There’s nowhere to go but up for the Colorado Avalanche. The club finished 2016-2017 in last place, collecting just 22 wins and finishing last in scoring and goals allowed. Colorado general manager Joe Sakic got on the ball and has been making some big changes in the off-season, which seems like the only reasonable response.
The Avalanche bought out Francois Beauchemin’s contract, for starters. They also signed goalie Jonathan Bernier and forward Nail Yakupov, plus they acquired Colin Wilson in a trade with the Nashville Predators. The moves are, for the most part, low risk. They could carry significant rewards, especially if Yakupov finds his stroke in Denver.
Colorado will also give head coach Jared Bednar a second chance behind the bench, which is good news. Hired after the resignation of Patrick Roy, the coach will have the summer to prepare for camp. He’ll also have new hires Ray Bennett and goaltending coach Jussi Parkkila in the fold.
Nathan MacKinnon made the best of a bad situation with a 53-point season. He had 14 points on the power play and registered 251 shots on goal. He’s the top centre on the team and will find himself on the scoreboard often, but he did post a low shooting percentage in 2016-2017. He also has some defensive issues.
20-year-old Mikko Rantanen put up 20 goals in his rookie season and came up with a total of 38 points in 75 games. The Finnish forward has that enviable combination of skill and size and should be in line to build on his totals in 2017-2018. He can line up at any forward position, but his lack of outright physicality may be a problem.
Like most of the Avalanche, Gabriel Landeskog had a disappointing season in 2016-2017. He posted 33 points in 72 games, including 18 goals. The Swedish forward missed 10 games due to a lower body injury, but he’d like to produce at a higher level in 2017-2018. He still had good shot totals and played a physical game, averaging two hits per contest.
In a normal world, Matt Duchene would’ve had a terrific 2016-2017 and would be topping out the depth chart in Colorado. But this is no ordinary world and the 26-year-old had one of the worst plus-minus rankings in the entire league last season. He registered 41 points, including 18 goals, but he found just nine points on the power play.
Erik Johnson led Colorado in shot attempts relative percentage last season, which suggests that he drove a lot of the attack. The bad news is that he also missed a lot of the action thanks to a leg injury. Johnson skated in just 46 games in 2016-2017, posting 17 points and registering 96 shots on goal. The Avalanche like his big shot from the point.
Like Duchene, Tyson Barrie had a bad year in terms of plus-minus. But had collected 38 points in 74 games, including seven goals, and averaged 23:18 of ice time a game. The Victoria native is undersized at his position, but he can move and puts together a slick offensive arsenal. He could have about 45 points this season.
After Johnson and Barrie, the blueline in Colorado is looking rather green. That’s where Nikita Zadorov comes in. The restricted free agent may not be on the best terms with the Avalanche, but he’s one of the best shutdown options they have right now. Some have even suggested Sakic overpay him to remain with the club.
Colorado’s goaltending tandem begins with Semyon Varlamov. He saw last season end in January with hip surgery, but things could turn around in 2017-2018. The 29-year-old won just six games in 2016-2017, with a goals against average of 3.38 and a save percentage of .898.
Bernier is the backup, at least for now. He went 21-7-4 last season, posting a save percentage of .915 and a goals against average of 2.50. He’s a reflex goalie and could steal some starts from Varlamov, which wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Avalanche. A little healthy competition in the crease might make both netminders better.