The NHL and NHLPA made it official last week: no league involvement with the Olympics in Beijing. Hockey games will still be played – at least, we think – but they won’t involve current NHL players. So, the Feb. 6-22 league shutdown that was supposed to happen is now back in play – unless Covid cancels it, of course. I don’t expect that to happen, as I’m hearing the league is ready to move forward again starting Monday, when games are supposed to resume. One of those games will be the Avalanche in Vegas to play the Golden Knights.
The Avs were supposed to play tonight in Buffalo, and tomorrow night in Boston. Those games are postponed. Presumably, rescheduling some of the postponed games around the league will be done during that Feb. 6-22 window, but it won’t be as easy as many might think. That’s because many of the buildings – including Ball Arena – loaded up on booking concerts and other events in lieu of NHL games being played. At Ball Arena, for instance, eight of those 16 days are booked with concerts and things like Monster Jam. Other nights in that window are taken by Denver Nuggets games.
There are still some open nights available in that window, and I expect some to be filled with Avs games. Three of the four games that were postponed this past week were road games, however, so Detroit, Buffalo and Boston will need to find open dates for the Avs to play there.
I think the Avs will benefit from the canceled Olympics, because they won’t have to play as crammed a schedule down the stretch. Well, theoretically anyway. We still haven’t seen the revised schedule. But, a team that has clearly shown a tendency to get hurt more than others, more time off should be good for body and soul.
The latest Stanley Cup odds have the Avs as the odds-on favorites to win it, at +600, according to Bet365 – bettors can also check how to use the bet365 bonus code before placing a wager on the Avs. Bookmakers also have the Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Florida Panthers as title contenders, at +750 odds each.
Am I surprised the Avs still a heavy favorite or whatever with the oddsmakers? Not really. I do feel like this team is a bit better built for the playoffs than last year’s crew. They’re a bigger, feistier team. They are not taking as much guff out there, even though they still get hurt too much.
I think of the Florida game when I believe this. After Jacob MacDonald got leveled on that big hit by Ryan Lomberg, Nicolas Aube-Kubel immediately dropped the gloves, Sam Girard made a huge hit and Kurtis MacDermid went around looking for a dance partner, to no avail.
Then, against the Rangers, MacDermid beat Ryan Reaves in a fight and the Avs played a physical game in general. I think the addition of MacDermid, Aube-Kubel and the elevated role of Logan O’Connor has made the Avs a tougher team that not only stands up to the rough stuff, but initiates more of it.
The Avs are still in the lower third of the NHL in hits per game, at 19.11, but that’s a bit deceiving because they play with the puck more than most teams. If you have the puck all the time, teams are trying to hit you, and not vice-versa.
Let’s also face this fact: the Avs were really hurt by the loss of Nazem Kadri for the rest of the playoffs last season. You have to believe the odds are good he won’t have another long suspension in the postseason – although it’s now happened three times in his career.
I think the Avs now have the best mix of 1-2 centers in the league, with Kadri and Nathan MacKinnon. One is an offensive freight train who tires out opposing top D-men, and the other is an all-around guy who can do everything pretty well.
The Avs just have to stay reasonably healthy – and not get themselves suspended – and I like their odds.