Colorado Avalanche 2020-21 NHL season preview
The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we preview the Colorado Avalanche.
Colorado Avalanche 2019-20 Rewind
Record: 42-20-8 (92 points in 70 games played); second in the Central Division; second best record in the Western Conference. Lost to the Dallas Stars in the Second Round.
Leading scorer: Nathan MacKinnon (35 goals, 93 points)
Rather than improving by increments, the Avalanche keep leaping forward. By 2019-20, they were battling for the top spot in their division and the West, and looking like a team of both the present and the future.
Once the Avalanche entered the unusual pandemic-prompted playoff bubble, they remained a force. Despite some magic from Darcy Kuemper, the Avalanche plowed through the Coyotes. The train stopped against the Stars thanks to a combination of Avs goalie injuries, a quality opponent, and some fellow named Joel Kiviranta.
Some expected the Avalanche to go big in free agency. Instead, they eschewed bigger names like Taylor Hall and Alex Pietrangelo. Doing so hasn’t exactly dampened expectations for the Avalanche, either.
Trading for Devon Toews and Brandon Saad might not count as the splashiest moves, but this analytics-savvy franchise keeps making shrewd move after shrewd move. Plenty of people project the Avalanche to take another big step in 2020-21; just ask Nathan MacKinnon.
At minimum, they should be exhilarating to watch. If their style is a vision of hockey’s future, than that future is bright.
Nikita Zadorov (trade), Anton Lindholm (trade)
3 Most Interesting Colorado Avalanche
• Cale Makar
It’s truly been a whirlwind couple of seasons for the reigning Calder Trophy winner. Makar made an immediate impact upon jumping from the NCAA to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Since then, Makar just keeps soaring upward.
Skyrocketing prospects may eventually cause skyrocketing costs, however. You could see that clearly in how Nathan MacKinnon’s bargain deal will expire after three seasons.
Makar, 22, demands an answer in the nearer future. The budding superstar defenseman needs a contract after his rookie deal expires following the 2020-21 season.
Between the Avalanche and Makar’s representatives, it should be fascinating if anyone pushes to sign an extension well before the 2021 offseason. If not, Makar could drive his value through the roof if he somehow takes another strong stride forward.
Even beyond the money stuff, Makar is absolutely one of the most dazzling defensemen in the NHL.
• Gabriel Landeskog
Speaking of players who will cost the Avalanche more money after 2020-21, we have captain Gabriel Landeskog.
Actually, Landeskog’s situation is more urgent than that of Makar, a pending RFA. In the case of Landeskog (and Brandon Saad), important UFAs may price themselves out of Colorado. Especially with so much money earmarked for MacKinnon, Makar, and others.
Then again, if we learned anything from the Lightning, contenders might want to call everyone’s bluffs. If rivals passed on exploiting the Bolts’ bind, under flat cap circumstances, do the Avs have much to fear?
Granted, Landeskog may end up like a more rugged J.T. Miller. Sometimes those mid-prime veterans must go to keep together younger core players.
• Jared Bednar
For casual hockey fans, it’s probably easy to forget how disastrous Jared Bednar’s first season as a head coach truly was with the Avalanche. Patrick Roy dashed out of town out of nowhere, people were scoring Matt Duchene’s face to Simon & Garfunkel darkness, and the Avs suffered through a nigh-historically bad 2016-17 season.
Since then, Bednar and the Avalanche turned things around in a big way.
Even so, there’s been sort of a “honeymoon” feel to things under Bednar lately. Expectations haven’t been too high yet, so the good (three playoff berths, big strides, a solid couple of runs) received more focus than the bad (falling short against the Stars, injuries or not).
In 2020-21, some will look at the Avalanche as a failure if they fall short of a Stanley Cup victory -- or at least a very deep playoff push.
Considering all of the assembled talent, a Stanley Cup win is the best-case scenario. If you want to add to that, maybe Nathan MacKinnon wins the Hart Trophy, Makar soars to a Norris, and Bednar wins the Jack Adams? It’s certainly not outrageous to picture big things for this Avalanche team.
It’s easy to look at the high-end talent on the Avs, combine that with skyrocketing expectations, and ask for the moon. While the smart money is still on this being a strong team, they did ride percentages at times last season. For instance: they topped the NHL in PDO (save percentage + shooting percentage) at even-strength this season, via Natural Stat Trick. PDO isn’t perfect, but it can point to certain trends that are unsustainable. In particular, the Avalanche could see a drop-off in their elite team save percentage (93.16, third in NHL), being that Philipp Grubauer is still new to being a top/1A goalie, and Pavel Francouz’s NHL resume is quite short. In a worst-case scenario, the Avalanche would either flame out in the First Round, or suffering another bout of injuries that derails their playoff hopes entirely. Missing the playoffs seems improbable, yet hockey can be unpredictable.
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