As painful as the 48 point season of ’16-’17 was to live through, the Avs have made a lot of progress since. The scars are still there but the memory is fading fast. This season’s playoff run produced the first series win in 11 years and indicated that they could compete with the better teams in the league. If the goal was to build a competitive team from the ashes of the lost season then mission accomplished. That isn’t the goal. Most club executives give lip service to winning the Stanley Cup as the primary focus but practically many are fine to attain the “solid 2nd round team” level and hold there. Joe Sakic has held the Stanley Cup while wearing skates and an Avalanche jersey and watching his team do that again truly is his goal.
To that end, he got out the axe and made some tough decisions over the past couple of weeks. The Avs were good but not good enough to win a Cup as constructed. It’s easy to get complacent about a team with the talent they had and going as far as they did this Spring. Part of the exodus stems from the fact that Carl Soderberg and Tyson Barrie were set to be on expiring contracts this season, which hasn’t stopped the Avs from keeping guys around before, and probably would be moving on in 2020. Instead of “own rentals” we got value and a roster shakeup.
One of the big questions on everyone’s minds is how will these new players fit into the Avs system and culture, and that’s always a crapshoot. Another is how will they replace the scoring with their top D (Barrie) and 4th & 5th forwards (Carl & Kerfoot) leaving for other clubs. It’s a very legitimate concern, at first glance it looks like they’ll be giving up some offense but I see some hidden capacity that bodes well.
The Avs had 10 forwards and 6 defensemen that played more or less regularly last season. I’m going to concentrate on comparing those 16 spots to projections for this year. I know that Ian Cole isn’t expected to play until after Thanksgiving but for this exercise I’m going to ignore that. This is only looking at 5v5 goals, the power play is what it is and random scoring at other strengths is noise. Bins are determined by time on ice, not role or Altitude’s graphics.
Top line – Mack (23), Landy (15), Mikko (11) total 49
2nd Line – Carl (15), Kerfoot (9), Compher (9) total 33
Bottom 6 regulars – Calvert (9), Wilson (7), Nieto (3), Jost (7) total 26
Top 3 defensemen – EJ (5), Sam (4), Barrie (11) total 20
Bottom 3 defensemen – Cole (1), Big Z (7), Nemeth (1) total 9
Forwards – 108
Defense – 29
Total – 137 (out of 156 for the team)
Returning – 101
The New Style
Top line – Mack (25), Landy (15), Mikko (15) total 55
2nd line – Kadri (13), Donskoi (11), Jost (10) total 34
Bottom 6 regulars – Burakovsky (13), Compher (10), Wilson (7), Calvert (7) total 37
Top 3 defensemen – EJ (5), Sam (5), Makar (9) total 19
Bottom 3 defensemen – Cole (3), Big Z (7), best of rest (2) total 12
Forwards – 126
Defense – 31
Total – 157 (projected team total around 178)
I’ll explain the rationale below but this is a possible increase of around 13% for 5v5 goals, not bad.
Top line – I have Mack with 2 more goals and Mikko with 4 more, Gabe about the same. Mack’s 5v5 scoring dropped 30% this year, some of that is correction but some of that was a drop in shot rate. I think the key is to separate Mack and Mikko as a regular thing. The best way to take advantage of their talent is to leverage it by putting them on different lines. Mack was a little too unselfish this season and that hurt him. He should be selfish because he’s really freaking good. Mikko doesn’t get the puck touches he needs when he’s with the other two, his shot rates have a ton of unused capacity. Going from 11 goals to 15 could be conservative, it’s entirely possible Mikko could hit 20+ goals at 5v5 if he’s driving his own line a lot of the time.
2nd line – Here I introduced players coming in from other teams in Kadri and Donskoi. The projections are based on expected TOI, recent goals per hour rates and the difference in threat level between the Avs and their former clubs. No, it’s not a great way to figure it and the stats crowd would flog me publicly if they knew but it’s an easy way to get a general idea. Both Kadri and Donskoi are coming from teams with much better offensive production than the Avs so take these with a grain of salt. I bumped Jost up with an increase in TOI and scoring rate. Optimistic? Perhaps, but this is basically taking him from his level last year to a role like Compher with some Quality of Teammate thrown in. This was pretty conservative estimating with all three guys.
Bottom 6 regulars – The main bump here is from adding Burakovsky in Matt Nieto’s place. Burakovsky had 11 goals 5v5 last year, and that was with 4th line minutes or about 3 seconds per game less than Tyson Jost. I expect he’ll play more than that with the Avs, have better linemates and since Washington/Colorado have a similar threat profile I’ll say that’s a wash. Lots of chatter about him in the top 6 or even on the top line. If that happens and he finds success then great, that would put him somewhere in the 17-18 goal range.
Top 3 defensemen – Before we get to the big question, I have EJ about the same and a one goal increase for Sam because his shot rates should rise with experience at the very least. Nine goals for Makar sounds like a lot but I have faith in this guy. There’s only the small sample size of the playoffs, one goal really, to base this on but his instincts are solid and skill is off the charts. I think on the power play he might struggle to replace Barrie’s production overall but at 5v5 he could be a better goalscorer right away.
Bottom 3 defensemen – Other than Big Z (who just signed as I’m writing this) this was an empty set last year. Cole’s career rates should have him with around 3 goals per year, he had 1. He’s only going to play a half to 2/3rds of the season so maybe that doesn’t change but it should. If Kevin Connauton does most of the stand-in duty then we won’t see any change but Calle Rosen should get a chance at the 6th D spot in camp and he’s put up some solid production in the American League. Ryan Graves can also bring some offense, his rates look like forward numbers in his small sample from last year. Wild cards include Conor Timmins if he’s healthy later in the year and who knows, even Nic Meloche.
It must have been tempting to leave well enough alone and bank on young player progression and the addition of Cale Makar to see where that takes the team. I applaud Joe Sakic for not being complacent and realizing the lineup wasn’t what the organization needed to win a Stanley Cup. They had a killer draft with Byram, Newhook et al. then decided to build off that with shaking up the roster via trades rather than spending willy-nilly on older players in UFA. They retained their flexibility and have spots available for younger players down the road. My main criticism is limited to buying another 4th liner in free agency and having too many backup plans if EJ and Cole are laid up longer than they thought. Redundancy in the form of veterans is always a bad idea. The Avs are a little clogged right now at the wrong end of the lineup and like usual it’s going to be tough for skilled young players to find an NHL game here or there to show their stuff. I know it’s hard to imagine making these moves and ending up better without seeing the guys in action but there’s a case for it that doesn’t involve a lot of wishful thinking.