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Photo Credit: © Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Know Your Central Enemies: Colorado Avalanche

Our Central Division preview series continues as we look at the Colorado Avalanche who made the playoffs last season, put a slight scare into the Nashville Predators in the first round and now appear to be finally turning a corner after one of their roughest stretches in franchise history.

Last Year’s Performance

  • 43-30-9
  • 95 points, 4th in Central Division (Lost in first round of playoffs)
  • 45.08 CF%, 44.1 xGF% (courtesy of Corsica, all numbers adjusted)

To say the Colorado Avalanche have not had the best decade is an understatement. Not including last season, the Avs have only made the playoffs once since 2010-11.

If you remember back to that one year they did make the playoffs in 2013-14, you would surely remember the hotly debated season that Colorado was having. By all analytical measurements, the team was supposed to be terrible, yet they kept winning en route to first place in the Central Division. This was a primary example of the anti-analytics crowd who claimed that pure numbers can’t be used to predict hockey games.

During this time frame, analytics experts were saying otherwise. In their minds regression was inevitable and it was only a matter of when it would occur.

Chalk one up to the analytics crowd…

That question of when the regression would happen was answered one season later when the Avalanche fell from their pedestal at the top of the division down to the very bottom in 2014-2015. From there the Avs finished 6th in the division in 2015-16 and last once again in 2016-17.

Essentially, the point of hearkening back to 2013-14 is to say that the Avs were historically bad for seven straight seasons and only made the playoffs by riding an unprecedented wave of luck. Without that sheer luck on their side, we would be looking at a franchise that missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons before last year.

So, we know the Avalanche were horrendously bad for a number of years, but are they actually getting better?

Last season the Avalanche finished fourth in the division. They were led by Nathan MacKinnon who scored a blistering 39 goals and 58 assists for a total of 97 point in only 74 games. These totals put MacKinnon fifth in the NHL for points but second only to McDavid in points per game. Next on the team was Mikko Rantanen who had a breakout sophomore season with 84 points followed by Landeskog who had 62 points. Check out MacKinnon and Rantanen’s best night together where they scored a combined 9 points in a huge 7-1 victory over the Wild.

Unfortunately for the Avs, if the top line of Laneskog, MacKinnon, and Rantanen weren’t scoring, then nobody else was either. Tyson Barrie led the way on defense with 57 points in 68 games but the rest of the scorers were way behind. In addition to those four, only Alexander Kerfoot had over 40 points and only Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau had more than 30 points.

If you are beginning to think this sounds familiar, then check out my preview of the Dallas Stars. They have the identical problem where the top line and the number one defensemen do nearly all of the heavy lifting and the rest of the team struggles to put up points in support.

As for team stats, the analytics still aren’t great, but the actual goal totals look remarkably strong. The Avalanche finished 10th in goals per game and 17th in goals against per game.

While those measures aren’t fantastic, Colorado did have excellent special teams with the 8th best powerplay and the 4th best penalty kill.

Like most effective penalty killing units we see a bright green hole right in front of the crease. This means that the Avalanche game up less shots than the league average from the low slot. The interesting part about this graphic is the purple spot where the right power play defensemen would normally be. This means the Avalanche gave up plenty more shots from that corner compared to the rest of the league. With such a high rate of shots from one area it appears that the Avs were specifically trying to limit the slot while allowing teams to blast it from the right point and letting Varlamov stop the long shots.

Last Season Against Winnipeg

The Jets and Avs split the season series 2-2. Colorado won the first two matchups by an identical score of 3-2 with both games ending in overtime. The Jets fought back in the other two games in February by shutting out the Avs 3-0 on February 3rd and then winning big on February 16th by a score of 6-1.

Off-season Performance

Additions:

  • Philipp Grubauer
  • Brooks Orpik
  • Matt Calvert
  • Ian Cole
  • Scott Kosmachuk

Subtractions:

  • Brooks Orpik
  • Jonathan Bernier
  • Blake Comeau
  • Nail Yakupov

The Colorado Avalanche didn’t make any big moves in the off-season as their strategy has been to promote from within. Their biggest move was to bring in Grubauer in a bizarre sequence that saw Orpik get traded to the Avs, get bought out by the Avs and then sign back with the Capitals, all within a week. Essentially it allowed Washington to re-sign Orpik at a lower cap hit than his previous contract. This is a prime example where a team can use their cap space as an asset because the Avs got Grubauer for only a second round pick.

The other notable names really don’t have any bearing on how the Avalanche will do next season. Yakupov is an afterthought after scoring only 16 points in 58 games. Scott Kosmachuk is a name some Jets fans might recognize as he was drafted by Winnipeg in 2012 and even played eight games with the Jets back in 2015-16.

The Avalanche didn’t need to make any big moves this off-season as their core is locked up for a number of years and they are promoting their own drafted talent to fill roster spots. For a draft and develop team, that’s all you can ask for.

2018-19 Forecast

Like most draft and develop teams, the Avalanche are a tough team to predict. They have a great salary cap situation with MacKinnon and Landeskog locked in for a combined cap hit under $12 million for another three years. They are also filled with great young players that will continue to get better like Tyson Jost and Samuel Girard who are only 20 years old. This doesn’t even mention Cale Makar, their prized 4th overall pick last year who put up respectable totals in his first season of NCAA.

With all of these pieces, the Avalanche are definitely on the right track but aren’t quite good enough to compete in the Central Division this year.

Predicted Finish: Fifth in Central Division


Previously in the series

Chicago Blackhawks

Dallas Stars

St. Louis Blues