The NHL season is right around the corner. Like it starts this week, right around the corner. And the Colorado Avalanche are one of the ten teams that will kick off opening night on January 13th. The five game slate has a bunch of great teams too. The Penguins take on the Flyers, the Canadiens play the Maple Leafs, Chicago at the Stanley Cup Champion Lightning, Vancouver plays Edmonton, and the last game of the day is St. Louis at Colorado.
And in a slate of games featuring last years Stanley Cup Champions the Avalanche are still the best team playing. And the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this year. But don’t take my word for it. Take it from one of the most reputable sports sites out there, The Athletic.
This team is stupid good.
From top to bottom, there is depth and star-power across the board at every position. It’s easy to get lost star-gazing at Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, but the supporting cast is also very much worth admiration. Every line and pair has someone that moves the needle with not a single roster spot going to waste. While the All-Star caliber players steal the spotlight, it’s the rest that creates balance and pushes the team over the top. They’re the difference between Colorado challenging Tampa Bay for the throne rather than looking like a flawed contender. The Avalanche are the team to beat for a reason and it’s because they have it all: a top-five forward group, the best defense group in the league, and top 10 goaltending.Dom Luszczysyn The Athletic
Dom Luszczysyn is right. The Colorado Avalanche are stupid good. They were great all last year, and were damn near unbeatable when healthy. Which unfortunately wasn’t often. Injuries ended up being the Avalanche’s downfall in the playoffs. So this offseason Joe Sakic fleeced a couple of GMs around the league in trades to add more depth. They added talent to the top 6, and added another top 4 defensemen. At this point anyone playing on the Avalanche’s blue line could be a top 4 defensemen on any other team. Baring injuries the Avalanche are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
An Avalanche of Star Power
The star power on the Avalanche are the biggest they’re the favorites, and it’s what the team is most known for. Nathan Mackinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, and Cale Makar dominate the Avalanche headlines. And they should. Nathan Mackinnon is one of the best players in the world, Cale Makar was last years Calder Trophy Winner, Mikko Rantanen is a top scoring power house forward, and so is Gabriel Landeskog. Plus it’s pretty easy to put Landeskog’s face on the headlines.
What a man rocket. No wonder he’s always being shown as the face of the Avalanche. Even when the team has one of the best players in the world on the team in Nathan Mackinnon. Landeskog plays as good as he looks, and that’s pretty damn good. But the rest of the team’s stars are even better.
Now what makes the Avalanche the favorites and scary good is the amount of stars on the team. Nathan Mackinnon can score any time he is on the ice, and so can the rest of them. But what makes the Avalanche true contenders this season is the team’s depth. They had solid depth last year, but with the addition of the new guys it’s some of the best in the NHL.
An Avalanche of Depth
The Avalanche have some of best depth in the NHL. And just because they aren’t a superstar player doesn’t mean they don’t deserve some praise. Because the depth players of the Avalanche are fantastic. Andre Burakovsky scored 45 points last season which was a career high. And every player that was in their first year with the Avalanche had a career high in points. Donskoi, Kadri, Burakovsky, and Graves all had career years. And the guys who have been in Denver longer have been great as well.
From top to bottom the Avalanche are loaded. The top 6 was amazing last year, and Joe Sakic added Brandon Saad to the mix to make it even better. That top line will consist of Nathan Mackinnon in the middle, Andre Burakovsky on the left, and Mikko Rantanen on the right. While the second line will be Nazem Kadri in the middle, Gabriel Landeskog on the left, and Brandon Saad on the right. That is a scary good top 6. And it’s rounded out by an extremely talented bottom six.
That group features JT Compher, Valeri Nichushkin, Joonas Donskoi, Tyson Jost, Pierre Edouard Bellemare, and Matt Calvert. Nichuskin and Donskoi are both guys that can play top 6 minutes, but they seem to thrive and play their best in third line situations. Same goes for Tyson Jost and Matt Calvert. And with the addition of Brandon Saad the Avalanche will be able to place these depth players in the best position to succeed.
Being able to play all of their players at their best position makes the Avalanche very dangerous. And it means that they have very few weaknesses. But even the best teams have a weakness or two. And for the Avalanche their weakness is their goaltending.
Phillip Grubauer and Pavel Francouz
The biggest hole in the Avalanche roster is the goaltending. And that is the last place that you would want a hole. Right in front of the net. While Grubauer might have a .920 save percentage for his career, his ability to stay healthy has always been a concern. Grubauer not playing in the playoffs didn’t help that narrative. Because it doesn’t matter how good Grubauer is if he’s injured and can’t play. And Grubauer is expected to play the majority of the games for the Avalanche.
Grubauer starting 65% of the games means he will start about 36 of the 56 games for the Avalanche this year. That’s assuming he can stay healthy. Grubauer played that same amount last year when he posted a .916 save percentage and had a 18-12-4 record. So if he can stay healthy the Avalanche will be cup contenders.
The guy starting the other 35% of the games for the Avalanche will be Pavel Francouz. Who was also pretty damn good when he was healthy. Grubauer and Francouz can win games for the Avalanche this year, but only if they are healthy. The goalies might be the biggest hole for the Avalanche, but that is only if they are injured. And the defense in front of the goalies is so good that it doesn’t really matter.
The Avalanche Defense
The Avalanche’s defense might be their most well rounded group. I mentioned it earlier. Any of the Avalanche’s defensemen would be a top four guy on any other team. Maybe even top two. Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Ryan Graves, Erik Johnson, Sam Girard, and Ian Cole are the best defensive group in hockey.
Cale Makar was the best rookie in the NHL last year and was the Avalanche’s second highest scorer. Ryan Graves led the NHL in plus minus last season. And the other guys are just as good. Fans already know how good Erik Johnson, Ian Cole, and Sam Girard are, but they might not know Devon Toews.
Toews is a puck moving defensemen. He’s a guy that will walk the blue line and snap the puck from tape to tape and put other players in the best position to score. Just like Cale Makar and Sam Girard. But Toews is a bit more polished in his defensive play than Makar and Girard. So add him in to the group the Avalanche already have and they have the best defensive group in the NHL.
So that’s why the Avalanche are the Stanley Cup Favorites. They’ve got an avalanche of star power, the top defense in the league, and phenomenal depth to round it all out. And the Avalanche players are well aware that they are the favorites.
The Avalanche are the favorites, or whatever. But it’s extremely hard to win the Stanley Cup. The best team in the regular season doesn’t win the cup 84% of the time. And just being the favorites doesn’t guarantee they’ll win the cup. But this Avalanche team has a very good chance to win the Stanley Cup this year. As good as a chance as they had in 1996 and 2001 when they did win it all. And those are the expectations this year, Stanley Cup or bust.
My prediction is the Avalanche will live up to expectations as the favorites. They’ll likely be battling it out over the Presidents Trophy with the Lightning all season to be the best team in the NHL. The President’s Trophy is cursed so if the Avalanche lose that trophy I’d be fine with it. But in the end I think they’ll win the trophy that matters, The Stanley Cup.