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It’s Colorado Avalanche Day at PHT

Aug 7, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

Minnesota Wild v Colorado Avalanche - Game Five Getty Images

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team?  The Colorado Avalanche.

For more entries in this series, click here.

Last season’s Colorado Avalanche did something for the City of Denver that hadn’t happened in a while: They brought fun and excitement on ice back to the Rockies.

The Avs were the surprise team in the Western Conference as they beat out the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks to win the Central Division with 112 points. With Patrick Roy behind the bench for his first season in the NHL, he won the Jack Adams Award leading the team to 52 wins. With Joe Sakic running the show in the front office, it felt like the year 2000 all over again.

On the ice, Colorado’s offensive attack was something to behold.

Matt Duchene led the team in scoring with 70 points. Ryan O’Reilly led the team in goals with 28, and captain Gabriel Landeskog was a dual-threat with 26 goals and 65 points. Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon was a revelation scoring 24 goals with 63 points. All told, the Avs had five players with 60 or more points (Paul Stastny was the other). Defenseman Erik Johnson spurred the offense from the blue line with 39 points as well.

In goal, Semyon Varlamov was brilliant on the ice. He finished second in Vezina Trophy voting to Tuukka Rask, but had a .927 save percentage after facing a league-high 2,013 shots and had a 2.70 goals-against average.

Wait, how did a team that do so well allow over 2,000 shots on goal? Oh right… The defense.

The Avs were not darlings of the advanced statistic community for their lack of ability to possess the puck and their great talent at giving up tons of shots. Without Varlamov’s brilliance, things would’ve been much worse. While they had Johnson producing offense, guys like Cory Sarich, Nate Guenin, Nick Holden, Tyson Barrie, Andre Benoit, Ryan Wilson, and Jan Hejda made up a virtual no-name corps that struggled to slow down opponents.

Getting bounced by the Minnesota Wild in seven games in the first round showed off their defense as their Achilles’ Heel for all it was worth. Despite all the offensive and goaltending brilliance, apparently defense still wins championships. Or at the very least a playoff round or two.

Offseason recap

The Avs saw Paul Stastny depart for the St. Louis Blues on a four-year, $28 million deal. On the upside, they got a two-year deal done with O’Reilly after some rather collar-tightening negotiations.

Up front, they added Jarome Iginla on a three-year contract and dealt P.A. Parenteau to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Daniel Briere. A veteran presence amongst the forwards should help out, especially with Iginla still having plenty in the tank after scoring over 30 for Boston last season. They also added Jesse Winchester to help out the bottom-six.

One area they didn’t really address was the defense. The Avs acquired Brad Stuart from the San Jose Sharks and added depth guys in Bruno Gervais and Zach Redmond. Losing Benoit to Buffalo and Matt Hunwick to the New York Rangers won’t hurt them, they haven’t improved the back end.

They’d better hope Varlamov kept his off-ice activities to a minimum in the offseason because it’s shaping up to be another busy year in Denver.

  1. polegojim - Aug 7, 2014 at 8:25 AM

    Look forward to seeing this team take the next step next spring!

    I like the additions of Iginla, Briere,and Stuart. Keep them hungry Patrick.

  2. govtminion - Aug 7, 2014 at 8:27 AM

    I’m not sure they’re a better team than they were last season- Stastny was a big part of what made it all work, after all, so losing him hurts. But, bringing in Iginla was a great move- he was pretty great at times in Boston last year, if a bit streaky, so that makes up for at least a good portion of the loss. But, yeah, Brad Stuart isn’t exactly the next coming of Rob Blake- and with defense being this teams’ biggest problem, I don’t know that they’re really in a better place than a year ago.

    But… all they did was win their division, put on a GREAT first round series against Minnesota, and make for some hair-raising and exciting games all season long. Hard to ask for more than that from a hockey team- so if they haven’t really changed much in the offseason, hopefully that means we’re in for another fun season.

  3. brentwold2 - Aug 7, 2014 at 9:50 AM

    Im in the opinion that the loss of Stastny wont hurt as much as you’d think it would. Its not like all the young gun forwards aren’t going to improve. Certainly O’Reilly, Landy, Mackinnon, and Duchene should all be better as they are still very young. So that alone will help replace some of the offense Stastny was responsible. That and the that fact guys like John Mitchell and Jamie Mitchell can build upon very a solid very solid season last year. They have become some of my favorite players other than the stars. They are smart, productive players two way forwards who can be plucked any where on any of the top three lines. Then add Iggy and hopeful a healthy Tanguay will add veteran leadership this club lacked last year. The Avs were dominant when Tanguay was on the ice last year. They went some ridiculous 17-1 in games he played in. Then there are guys like Brad Malone and Paul Carey who showed some very positive signs that they could turn into productive players as well. They like to play fast which is never a bad thing with the Avs. All of that I think is more than enough to make up for the lost of Stastny offensively.

    The defense is a different story, although Im optimistic because there are some guys that played great last year. They really struggled in the 2012-2013 season at creating offense at on the blue line. Last season they at least fixed the offensive issue’s. Tyson Barrie, Nick Holden, and Erik Johnson all showed they can put the puck in the net and expect more of the same this year. A vet who has always been solid on the blue line in Brad Stuart is going to help them to be better there. I hear there is some promising talent in their minor league clubs on defense as well. Overall I expect the defense to be better and continue to get better throughout the season. They still wont be elite so Varly is going to have to hold is own, but Im not too worried about him after his stellar year last year.

    • brentwold2 - Aug 7, 2014 at 9:52 AM

      I also don’t know much about Briere. But from what I hear he is a great vet. This team really has a great mix of skilled young players and experienced vets though. That’ll serve well for them.

    • jernster21 - Aug 7, 2014 at 11:36 AM

      I’m assuming you meant Jamie McGinn, not Mitchell. Alas, both, especially John Mitchell are a huge part of this team and having the flexibility to move them around the top 3 lines is huge. Brad Malone is a Carolina Hurricane now and Paul Carey won’t break the roster out of camp in my opinion but certainly getting him some pro games toward the end of last year will hopefully help develop his game further in the AHL so if and when injuries occur, he and Joey Hishon can make the jump up and be much more effective. Much has been said about the defense, but keep in mind Guenin and Holden weren’t NHL regulars till last year, the experience from last year is only going to help develop their game going forward, and the latter half of the season saw Holden take his game to another level so hopefully the uphill trajectory continues for both of them. The key is staying healthy as we were pretty lucky for the majority of the season minus Tanguay, until the end of the season going into the playoffs when we started dropping like flies: Duchene knee, Parenteau knee, Hejda broken finger, Mitchell concussion. There’s still a lot to be excited about next season even with the departure of Stastny and the addition of Iginla and Briere.

    • avfanforlife - Aug 7, 2014 at 12:43 PM

      @ Brentwold – I couldn’t agree more with just about everything written there… what we lost w Stastny we gain back with the youngsters improving and the additions of Iginla and Tanguay being healed. (I’m still upset w the Leopold trade!)
      My concern in goal isn’t so much w Varly. He will be dominant again – Thanks to Allaire and Roy .
      Varly will need time off tho, and our back-up situation is questionable.
      That is really my only concern. Looking forward to an exciting AV season and the playoffs again next April !!! GO AV’s!!

  4. hanspard - Aug 7, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    I think this team is going to really disappoint. If Varlamov doesn’t have another great year, things could get away from them quickly. When you lead the league in shots given up, you’re living dangerously.

    • avscup - Aug 7, 2014 at 9:13 PM

      They led the league next year in shots given up?

  5. rmccleary97 - Aug 7, 2014 at 10:31 AM

    The big key to Colorado following up last season: winning the close games. Last year the Avs were 28-4-8 in 1-goal games, 24-18 otherwise. With a final result of 30 points over .500 on just a +29 goal differential, there’s a decent argument that the Avs overperformed last season. (The other team that similarly outperformed last year was Minnesota, who was just +1 on goal differential but 16 over .500 in the standings). If the defense doesn’t tighten up and Varlamov slips to even a .920 SV%, any margin of error the Avs have to work with is gone and it will be up to the offense to crank up some more. Maybe that happens with the continued emergence of Duchesne, Landeskog and MacKinnon, but Iginla and Briere aren’t getting any younger and expecting their production to continue at last year’s rate may be pushing it.

    I think the Avs are still a playoff team this year, just not one that puts up 112 points and wins the Central again. Going 3rd in the Central wouldn’t be out of the question, though.

    • wutangwild - Aug 7, 2014 at 11:53 AM

      True, the Wild may have overperformed, but the Avs had a goalie playing at a Vezina-calibre level the whole year and we had like 4-5 different starting goaltenders. I’m obviously biased but I think based on the talent we had last season (which we added to this offseason), we underperformed. Just my two cents. Both teams are on the up and up though.

      • guitarhunterdude - Aug 7, 2014 at 1:49 PM

        I felt the team as a whole underperformed, but the goalies overperformed pretty massively, just like Varlamov did. If Yeo doesn’t get the same type of play out of these guys that he did in the playoffs, over the full season, the Wild could really be in trouble, too.

  6. endusersolutions2013 - Aug 7, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    Good points have been raised on whether the Aves improved a little, stayed essentially the same, or lost a little.

    What has not been mentioned is that their closest competition in the killer central division improved – Blues, Stars, Wild and Hawks. I anticipate that the central will again place 5 teams in the playoffs.

    I also anticipate that the Aves won’t place higher than 3rd, likely lower.

    Not trashing the Aves, just pointing out the huge competition. Great time to be playing in the EC

    • jernster21 - Aug 7, 2014 at 11:41 AM

      Last year I was okay with 3rd in the division, winning the division was a huge bonus in an otherwise stellar season. The reality is, winning the division and/or president’s trophy, etc., doesn’t win the cup but you still gotta get into the playoffs. The game where they clinched a playoff birth they all stormed Varly jumping up and down, it was exciting to see.

  7. alivedesigns - Aug 7, 2014 at 12:09 PM

    I think people forget the young D core is only going to improve, much like the forwards. Barrie, Johnson, and Holden will all level up this season. Then, Stefan Elliot has a chance to stay in the line up also. He had good possession numbers when he played, and will be very good in time. You take that, with Bigras, Butcher and (possibly) Siemens on the door step, We really aren’t in that bad of shape

  8. pavelfitzgerald - Aug 7, 2014 at 2:03 PM

    Watch out for Zach Redmond. He’s an offensive defencemen who plays well in his own end. He’s an asset to any teams powerplay

    • jdub2119 - Aug 8, 2014 at 9:44 PM

      I totally missed your comment because I said the same thing about Redmond. He replaced Zach Bogosian for a time when Bogosian was injured, which is no small feat.

  9. jdub2119 - Aug 8, 2014 at 9:40 PM

    Stastny for Iginla is essentially a wash, points wise. But Jarome Iginla brings toughness and leadership that Stastny doesn’t. free air helps improve the penalty kill and the third line. He’ll also provide a little depth even though his scoring touch isn’t close to what it once was. Stuart brings toughness and leadership to the blue line. I’m also willing to bet that they will trade O’Reilly sooner rather than later because his stock is soaring. And what the Avs get back will be a bounty. They’ll at the very minimum, get a top six winger to replace his point production. And we’ll likely get a good defenseman and prospect or pick. Finally, I think the real wild card is this kid Zach Redmond. Apparently he was really starting to find his groove as a pro before suffering a devastating injury. He’s healthy and could surprise a lot of people. He’s not the second coming of Ray Bourque, but I’m looking forward to seeing this kid. Bottom line is that the Avs got more veteran leadership and improved the D.

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