After a surprisingly respectable 2015-16 season and a disastrous 2016-17 campaign where nearly everything went wrong for the club, the 2017-18 season was one that saw a return to playoff hockey, but also has it’s share of critics that feel last season is more like the 15-16 season and that a harsh regression back to below average is in sight for this coming year. Andi Duroux is certainly not one of them and she was kind enough to share her thoughts on the Avalanche and answer some pressing questions we had about the club.
JN – Last season, a lot seemed to go right for the team as they clinched a playoff spot, but some are suggesting that things went a little too well and that regression should be expected for the Avalanche this season. How accurate is that line of thinking? Are the playoffs possible again?
Andi – Oh, they’re absolutely possible. Heading into the season, I have the Avs penciled in at 90 points +/-10. Where we finish almost completely depends on our sophomore young players like Tyson Jost, Alexander Kerfoot, JT Compher, and Samuel Girard.
If they can step into top 6 forward/top 4 D roles, it takes pressure off the top line and defensemen Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie. Even if some team-wide regression occurs, their maturation should cover for it and push the Avs closer to the century mark. If they can’t fill those roles and injuries plague the core, the Avs aren’t deep enough to withstand that and still make the postseason.
Regardless, I doubt there will be a steep a dropoff like we’ve seen in years past. It’ll be a tight race to the playoffs, but the Avs should be right with the pack battling for a wildcard spot.
JN – GM Joe Salic kind of had himself a quiet summer, with the only real notable signing seeming to be that of goalie Philipp Grubauer to help add depth to that position. Is there some concern he didn’t do enough, or was his hands tied due to future Salary Cap considerations with the younger players the team has?
Andi – I think it’s less about the cap implications than playing time and opportunity at this point. The Avs have the sophomores mentioned above plus the still-young Nikita Zadorov and another wave of prospects on the horizon. They did sign Matt Calvert and Ian Cole to protect the young players from some of the more defense-heavy roles, but otherwise, Sakic wants the kids to lead the way. The front office may have actually learned their lesson from the slow-building disaster of 2015-17 and wisely avoided signing veteran road blocks this summer.
JN – Speaking of Grubauer, does his arrival mean that the Avs are now a team with a two-headed goalie system, or is this still Semyon Varlamov’s team until he inevitably gets hurt as he seemingly does every season?
Andi – It’s still Varlamov’s net to lose, at least for the first couple months. If everything stays on the current course, I’d guess the split will likely be in the 50-30 Varlamov-Gurbauer range (if healthy). But Grubauer just signed a 3-year deal and Varlamov is UFA at the end of the year, so Varlamov’s leash is not very long. There’s a very real chance Grubauer could steal the job by Christmas.
No matter how it shakes out, the Avs have set themselves up to receive starter-caliber goaltending every game this season. That’s a huge advantage for such a young team.
It also should be mentioned that our 3rd goalie, Pavel Francouz, won the goaltender of the year award in the KHL last year with a .946 sv%. He’ll be starting with the AHL Colorado Eagles this year. Even if injuries hit, goaltending should remain an area of strength for the Avs.
JN – There won’t be quite as many rookies making the Avalanche as there seemed to be last year, but is there room for another prospect or two to make the jump to the NHL club and if so, who likely makes it?
Andi – Out of camp, there aren’t as many spots this year, but Vladislav Kamenev is probably the most likely candidate to challenge for a role. He was acquired in the Duchene trade, and his Avalanche career to date has consisted of an exciting call-up, four minutes of play, and a very broken arm. By the time he was healthy, the Avs were scraping for every point in a very tight playoff race, so he finished the year in the AHL. If he performs well in camp, he’ll get that shot he was denied last season.
Cale Makar (4th Overall, 2017) decided to go back to school for one more year. UMass-Lowell isn’t a great team, so he’ll almost certainly join the Avs in March.
A couple darkhorses/call-ups include forwards Igor Shvyrev, Martin Kaut, AJ Greer, Josh Dickinson, and Shane Bowers (if he turns pro after his sophomore season at BU), plus defensemen Nic Meloche and the currently concussed Conor Timmins. Almost of them will spend the year in the AHL, but the Avs have shown a willingness to demote older players if forced. If someone really surprises in camp, they’ll find the room.
JN – The top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen was phenomenal last season but the talent level drops off a bit after that first line. Is there any thought that the Avs should look to spread that talent out over two lines, or is it really for the best that they go with such a loaded top line?
Andi – For the most part, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That line has been together since November, and no one’s figured out how to stop them yet. It makes sense to let them lead the team while Carl Soderberg and the young guns suss out what the other three lines look like.
If they were to break up that top line, there needs to be 1) a major injury, 2) a sustained cold streak where Coach Bednar is forced to mix it up, 3) one of the young players proves they can hang with MacKinnon/Rantanen without getting embarrassed, freeing up Landeskog to move elsewhere, or 4) Tyson Barrie is traded for a top 6 sniping wing. Otherwise, bank those points and hope some of the other players on the roster live up to their secondary-scoring potential.