If you just so happen to be an Avalanche season ticket holder, Wednesday really felt like Christmas in July!
Colorado Avalanche Assistant Manager Chris MacFarland, along with various members of Altitude Sports and Entertainment, participated in a Zoom video conference with season ticket holders that morning. He offered his insights on the NHL’s Return to Play format, the Avalanche’s potential playoff success, and answered other questions that were curated from season ticket holders.
For an organization that doesn’t make a habit of making its staff available for questions, having MacFarland available, even for a season ticket holder event, is an unprecedented move. MacFarland shared his thoughts on offseason planning, the Avs’ injury woes prior to the NHL’s pause of the regular season, and more.
On the possibility of a early June draft: “We were thinking maybe, there was going to be an early draft in June, so we were going full bore on that. Video was amplified in terms of scouting and prospects for the draft, and putting final touches on our [draft] list.”
On planning for the offseason: [We had] a lot of Zoom meetings with our scouts, both pro and amateur, and trying to get ahead of it a little bit, not knowing what the landscape was going to be or how some of the off-season dates may or may not have changed. I took out the next three years for everybody’s [salary] cap–every team’s cap–and projected that, and fine-tuned that, so we could look at opportunities that might make sense for the Avs.”
On the Avs’ injury situation prior to the pause of the season: “We were banged up. We had guys that had missed weeks–many weeks–before the pause. [Philipp] Grubauer got hurt in the outdoor game [at Air Force]. We had some guys that were out three, four weeks before that. That’s definitely going to be a scenario for us that will present a challenge, but I think that every team has got its own unique set of challenges.”
On a potential final playoff roster to take to Edmonton: “We have to trim [the roster] to 31 players by Friday. A couple of very tough decisions to make in the next 48 hours.”
On the significance of the round robin games and playoff seeding: “There was no perfect solution. We were chasing St. Louis, and we were nipping at their heels, and we wanted to catch them. We wanted first place, and we wanted home ice. Last year, playing that Game Seven on the road in San Jose, and even though we tied it there in the third and then had it taken away. Having that game at home would be massive for us and our group, and we were pushing for it. […] It’s in our hands, and we still want to get as high a seed as we can. [Bednar] likes the match-ups, having the second change, so we’re going there with the expectation that those round robin games will matter and will be significant for us.”
On the Avs playing playoff hockey in an empty arena: “That’s going to be a significant part of this for the teams that find ways to advance is, ‘How do you manufacture energy in such a unique environment?’ Let’s face it, our players are not used to this. It’s going to look different, it’s going to feel different, but hopefully, at the end of the day, you’re competing for that big prize, and it may sound cliché, but you never know when you’re going to get a chance at it, so you don’t want to waste one year. Ever.”
On the Avs’ biggest strength going into the playoffs: “We’re a deeper team. […] We lost a lot of guys this year to injury, from very early on when Mikko [Rantanen] got banged up there in October, and we just kept wanting to see the group together. But we found ways, and guys stepped up. […] When there’s injuries in the top six, we have guys that can move up and down the lineup. [Valeri] Nichushkin, then [Vladislav] Namestnikov at the deadline, we have guys that can do a lot of different things, they might be able to gobble up a few more minutes in a different situation than where we’re at, so they’ve bought in. I think the group is excited to see what they can do, but I think our depth is definitely improved, and you’re going to need it.”
On some of the biggest challenges the Avs will face with the Return to Play plan: “I look at our goaltending. Grubauer and [Pavel] Francouz, I think our group has confidence in both of them. I think they’ve both shown they can play at a high level. […] These weeks are really crucial for them. [Goaltending coach] Jussi Parkkila is working with them, but there is no substitute for game action, and game action against another opponent, so I know those round robin games are going to be really, really important for them. […] Can one of them get hot out of the gate? That’ll be key. This might be the year, guys, where, everybody likes to say, ‘You gotta ride the one guy, you gotta keep him going.’ But, you know, the schedule is going to be condensed at times where you’re playing back to back, so if you have a triple overtime game and then you’re coming back the next day, you may have to go with your other goaltender. So, there’s probably going to be a little more talk about usage in this scenario. But, the good news for us is, whether it’s Grubi or Pav, they’ve both shown that they can carry the mail for us. If one guy gets hot, that’s great, and we know the other guy will be prepared and chomping at the bit if the other guy needs a break, or if he had a tough one, there will be no hesitancy. I think with our group, that’s good.”
“Special teams is going to play a massive role as it always seems to do in the playoffs where it’s amplified, where the games are usually really, really tight, one-goal games in the third period, so a power-play goal here or a big kill are going to be crucial. For us, hopefully we can find our legs, because the legs feed the wolf. When we’re hungry and we’re skating, we’re a very dangerous hockey team.”
Chris MacFarland shares his thoughts on Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, why Martin Kaut was not selected as part of the Return To Play training camp roster, and much more in Part Two of his conversation with Avalanche season ticket holders, available exclusively on Burgundy Review this Friday, July 24!