The Hockey News’ 2018-19 Season Preview: Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche’s single-season turnaround was remarkable — a 47-point improvement took them from league basement to the Western Conference wild card — but what will they do for an encore?
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The Hockey News’ 2018-19 Season Preview series dives into off-season transactions, best- and worst-case scenarios and one burning question for each team in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds.

Stanley Cup odds: 35-1

Key Additions: Philipp Grubauer, G; Matt Calvert, LW; Ian Cole, D; Pavel Francouz, G

Key Departures: Blake Comeau, LW; Jonathan Bernier, G; Nail Yakupov, RW; Duncan Siemens, D; Andrew Hammond, G

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BEST-CASE SCENARIO
The Avs’ stunning 47-point improvement tied for the fourth-best in NHL history. The biggest reason, of course, was Nathan MacKinnon. He exploded for 97 points in 74 games and formed one of the NHL’s best lines with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen on his wings. The 5-on-5 Corsi stats show all three players faced some of the league’s highest quality of competition, but it didn’t stop them from dominating play.

Defense has been a weakness for Colorado in recent years, and while it still has a ways to go, Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie finally got some help last season. Hulking Nikita Zadorov took a step forward, while Samuel Girard, acquired in the Matt Duchene deal, looks like a future power-play quarterback.

Semyon Varlamov was capable when healthy last season but got hurt when Colorado needed him most. He sat out the playoffs. Knowing he’s an injury risk – and that he’s entering the final year of his contract – GM Joe Sakic acquired Philipp Grubauer from Washington. He’s been one of the game’s top backups for a couple seasons, and his rate stats were as good as any goalie in the league last year. Colorado’s crease should be a strength.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
It appeared the Avs had “arrived” in 2013-14, when they finished third in the NHL with 112 points, but their horrible advanced stats foreshadowed a crash. They collapsed under artificially high expectations the next season, missed the playoffs and took four years to recover. Can we therefore trust Colorado’s 2017-18 breakout? The fancy stats are again ugly. The Avs finished 27th in 5-on-5 Corsi last year. They actually ranked higher the season before, when they had a measly 48 points, the lowest total by any team over a full season in the salary-cap era. It’s hardly a good sign the Avs still allow far more shot attempts than they generate.

The blueline will improve once mega-prospects Cale Makar and Conor Timmins arrive, but neither is projected to reach the NHL this year, and the Avs didn’t do much to address the defense in the off-season. Ian Cole is a dependable veteran but won’t singlehandedly make this team stingy.

Even with a top line that combined for 93 goals, the Avs only had the league’s No. 10 offense. Good, but not great. Colorado needs a boost in its secondary scoring, and that will have to come from within as Matt Calvert was the only noteworthy off-season addition.

BURNING QUESTION
Will Tyson Jost take his game to another level?
Using a panel of scouts and rankings from the 2017 Future Watch issue, The Hockey News compiled a list of the top 100 NHL prospects. That issue was released in November 2017, and in it, Jost ranked 31st. The upside to his game is obvious and his ability at both ends of the rink is what makes him so valuable. It’s no wonder those aspects of his game shine through when he models himself after Jonathan Toews, too. But here’s the thing: the 30th ranked prospect was Mat Barzal. You know, Calder Trophy-winning, 85-point rookie Mat Barzal. Jost, on the other hand, posted a modest 12-goal, 22-point campaign as a freshman.

There’s no doubt Jost has another gear he can hit, and he had his moments of brilliance in the Avalanche lineup last season, particularly a pair of rocket wristers that found twine. But Colorado is going to want to see him get in on the action more consistently this season. If he earns more minutes and fires more often, he could flirt with a 20-goal campaign and even hit the 40-point plateau.

THE HOCKEY NEWS’ PREDICTION: 5th in the Central Division. As the Avs' top line goes, so will the team. That was the case last season and it's sure to be the case this time around. Colorado has enough depth to flirt with a wild-card berth, but an injury to any of the top stars could derail the season in an instant.

Want more Season Previews? The Hockey News has you covered. Click here.

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