2014-15 NHL season preview: Colorado Avalanche
This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the Colorado Avalanche.
What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?
With the 4th most goals-per-game (2.99) and the 5th best powerplay (19.8%), scoring definitely wasn’t a problem for the Avalanche this past season.
A big reason why was former 3rd overall pick Matt Duchene, who had a breakout year in his 5th NHL season leading Colorado with 70 points in 71 games. After two straight years coming close to breaking the point-per-game barrier, Duchene finally looks ready to step into the league’s elite.
Former 2nd overall pick and Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog was another big part of the Avs offense and looks to be on his way to becoming one of the premier power forwards in the NHL. He was second on the team with 26 goals and led the Avs with a +21 rating.
Speaking of high draft picks, Nathan MacKinnon, drafted 1st overall in the 2013 NHL entry draft had quite the rookie season, taking home his own Calder Trophy with 24 goals and 63 points. He also tied for the team lead with 10 points in 7 playoff games.
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov had an absolutely astounding season preventing goals for Colorado. His 41 wins and .927 save percentage were nearly enough to win the Vezina Trophy, as he was narrowly beat out for the award by the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask.
What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?
As much as the Avalanche created offense, they also allowed way too many chances compared to the West’s other elite teams. Their 32.7 shots allowed per game ranked 25th in the NHL, while their penalty kill was 24th at 80.7%.
This is a team that also won an incredible 35 of 46 games they were outshot in, usually thanks to great goaltending.
Another area of concern was possession stats. Colorado ranked in the bottom 5 of the league in nearly every possession metric according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, something that has to improve if they’re going to avoid sliding backwards.
A healthy Alex Tanguay would certainly help. He has now missed 92 games over the last three seasons, including 66 last year alone. With Paul Stastny and PA Parenteau gone, he needs to stay as healthy as possible.
So what did they do to get better?
It’s hard to say if Colorado got better, moved sideways or slid backwards with the moves they made.
Jarome Iginla is coming off a 30-goal season in Boston, his 12th season with that many goals. He will certainly will bring plenty of experience and leadership to the Young Avs, but how much does he realistically have left in the tank, and will it be enough to fill the offensive void left by Stastny’s departure?
Parenteau was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in return for Danny Briere. Briere, while somewhat effective in limited ice-time during the playoffs, showed that he was simply not a 200-foot, 15 minute player in the NHL anymore.
The third veteran addition of the summer for the Avs was defenseman Brad Stuart, who was dealt by the San Jose Sharks for two draft picks. Stuart will bring experience and a hard-hitting, gritty game to the Avs back-end, but his offense is nearly non-existent at this point in his career.
Player to watch
The key to Avs’ up-tempo game may be restricted free agent Tyson Barrie. He’s the team’s best puck-mover on a blue line that’s quite thin to begin with. After posting 38 points, a +17 and just over 18 minutes of ice time, is he ready to take the next step and be a big-minute defenseman in the NHL?
This season, they won’t be surprising anyone.
They will make the playoffs if…
They either reduce the amount of scoring chances they give up or get another miracle season from Varlamov. If they do both though, look out.
They will miss the playoffs if…
Youngsters like Barrie and MacKinnon regress and they don’t find another quality defenseman to take pressure off of Barrie, Stuart, Jan Hejda and Erik Johnson.
What should we expect this season?
Under first-year head coach Patrick Roy, the Avalanche surprised a lot of people by winning the tough central division, beating out Stanley Cup favorites like the Blues and Blackhawks on their way.
This season, they won’t be surprising anyone.
They’ll also be hard-pressed to reverse a trend that saw them outshoot opponents in just 32 of their 82 games. To expect Varlamov, a career .917 netminder, to perform like he did last season for a second year in a row is simply an unrealistic expectation.
Look for the possession numbers and vulnerable defensive game to catch up to the Avs as they slide back down behind the elite of the West. They’ll be a bubble playoff team this year, but there’s enough talent here that they should be there.
44-30-8 96 points, 5th in the Central Division, 8th in the Western Conference