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Nathan MacKinnon after VGK series loss

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.

Betting with the Barbers!

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. 

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A graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder, Scott has so far spent the early parts of his young career covering Colorado hockey — from the Avalanche to the Colorado Eagles to the DU Pioneers. His work can be found across sites such as NHL.com, TheAHL.com and SB Nation, among others. Scott currently resides in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver, where he works as a Marketing Executive when he's not writing.

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troian

Others disagree, but I do not believe the roster moves improved the team, and in particular did not address the existing problems. I hope I am shown to be completely wrong. Hockey is enjoyable regardless, and this is still a good team that will be entertaining to watch.

ricoflashback

You make a valid point. Maybe in an improvement in goal and defense, with the signing of Kuemper and JJ. Hopefully, a healthy EJ plays the entire season & playoffs. But lots of scoring lost. Donskoi looked great last night in Vegas. Notice how physical the Kraken played. For an expansion team, they looked great, IMHO, except for Grubauer’s start. The Avs will be an entertaining team to watch. But it’s even more entertaining when you win in the playoffs.

Last edited 10 days ago by ricoflashback
Karl Keen

I agree 100% that the Kraken played Vegas already tougher than the Avs do. the Kraken took the Vegas model and built a big, fast team. Donskoi was very good. The Avs are too small and I foresee the same issues popping up in the playoffs.

dk

Did they do enough? Honestly, Scott…does it really matter at this point? Regretting your decisions does not wins games, accolades or Cups. The ‘did’ is irrelevant now. It’s all about the ‘do’. I’m not gonna say whether I think the Avs will win it all, but I will say that in my 40+ years of watching the NHL I have seen objectively worse teams compete in the Cup finals. Some of them have even won.

Charlie Anderson

You know who had a complete and utter collapse? Phillip Grubauer in game 6 against Vegas, right when we needed him most. I hope the Kraken enjoy that aspect of his game!

peter martin

Sakic made the right moves for the regular season by not committing to lengthy veteran deals and letting some youth join. He can address shortcomings at the TDL with short term rentals.

ricoflashback

Sakic’s record at the trading deadline has been abysmal. He’s hurt the team more than helped it. Maybe it will be different, this time, but I’m not holding my breath.

ricoflashback

The question isn’t if they did or didn’t do enough. It’s whether this GM, coaching staff and players “buy in” to playing a tighter, more physical, more defensive style and tough nose hockey when it counts. That includes stars like MacKinnon and Rantanen, who were both invisible in the Vegas series. Especially MacKinnon. The addition of JJ will help. The Avs need more size and help on defense. That’s why he was signed. Keeping EJ healthy for a playoff run is very important. Finding rest for key players during the year. Realizing that there are two seasons in hockey and… Read more »

Last edited 10 days ago by ricoflashback
troian

Agreed – I’ve mentioned i posts for a couple of years the example of what Trotz did with Ovechkin and Co. in D.C. – that’s exactly what needs to happen for the Avs to win the Cup…those Caps teams before and after won a lot of games and experienced a lot of post-season disappointment…but for several years Trotz worked on and ultimately succeeded in changing the culture/approach…hopefully Bednar can do the same.

Bob Neal

This will get you going. Dater said that the first defensive pairing will most likely be Makar and Girard. Yikes. I think that it is much smarter to pair Girard with EJ as the latter is large and covers very well for Sam. Like you, I’m very glad Jack Johnson is in the defensive lineup along with Murray..

ricoflashback

I agree. In the regular season, you can get away with a small “D” pairing like that. Great puck movers and skaters – – no doubt. But you can’t get away with it in the playoffs. At least when you’re past the first round or playing a very physical team. And if the Avs have the lead with less than 5 minutes to play – – I’d like to see larger “D” men play a stout, physical, shut down defensive game. To me, it’s the lack of focus and commitment to defense that hurt the Avs in the playoffs. They… Read more »

Chris DeMott

Well… the Avs haven’t played a game yet and this take already isn’t aging well. Grubauer is brutal.

Karl Keen

Grubauer gave up his usual goal to Pac last night –wrist shot from a bad angle. He was terribly out of place on the 2nd goal.

troian

Letting Grubauer go was the one change I agreed with whole-heartedly…nothing in his performance really ever suggested he was a difference-maker or better than Frankie (or in my opinion Varley, who has been within a whisker of on the Isle).

slowpokeczech

Agreed. Grubauer wasn’t the difference maker this team is looking for.

dp10

I am seriously concerned that the flat cap is hurting the development of our team. Getting rid of solid veterans like Donskoi and Saad just doesn’t sit well with me. I think will be up to the youth to close the holes that they opened up and really propel this team to the next level. And of course, we got a handful of players – guys like Kadri, Johnson, Compher – who really need to step it up and have better years. Maybe a combination of young talent and those “also-rans” along with a potentially more capable goalie in Kuemper… Read more »

Richard Trujillo

I think a major part of the problem is Rantanen’s lack of production when Nathan Mackinnon isn’t on the ice. For the amount of money he is making they should expect him to play on the second line and carry the tean when a playoff team can shut Mackinnon down.

He reminds me of Hejduk in some ways. Hejduk largely benefitted from playing with Forsberg but was unable to carry the team. Rantanen right now is a creation of Nathan Mackinnon.

Chris Krauss

Maybe it’s “enough” and maybe it isn’t, but they did pretty much what they could given the cap situation and the expansion draft. Yes, there was a lack of size and physicality against Vegas and hopefully having EJ and Kadri available will improve that without adding any external pieces.

The Avs probably took a bit of a step back in terms of talent and depth. Who among top contenders didn’t this offseason? The core is intact, a year older, and probably a year angrier. Should be a fun ride.

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