Good evening all, it’s good to be back. The NHL hit the ice for the first time in almost 5 months today, which is cool. Even better, the Avs play tomorrow.
Last time we saw the Avs was in the bizarre game 70 against the Rangers. We’ve dealt with so much outside of the hockey world over that time it seems closer to 5 years. As a writer that made it incredibly difficult to focus on anything hockey-related, as a reader I’m sure it was doubly so. I have a lot of respect and admiration for our good friends at DNVR who never missed a beat, remember that as everyone else ramps up the coverage.
To ease back into the Avs 2019-20 season we’re going to set the scene as far as what was happening with the team as the season abruptly closed and where they stand now entering the NHL’s enhanced playoff system. The main stories were injuries, depth stepping into higher roles and chasing down St Louis for the Central Division/Western Conference regular season crowns.
This was a season-long plague but had two main waves, November-ish and then again starting in mid-February. As the Avs prepared for the stretch run there were 5 guys on injured reserve and several others that were questionable.
Mikko Rantanen (IR) – Had been out since Feb 17th with UBI, his 2nd major injury of the year. Was close to a return.
Nazem Kadri (IR) – Naz went out with LBI in a Feb 9th game vs Minnesota, he too was close to return.
Philipp Grubauer (IR) – Grubi was also part of the mid-February onslaught and hadn’t started since being injured in the ill-fated Stadium Series game against LA. Pavel Francouz’ play in his absence gave the staff the luxury of being cautious with Grubauer’s 2nd injury of the year.
Matt Calvert (IR) – Also injured in the SS game and was week-to-week.
Colin Wilson (IR) – Willie had been out since late October after playing 9 games. He had multiple surgeries over the Fall and wasn’t included in the Avs RTP plans.
Andre Burakovsky – Wasn’t on IR but had only played once, sort of, since Feb 21st vs Anaheim. Not sure how close he really was.
Cale Makar – Returned in the final game vs NYR after missing 5 games
Nathan MacKinnon – Disappeared in the 2nd period vs LA on March 9th and missed his first game of the year in the Avs last. Details were sketchy but the company line at the time was nothing major/out for a couple weeks. Glad we didn’t get to find out.
Joonas Donskoi – Was taken out late in the final match by a predatory hit from Brendan Lemieux, who was recently penalized two games, and didn’t return in the final few minutes. It’s anyone’s guess how that would have played out.
During camp Cale Makar missed time with something undisclosed and Shane Bowers had some sort of stick problem, like one hit him in the face. They’re both fine now. Sam Girard might be banged up a little, time will tell on that.
Depth Stepping Up
Cale Makar returning in the final game was the first in a flurry of healthy players added to the lineup. That lineup is a great example of how the Avs got by under tough circumstances. The defense was the same as it was most of the year but the forward lines were unreal:
Nichushkin – Compher – Landy
Namestnikov – Jost – Donskoi
Nieto – PEB – Kaut
Barberio – Kamenev – O’Connor
Everyone except Landy is playing up in the lineup to some degree.
There is a defenseman on the 4th line.
The 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th forwards on the depth chart are dressed and contributing, one of them in the top 6 at center.
It really isn’t fair to call Francouz the backup, especially because he had gone 7-2-2 coming into this game since Grubi was hurt, but he wasn’t the clear starter either.
They even won!
I’ve watched this game a couple times during the stoppage because it was fun. Both teams needed the points and by the 1st intermission everyone kind of knew that this was going to be it for a while. The Avs grabbed a lead 4 minutes into the 2nd and held it until the very end when the Rags tied it with 13 seconds remaining. Makar’s 3rd assist of the night and 51st point of the season set up JT Compher’s GWG in overtime.
The depth on the club is something we haven’t seen since the dynasty years and it’s one of their greatest assets. They played down several key players for the 2nd half of February and into March but instead of collapsing they thrived to the tune of 20 points in the last 13 games.
Chasing the Blues Away
One thing I’m dying to know about is whether the Avs would have caught the Blues for the Central Division/Western Conference regular season championship. In all likelihood it could have come down to game 82 becoming a one-game playoff for the top seed. At the close of business the Avs were down 2 points with a game in hand.
We’ll never know but the sideshow round robin gives us another shot at the #1 seed in the West with the game 82 matchup between COL/STL first up on August 2nd.
So to set the stage for where the Avs were on March 11th, they had a boatload of injuries but were poised to get some back in the near term. Solid depth was helping them keep pace with St Louis and they had 12 games to catch and pass them for the lead.
Return To Play
Since the Avs are in the top 4 in the Western Conference we must wait until Round 0 is completed along with the Round Robin to see what the first meaningful matchup will be. It could be anyone from Edmonton all the way down to Chicago.
All times Eastern and played at Rogers Place in Edmonton
Wednesday 7/29 – Avs vs Wilds (exhibition), 2:30 pm
Sunday 8/2 – Avs vs Blues, 6:30 pm
Wednesday 8/5 – Avs vs Stars, 6:30 pm
Saturday 8/8 – Avs vs VGKs, TBD
Throughout that week the Round 0 (play-in) games will be running concurrently. All game 3s will be wrapped up on Thursday, all Game 4s (when necessary) will be completed by Friday and any deciding Game 5s will be played that weekend of the 8th and 9th. We should know no later than dinnertime on the 9th who Colorado will play in the Conference Quarterfinals, which should start on or about Tuesday the 11th.
The Avs have a healthy roster and thanks to some media access during Phase 3 we have a pretty good idea who the starting lines and pairs will be.
Burakovsky – MacKinnon – Rantanen
Nichushkin – Kadri – Landeskog
Namestnikov – Compher – Donskoi
Nieto – Bellemare – Calvert
Girard – Johnson
Graves – Makar
Cole – Zadorov
F: Bowers, Dries, Jost, O’Connor, Tynan
D: Connauton, Timmins, Barberio, Byram, Lindholm
Cuts from Phase 3: Kamenev, MacDonald, Werner
Let’s start with the cuts because there’s a bit of a surprise there in Vlad Kamenev. I don’t think anyone thought he would make the starting lineup but to be left out completely is a head-scratcher. Ryan Clark from the Athletic reported that he had appendicitis a couple months ago so there’s that. The rest of this story comes when we see if he’s back with the Avs next season so I’ll call it odd and move on for now.
By most accounts Adam Werner outplayed Hutchinson during camp but the staff went with experience over solid play. If your 3rd goalie starts a game in the playoffs you’re pretty much screwed anyway but I’d rather see the youngster that should have a decent future with the org getting the experience he needs to win this spot next time rather than some guy we’re going to forget about in 6 months. Don’t like this move at all.
Jacob MacDonald is an older development project and a good story but didn’t check enough boxes to make the roster. I liked Mac a lot in Loveland this year, hopefully the next time there’s a decision like this to be made the staff is more familiar with him.
Martin Kaut didn’t even get the chance to try out since he played his 9th game of the season in the finale. The Avs want his ELC to slide a 2nd time, which wouldn’t happen if he played a 10th. I hope it’s worth it because he would be the 14th forward at least and could have played a role in winning the Cup.
Out of the guys that spent the whole year in the NHL the only surprise is Tyson Jost not being in the starting 12 forwards. I get that it’s a numbers deal and the Avs are stacked but I wouldn’t put him 13th. He came on very strong after the deadline (as if a weight was lifted!) with 3G/4A/23SOG in the final 9 games along with being a solid part of the penalty kill renaissance with Grubauer and Calvert injured. The Avs have a very expensive bottom 6 with an average cap hit just below $3M per player, one of the perks of having 3 of the top 4 D less than $1M, so they’re going to get the benefit of the doubt from the staff for now.
Aside from all that, this team looks bitchin’. They can do this.
For now, we will have Burgundy Radio podcasts dropping on August 1st/2nd in anticipation of the Round Robin and August 9th/10th once we find out who the 1st round victim will be.
There will be a staff (plus special guest) predictions article on the 31st concerning the Round 0 series plus the Round Robin and the Laffy Lottery.
Our special Playoff Edition GWG Challenge gets fired up as soon as pucks hit the ice in anger. Check in the discord channel or DM Vlad for more info.
Breaking Down will return once there are things to break down.
It’s time to get back to work!