To say the Colorado Avalanche are in a state of upheaval is a little on the nose, but the recent departure of head coach Patrick Roy has certainly left the franchise in a state of tumult. That’s not to say that the team is headed for the basement, but Joe Sakic does have a job to do and the club will require an identity before the puck drops on 2016-2017.
Under Roy, the Avalanche played with passion. But they also struggled in areas like puck possession and lagged behind in terms of hockey analytics, so there may be some room for improvement under a new bench boss. The hope is that Sakic will find someone who will maximize Colorado’s speed potential and make the right defensive adjustments.
And believe me, defence is still an issue for the Avalanche – as it seems to be annually. Colorado allowed 40 or more shots 14 times last season. Their struggles in the defensive zone have become the stuff of legend, with defencemen like Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson becoming liabilities in their own end.
The fun starts up front with 20-year-old Nathan McKinnon. He had 52 points in 72 games last season, including 21 goals. Seven of his goals came on the power play and he averaged almost 19 minutes a game. He’s capable of making big plays and is a quality skater, with versatility to boot. The trouble may be in terms of expectations, as McKinnon has the world on his shoulders.
23-year-old Gabriel Landeskog had 53 points in 75 games last season and continues to play a simple game, with flourishes of skill. The Stockholm native averaged nearly 19 minutes a game and likes to shoot the puck, plus he’s capable of breaking out. He had a short-handed goal last season and four on the power play.
Centre Matt Duchene scored 30 goals last season and topped out at 59 points in 76 games. He registered 200 shots on goal and averaged just a hair over 18 and a half minutes per game, with eight goals on the power play. He’s a fast, active, passionate player. The 25-year-old is also a born playmaker, who can also scoot to the wing if required.
Blake Comeau chipped in for 36 points. He has a good shot and good size at over 200 pounds, but reliability is an issue. Jarome Iginla is still a quality choice down the right side, but the 39-year-old is in the latter stages of his career. He had 22 goals and 25 assists last season, but he finished a -22. Even so, 13 of his goals came on the power play and he has a terrific shot.
There’s trouble in Colorado on the blueline, but Barrie is still a quality threat. The 25-year-old from Victoria had 49 points in 78 games, with 13 goals. He averaged over 23 minutes a game and scored five game-winners, with 172 shots on target. He’s an intuitive player, but struggles with injuries and defending against bigger players.
Francois Beauchemin logs over 25 minutes a game and still has one of the hardest points shots in the league, but he’s 36-years-old and lacks the skating ability to really handle business in his own end. He can get caught making the wrong decisions in the defensive zone. The Sorel native had 34 points in 82 games, including eight goals.
28-year-old defenceman Erik Johnson had 27 points in 73 games and logged over 23 minutes a game. But like most Colorado blueliners, he can get caught out of position. The same goes for Fedor Tyutin, whose mental lapses are becoming a problem. The 33-year-old Russian defenceman had three points in 61 games and logs over 17 and a half minutes a game, but it’s his shot-blocking abilities that count.
It would be nice to say that Colorado can count on goalie Semyon Varlamov, but the 28-year-old is an overrated pick. He went 27-25-3 last season with a 2.81 goals against average and a .914 save percentage, with two shutouts. Varlamov is a big goalie and covers a lot of the net, plus he owns a dependable glove hand. But reliability and communication are issues and steadiness is a problem.
24-year-old Calvin Pickard is the backup. The Moncton native went 7-6-1 last season with a 2.56 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. Like Varlamov, he’s a big goalie. He’s efficient with his movements and that gives the impression that he doesn’t work hard, but Pickard is capable of getting the job done and has the work ethic to start a lot of games. He is prone to soft goals, though.
Colorado has a nice stack of goaltending prospects. Pickard is ready to emerge and Oakville’s own Spencer Martin is another netminder worth watching. He signed an entry level contract in 2014-2015 ahead of his final season in the OHL with the Mississauga Steelheads. Martin is a good-sized goaltender and is agile for a 200-pounder.
Finnish Mikko Rantanen was selected in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and landed as the AHL’s Rookie of the Year last season. He still has a way to go in order to get used to the North American game, but he’s capable of putting points on the board and he’s a slippery skater. Rantanen also addresses a need Colorado has down the right side.
The Path Ahead
Colorado has some inspiring talent in McKinnon, Landeskog, Duchene, and Barrie. Depth is an issue, though, and things look inadequate in net. Varlamov is not a lock for winning games and defensive zone coverage will continue to dog the Avalanche. Look for Colorado to struggle for identity, particularly as they search for a new coach and try to buy into a new system.