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Turns out this Nathan MacKinnon guy is pretty good, and so are the Avalanche.
I would be remiss to talk about the Avalanche and not start with the Nate Dogg Nathan MacKinnon. With only 12 PIM he won the Lady Byng as the player who combines sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct with high skill play. He was a finalist for the Hart Trophy for MVP as voted on by Hockey Writers, as well as a finalist for the Ted Lindsay, MVP voted on by the players. Each of those awards were claimed by Leon Draisaitl, however, there was a clear argument to be made that Nate was more important to his team. Let’s explore why.
MacKinnon earned 35 goals, and 37 assists for 93 points in 69 games played. A 110 point pace in a full season. The next highest on the team was…Cale Makar with 50 points in 57 points. If Which is insane for rookie…we will get to that down further, but let’s stay with Nate for a second here. If Nathan MacKinnon misses a game or doesn’t score, there isn’t someone almost on his level offensively to pick up the slack. Now if Draisaitl has an off night, or is out, a guy named Connor McDavid is there. Seems like the argument that MacKinnon is more valuable to his team has some credibility.
MacKinnon had an outlandish playoffs, with 25 points in 15 games. The only game he didn’t earn a point, was the game the Avalanche got eliminated in by the Dallas Stars. Seems like some MVP type of stuff when he doesn’t score and the team gets knocked out.
Now, with Nate covered, let’s discuss how the rest of the team faired last season.
Coming off of the somewhat surprising 2019 playoffs, where the Avalanche entered as the lowest seed in the west and bumped the number one seed Calgary Flames, the Avalanche were looking to improve. And they did. They moved out offensive defenseman Tyson Barrie to the Leafs and brought in Kadri. They acquired the struggling Andre Burakovsky from the Washington Capitals for a couple draft picks, signed Joonas Donskoi, Pierre Edouard-Bellemare and signed Valeri Nichushkin on a low risk contract. That had fans hyped about a deeper, more promising team.
Ultimately it looks like the signings and trades worked out. Nazem Kadri didn’t have a career pace year, but he did bring some intangible work ethic and physicality to the Avalanche. Most importantly though, he provided some stability to the second line centre role for the club. In last year’s preview I wrote about what a task coach Jared Bednar had in front of him to revitalize 2013 first round picks Andre Burakovsky (23rd overall Washington Capitals) and Valeri Nichushkin (10th overall Dallas Stars). Bednar did get quite a bit out of the two.
Burakovsky got a career high 45 points in only 58 games, with 20 goals and 25 assists. In the previous season in DC he earned 25 points in 76 games, so he completely turned it around with the Avs. In the playoffs Burky got 17 points in 15 games… seriously, where was this when he was on the Capitals?! I think the answer lies in his linemates and opportunity. He played predominantly on the Avalanche second line with Nazem Kadri and either Donskoi or Nichushkin, but his skillset also allowed him quite a bit of time with the top line as required.
Nichushkin didn’t have as dramatic as a turnaround, but he had one nonetheless. He went from 10 points in 57 games for the Stars, to 27 in 65 for the Avalanche. Perhaps more significantly he went from -4 to +26. When in Dallas he was chastised for being lazy, and one dimensional. But in Colorado, where the pressure was lower, he played lower in the lineup so any contributions are appreciated. He really did seem to take strides in aspects of his game away fromthe puck. His Corsi flipped from 48.9 on the Stars to 55.0 on the Avalanche, even with 55% of his zone starts in the defensive zone.
Donskoi too was on pace for a career season, with 33 points in 65 games, compared to his personal best of 36 points in 76 games in 2015-2016 with San Jose. When the top players were out, Donskoi too saw time up and down the lineup, proving that the three additions of Donskoi, Burakovsky and Nichushkin had provided the Avalanche with some critical flexibility. These guys could be relied upon by Bednar when he needed them.
Oh and what about that kid named Cale Makar who impressed in the tail end of the 2019 playoffs. No big deal, but he won the Calder for the NHL’s best rookie. He and fellow gifted defenseman Quinn Hughes seems to duke it out all year for the title. Makar ended up with 50 points in 57 games. Not too bad, I suppose playing on a powerplay with Mackinnon and a 62.1% offensive zone start percentage helps too. Another young defenseman in his first full season, Ryan Graves led the league in +/- with a whopping +40. Oh and the two played as a d pairing, playing the second most minutes together on the team behind Sam Girard and Erik Johnson. Absolutely remarkable to have two rookie defenseman playing together and looking so great doing it.
In the regular season, they finished second in the west and third in the league with 92 points and a 42-20-8 record. Oh and in the west they were behind St Louis who had 2 more points and 1 extra game played. The team was top 5 for goals against and top 4 for goals for in the league. It’s fairly uncommon to be top 5 in both those stats, and it just shows how dominant of a team the Avalanche are.
In playoffs the team was flying, and the one game MacKinnon doesn’t score a point in is the game they lose the series to against the Dallas Stars in the second round. Dallas eventually goes on to the finals. As my co-host of the show Sean was quick to point out, this could have been a very different series if the Avalanche weren’t without Phillip Grubauer for the series. Both he and backup Pavel Francouz were out at the end of the series, meaning third stringer, Michael Hutchinson had to suit up. He played pretty well but he ultimately was outplayed by opposing netminder Anton Khudobin, who was a god during playoffs for the Stars. The team would have definitely benefitted from having their starter around. As a former Capitals’ player, I love Grubby and I know he could have made a difference. Landeskog got hurt in a weird accident in game 6 and missed time. Having the captain out definitely impacts the morale and depth of the scoring on the team. Erik Johnson, Connor Timmins, Matt Calvert, Joonas Donskoi all missed time as well. The Stars obviously had injuries too, plus they had secret weapon Joel Kiviranta, so the Hockey Gods were just on their side for that series.
- Brandon Saad
- Devon Toews
- Mikka Salomaki
- Sheldon Dries
- Keifer Sherwood
- Mike Vecchione
- Kyle Burroughs
- Hunter Miska (G)
- Matt Nieto
- Nikita Zadorov
- Vlad Namestnikov
- Michael Hutchinson (G)
- Mark Barberio
- Colin Wilson
- Jayson Megna
- Anton Lindholm
Colorado Avalanche Roster Overview
The team brought in Saad and Toews from the Chicago Blackhawks…oh wait, no, Devon Toews from the New York Islanders. The price the team paid as far as roster moves was they lost Vlad Namestnikov who came in at the deadline from Ottawa, and big hitting defenseman Nikita Zadorov. All around I think we can agree Saad and Toews are both upgrades. It’s worth pointing out that a lot of these names are depth pieces, and outside the additions of Saad and Toews, they likely wont see time with the already stacked Avalanche this season barring significant injury woes.
The top line of Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen isn’t going anywhere. Both Landeskog and Rantanen missed a little time last season, so hopefully they can play a full season together as a line again. And if they can’t the Avalanche have the depth to move guys around the lineup to generate offense. MacKinnon appears to be getting better and better, and is one of the top 3 players in the league, in my mind. His sweetheart contract allows the team to be built around him quite easily which is really becoming apparent as we see the team incrementally improve using that cap space.
On the second line, Nazem Kadri will have the centre spot locked down. Andre Burakovsky who earned himself a nice contract in the off season will also remain on the line. We will likely see newcomer Brandon Saad injected on the other wing. Saad will add another shooter for that line, he usually gets more goals than assists, so both he and Burakovsky on a line should see a lot of shots. I think Kadri’s assists will increase this season with both these guys on the line full time.
The third line will most likely comprise of have Tyson Jost, JT Compher and Joonas Donskoi. Donskoi had a solid streak while Rantanen was out, proving he can play up and down the lineup as required. Valeri Nichushkin, who was also re-signed may battle for one of these wing spots, Otherwise he’ll play with Matty hustle himself, Matt Calvert, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on line four.
Overall the depth of the forward group got better. I really like the addition of Saad, and if he has chemistry with Kadri and Burakovsky I think this team has a really nice one-two punch of lines.
The major change here is the addition of Devon Toews and the subtraction of Nikita Zadorov. Zadorov was a third pairing guy for the Avalanche, who ate up defensive zone starts with Ian Cole. He got a lot of hits and blocks rather than points which makes sense because the guy is 6’6″ and 235 lbs. Toews is a little smaller at 6’1″ and 191 lbs and is a more offensively gifted defenseman in his albeit small sample size of two seasons so far in the NHL. He’s a stable defender and his advanced stats are all better than Zadorov, but stats aren’t everything. He got top billing minutes in New York with the Islanders, so I’m curious where he fits into this lineup. If he gets less offensive zone starts will he still look as good?
Toews, Cole, Girard and Graves are all lefties, whereas Johnson and Makar and righties. The only things I know for sure are that Ian Cole will be on the third pairing and Calder winner, Cale Makar will be on powerplay 1. I’m fairly certain that Girard and Johnson play together, it’s just a matter of how Graves and Toews split up. One of them will be with Makar, and the other with Cole on the third pairing.
The Avalanche are low-key stacked on defense, and should be for some time, with guys like Conor Timmins and Bowen Byram ready in the ranks.
If the Avalanche need to improve anywhere, its here. I could see them adding a bit more reliable backup than Francouz, so that they don’t windup in the same situation as this year’s playoffs with a tenuous at best goalie situation.
Colorado Avalanche 2020-2021 Prediction
1st West Division
The Avalanche have gotten better two years in a row. In my mind they are poised to make a deep run having added some additional secondary scoring and getting better on the blueline.
That concludes our Colorado Avalanche 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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