September, a month where hope in the hockey world is abundant. The ice is fresh, the players rejuvenated, and the fans drooling for meaningful hockey. The rookies hit the ice in mere hours and the vets are not far behind. In other words, much like a kid excited to go back to school, we are all restless in anticipation.
In Avsland we are no different. We are ready to hit the classroom with both apprehension and zest for what’s to come. Before the season starts we here at Burgundy Rainbow have your preseason syllabus ready. So sharpen your #2 pencils and have a seat. Here’s what you can expect to learn from your 2017-2018 Colorado Avalanche.
Note: This is Part 2 of a 2 part series. Click here for Part 1.
N – Nieto
So Colorado was so bad last year that they took to the waiver wire multiple times to not only fill out their roster with depth, but to find players that could instantly give their roster more than just replacement level minutes. One of those players is Matt Nieto. He started out strong but minor injuries really slowed his success in his 47 games with Colorado. On the whole he pitched in with 11 points over 47 games. He’s an interesting player to watch. At his worst he provides some speed and scoring punch to an evolving idea of a productive 4th line. At his best he could play 3rd line minutes and still be in his weight class. For a team that is devoid of depth on the wing this has proved to be a nice depth piece with ability to change a game on any given night. If nothing else he represents nice shift away from the idea that troglodytes and pylons playing 6 minutes a night is a good way to fill out your bottom 6 forward group.
O – Offensive
The most inexplicable thing about last season was the complete absence of offense. There is no way going into last season that one would have been able to convince me that a team with Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Erik Johnson, and Tyson Barrie would have produced the lowest scoring output in the entire NHL. I’m still dumbfounded by this. If you would have told me this team would have gotten 32 goals from a rookie (Rantanen, 20) and a PTO (Bourque, 12) I would have envisioned an offense in the upper echelon of the league. But where there is historic badness I choose to see optimism for a rebound. As Clark W. Griswold said “Worse? Take a look around you, Ellen!!! How could things possibly get any worse?”. I’m interested to see what tweaks Coach Bednar and co. make to their offensive schemes to help this teams talented players put the biscuit in the basket at a more frequent rate this year.
P – Power Play
Speaking of epic levels of bad, how about that power play? If you want to be successful in the NHL you must take advantage of well, the advantages you are given. The power play is where comebacks can start and games can be put away. If we suffer through another season of a power play that only scores 12.6% of the time, it’s gonna be another long season. One of the benefits of being epically bad is that it produces a situation that cannot possibly be ignored. In the offseason the team fired long time power play/offensive coach Tim Army and replaced him with a power play specialist in Ray Bennett. Bennett’s previous teams have historically experienced success on the power play and I’m excited to see what he comes up with to remedy an anemic power play in Colorado.
Q – Quick Start
For each of the last three seasons Colorado has gotten off to sub par (to put it nicely) starts to the season. In this day and age of the Bettman point if you get behind the eight ball early there is just not enough time left to recover. The seasons for the Avs were over practically over before they began. Above I discussed confidence. The single greatest way to generate confidence is to have early season success. If the team can get off to a hot start, be it a lucky bounce or a few dominating performances, it could really set the tone for the not only the season, but more importantly for the career paths of many of our young contributors. Success would put to rest any lingering thoughts that the organization may have to resort back to going full Iginla, and that is a great thing. The mantra for the season is younger and faster, lets start the season flying high.
R – Reboot or Rebuild
What are the Colorado Avalanche in the middle of here? Are we rebooting? Are we rebuilding? I’m not sure, and it seems as if neither is the organization. They have done so much this offseason, but at the same time, they have done nothing. They haven’t made a move to shakeup the core of the roster (at least not yet), they haven’t made an impact signing that will affect the long term future of the organization, and they haven’t done anything to blatantly make the team worse. They are much better off for the people they let go. The players they brought in fit on the fringes of the plan. But what exactly do you call these moves made by a 48 point franchise? One thing is for certain, if this season does not show signs of improvement then it’s time to tear it down and rebuild this sucker from the ground up.
S – Smart
The organization has made some baffling decisions in years past regarding their personnel. Too many times the team has intentionally left their roster short even though they’ve had ample time and ability to remedy the situation. Mismanagement of a struggling team makes things go from “maybe they are just not good” to “why do I even bother watching”. There is no reason to put your team at an intentional disadvantage. This year I would like to see the Avalanche be smart and realize that the have a developmental team at their disposal.
T – Truculence
For the first time perhaps ever you’ll find that a cursory glance over the roster will not result in the sight of a tried and true face puncher. It’s another sign that the Avalanche are finally catching up to the modern NHL game. I’d much rather have a guy on the 4th line who is capable of playing an effective 8-10 minutes a night and chipping in 18 points versus a guy whose only purpose is to take 18 fighting majors a year. One interesting storyline to watch would be to see if other teams realize this and try to bully the Avs around and try to get inside the heads of our younger roster.
U – Unified
Hockey is a team sport. One individual can affect the team as a whole, but at the end of the day, no matter if that individual is Connor McDavid or Patrick Bordeleau, they still need to rely on their teammates to ensure success. The Avalanche on most nights last year looked to be a collection of individuals rather than a unified team. There were reports on players taking it upon themselves to do what they needed to do to be successful. That doesn’t work in the NHL. The difference between these talented individuals is largely not skill based, but rather execution based. You need to trust that when you do your job that the next guy behind you has done theirs. When this happens the game slows down, decision making becomes easier, and in time you can expect the results to be visible. Look for the Jared Bednar and the Avalanche players to have a much clearer picture of what they are trying to accomplish and where they need to be on the ice to be successful.
V – Varly
Below league average goaltending, primary back up gone, and your starter recovering from a season ending groin surgery. Not a good outlook heading into the season with regards to the most important position on the ice. How Varly revovers and hopefully rebounds will be the most clear indicator of how the season will go. Varly is not a dinosaur, but many believe that his best years are behind him and the new backup hasn’t exactly been a bastion of greatness the last two seasons. If Varly can recover to league average or better goalie numbers then this season could be fun well into March/April. If his groin remains an issue and we are left with Jon Bernier and AHL fodder between the pipes we may as well get the scotch ready and prepare for another long August.
W – Wilson
This move was the only real potential head scratcher of the offseason. In a vacuum Colin Wilson is a fine player to have on your team to stabilize your bottom six forward corps. In reality it is very easy to look at that move and hark back to the moves the Avs have made over the last 3 seasons in an effort to mask their deficiencies and try to win now at all costs. The cries of “why is Sakic giving up assets” are real and abundant. How Wilson performs in the early part of the season, while likely insignificant in the long run, will go a long way to shaping the narrative that Joe Sakic is a terrible GM. However, if he plays well it may earn Sakic some credit and realize that not all assets are created equally and you have to take certain risks to construct the team you envision.
X – Xmas
Short and sweet on this one. Last year the season was done and dusted by the time we opened up our presents on Christmas morning. Avalanche, please for the love of all things holy make me interested in this season through the Christmas holiday season.
Y – Yakupov
There are more than a few subtle ways to tell if the organization has learned from it’s previous mistakes. An obvious example of this is the somewhat interesting and somewhat curious offseason signing of Nail Yakupov. At his initial press conference Joe Sakic came out and said that Nail is a player that the organization envisions being a top six winger. This could go both ways. There are some who think that he was simply providing lip service and that any spot that Yakupov gets will be given based on merit. And then there are those that believe that a top six spot on the wing is already his. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in camp. His contract both in money and term would indicate that he is in for competition to a roster spot let alone the aforementioned top 6 wing spot. If that is the case then this signing marks a nice shift toward open competition and earning your way. It sends a clear message across the organization that if you work hard that you can earn more playing time. If we get 17 minutes a night of the Yakupov of Edmonton and St. Louis past, at the expense of an AJ Greer or Gabriel Bourque, I wouldn’t hold hope any anticipation for future success.
Z – Zadorov
At the time this is being published Nikita Zadorov and the Colorado Avalanche have still yet to put pen to paper on what seemingly is not a difficult contract to finish up. I’m going to choose to assume that this gets done with little issue and that Zadorov will be in veteran camp when it opens up next week. And that’s good because not only is he a vital member of the team, but it will be really interesting to watch him grow this season. What we saw the last month or so of last season gives me hope that there are better things on the horizon for our defense. For some inexplicable reason mainstream media has already called the fight for the Buffalo Sabres, but if Zads comes good on his promise he showed last year I still think there is a better than average chances that the Avalanche can “win the trade”.
Now you know your ABC’s, this season won’t you watch with me.