Central Division Preview- Colorado Avalanche
If there’s any team that’s displayed a bigger roller coaster over a period of three seasons more than the Avalanche, I’d like to be see it. Colorado began this ride by finishing dead last in the conference in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. That summer, they won the lottery and drafted Halifax Moosehead dynamo Nathan MacKinnon with the 1st overall pick as a cornerstone to new head coach Patrick Roy’s aggressive system. They then proceeded to shock everyone to win the newly formed “Conference III” with 112 points. Roy would go on to win the Jack Adams Award, MacKinnon the Calder, Ryan O’Reilly the Lady Byng, and netminder Semyon Varlamov finished a close 2nd in the Vezina. Suddenly the Avs had returned to prominence.
Then reality set in last year. The team still had firepower up front despite the free agent defection of Paul Stastny to St. Louis. Their lack of depth on the blue-line was exposed and Varlamov’s play tapered off greatly, surrendering over 2.5 goals per game. They enter this season with an uphill climb as once again, the Central sent 5 teams to the postseason, meaning they will have to hurdle past at least two divisional foes to get back into the playoffs.
We all know the usual suspects up front that provides the scoring punch with the likes of Duchene, Landeskog, Tanguay, Pred-killer Jarome Iginla and the aforementioned MacKinnon. Colorado paid a hefty price for projected third-line center and Boston defect Carl Soderberg in the hopes he’ll help add depth down the middle. The Avalanche signed Soderberg to a 5 yr, $23.75M contract this summer for a player who has yet to score more than 16 goals or 50 points in a season… and he turns 30 next month. I’m looking at this deal as being the “Dave Bolland” contract of the 2015 summer.
On the back end, they got a breakout season from 24-yr old Tyson Barrie who led the defense with 53 points. They also have Erik Johnson, who was rewarded with a 7 yr, $42M extension even after having an injury-shortened season. In an effort to solidify their own zone, Colorado signed 35-yr old former Ducks stalwart Francois Beauchemin to a 3 yr deal worth $13.5M. The running theme here is that they are overpaying free agents and not keeping their own talent, as they traded away O’Reilly, a year after taking the forward to arbitration.
Varlamov is a great goalie and has the ability to steal games, but he’s been hung out to dry in each of his 4 seasons for the Avalanche. He’s posted identical sv% numbers as he did in his first 3 years with Washington (.918), yet his GAA has climbed from 2.39, to 2.59. Now that may not seem like much, but over a span of 60 games, that’s 12 more goals given up on the season, which could prove vital, particularly in the tight Central Division.
If Colorado was in the Pacific, I could argue they’d be a lock for a playoff spot because they have a fantastic top 6 forward group and a decent enough top 4 on the blue-line to place them 2nd or 3rd. But this is the Central and there’s no comparison. Despite what should be a slightly better defensive group, I expect Colorado to finish 6th in the division and miss out on spring time hockey once again.