This Team Will See The Top Of The Mountain, But Not This Year
The Colorado Avalanche, the same team that finished with an abysmal 49 points last season, currently occupies a playoff spot in the toughest division in hockey. They have 57 points already this season, and still have 34 games left to play. Although they lost their last two games heading into all-star weekend, they are fresh off a 10-game winning streak.
This team is riding the winning wave. They had one of the worst seasons in NHL history last year and began the season in a state of dysfunction (which you can read more about here). While no one is suggesting Colorado should tank the rest of the season, making the playoffs should not be the end all, be all for this team. They can turn what they have right now into something special down the road.
This team shouldn’t let a hot streak turn them into buyers at the deadline. They received future assets in trading Matt Duchene. They have a decision to make: trade future assets to acquire talent and make it to the second round of the playoffs, or continue rebuilding and be something special.
There are a few reasons why the Avs should hold off on making any moves that compromise their future.
Bright Spots Aren’t Dimming Anytime Soon
Nathan Mackinnon was the first pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, and there was no doubt he would be a superstar. Fast forward to year five and he has been one of the best players in the league and should receive some votes for the Hart trophy if the Avs make the playoffs. The Avalanche scored 41 goals over their 10-game streak, and MacKinnon either scored or assisted on 19 of them. He is currently second in the entire NHL with 60 points, seventh with 24 goals, and first with seven game-winning goals. The only number that isn’t MVP caliber is his cap hit, at a modest $6.3 million five more seasons after this one.
Mikko Rantanen is in the same boat. He is one of the only bright spots in terms of possession numbers (more on that later) for the Avs. He has the highest relative corsi percentage on the team, with Colorado controlling 6.2% more total shots with him on the ice. Rantanen also possesses the team’s highest corsi for, controlling 52.3% of all shots with him on the ice. Scoring wise, he’s second on the team in points with 47. Still on his entry-level contract for this and next season, Rantanen will be a restricted free-agent come 2020. If the team can lock up the Finnish forward on a long-term extension this offseason, they might be in for another bargain contract.
Samuel Girard, coming over in the Duchene trade, has been solid in year one, playing over 17 minutes a night and posting an even plus/minus. Alex Kerfoot (32 points), J.T. Compher (averaging 16 minutes a night), and Tyson Jost (10th overall pick in 2016) are all guys that are playing meaningful minutes and will be in the fold for the foreseeable future. All are on entry-level contracts and in their first or second year.
This Team Isn’t Built To Win (Yet)
Puck possession is not the only thing that determines success, but in the Avalanche’s case, they are playing a dangerous game most nights and expecting to win. Colorado is the third worst team when it comes to possessing the puck, controlling only 47.5% of their total shots. Only when Mackinnon, Rantanen, or Sven Andrighetto are on the ice do the Avs accrue more shots on goal than their opponents.
Colorado has been relying on two components that may not be sustainable. They are tied with the Lightning and Islanders for the best shooting percentage in the NHL. at 10.8%.
They are also relying on Jonathan Bernier to be a workhorse in goal. He is having his best season since he was the number one goalie on Toronto in 2013-14. The Avs rank 14th in goals allowed per game and 15th in save percentage, but a closer look shows they are being outshot by the third-highest margin in the NHL.
The problem isn’t defense but is, in fact, the offense. Only four teams have taken fewer shots than the Avs. Even during their 10-game winning streak, they only outshot their opponents twice. While maybe the argument of quality versus quantity comes into play, relying on the highest shooting percentage on such a low amount of shots will be tough come playoff time.
The Best Is Yet To Come
Mentioned earlier, the evolutions of Kerfoot, Compher, and Jost can make this team dangerous. They will have $26 million in cap space next season with their top six scorers coming back, along with their number one goaltender Semyon Varlamov back for at least next season.
Along with their young guys already in the NHL, the Avs are waiting on even more prospects to make an impact in the near future. Fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft Cale Makar should be a stud defenseman. Fellow 2017 draftee Conor Timmins could be called up in the next year or two. Vladislav Kamenev is another big piece of the Duchene trade that will have an impact in the next few years.
Unfortunately for Colorado, they may not see Ottawa’s first-round pick until 2019, as it is protected if it is in the top 10 according to Cap Friendly. Either way, if Ottawa continues to slide down the standings, the Avs could be looking at another pick in the top half of the draft, regardless of how they finish this year. This team is on track to be a contender if even a portion of their prospects pans out.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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