It is no secret that the Avalanche had a terrible last season. The good news is that it was caused by a plethora of bad things going wrong that affected the season from the start. No one thing can be completely attributed to the historically bad season. Chemistry is a big part of any team and how players produce. This series will delve into the statistics and possibilities that are in the realm of a possibility for the best (statistically) line combinations. Our first part of this series will take a look at the “top 2” lines with MacKinnon and Duchene as the centerpiece of the lines.
Line combinations are something that are impossible to predict (even if we all have fun doing it). Chemistry is something that cannot be measured, especially with the little information we have at our disposal. However, delving into advanced stats can tell us which line combinations should work together. Using the advanced stats from the previous seasons, as well as some analysis, we can look into who gels best with whom.
Let’s start with the MacKinnon line. After the end of last season, it seems obvious that Andrighetto and Rantanen should stay on his wings. Rantanen and MacKinnon played around two-thirds of the season together. MacKinnon played about as well without Rantanen as he did with him.
MacKinnon was about even with or without Rantanen. But if you look at Rantanen’s stats, his CF% takes quite a bit of a dip without MacKinnon. Rantanen without MacKinnon, in fact, has the second least CF% behind Andreas Martinsen (CF% of 43.00). This is not too alarming, however. This Rantanen’s first full NHL season and there would likely be some hiccups. MacKinnon seemed to alleviate some of those shortcomings. Even by the eye test, it seems obvious to keep them together. Having two young core players mesh together well should be a no brainer. Andrighetto is a little harder to analyze. He was only with the Avalanche for 19 games and with MacKinnon and Rantanen less than that. However, Andrighetto, even as a bottom six player on Montreal, had a CF% of 51.40. It is no doubt that he was a good addition. He had 16 points with the Avalanche in that time and most of those points came from when he was paired with MacKinnon and Rantanen. So it seems like the best plan is to keep them together, at least until they prove that they should not be together.
But what if there are better options? MacKinnon and Rantanen have extremely good chemistry and I think splitting them up would be a big mistake both for this season and so they can get more experience together to possibly become one of the top dynamic duos in the league because they definitely have the potential to be. Would Wilson be a good fit for these two? Probably not, he is more gritty than would likely be complimentary with two fast and extremely skilled players in MacKinnon and Rantanen. He likely would not be able to keep up enough to be beneficial. Would Duchene be a good fit as the other winger? Would Yakupov come back and show everyone why he was drafted first overall? Possibly. This could be something to try out, but Rantanen and Yakupov both play right wing so one would have to go on their off side. So obviously there are other options, but this seems to be the best way for the front office to go to start the season.
Duchene has been the center of a lot of trade talks recently. There is a lot of speculation that he will no longer be a member of the Avalanche come the start of the season. However, he has not been dealt yet so let’s pencil him in on the Avalanche. Duchene has stated that he “checked out” around January. Even with that, he still had a somewhat respectable CF% of 49.30. Duchene’s most common linemate this past season was Matt Nieto.
Oddly enough, it looks like Matt Nieto and Matt Duchene had some good chemistry. Matt Nieto definitely is not typically what you would expect a top 6 winger to be, he is more of a solid bottom six player. Let’s face the facts here, Nieto was a waiver pickup. If the Avalanche continue to put waiver fodder in the top 6, they are going to catch some flack around the league. However, something to note is that Duchene always seems to mesh with an odd man out. Look at Jamie McGinn and P.A. Parenteau. Those two are solid NHL players, but all in all are more of bottom six players as well and Duchene seemed to flourish with them on his wing. The thing those two had that Nieto doesn’t, is that they can shoot. Nieto is a good defensive forward but lacks the finishing touch that McGinn and Parenteau had. This pairing overall seems like it is something to keep trying. Especially if Duchene comes into the season with more fire. It is hard to find a player that Duchene really gels with so this pairing should get a shot but on a short leash. If it doesn’t work after the first couple of games, scrap it and move on. As for the third member of that line, the likely choice that fans seem to enjoy is Jost.
Jost will be a very big member to this team for a long time. The 10th overall pick in the 2016 NHL entry draft signed an entry level deal after his NCAA season and immediately saw time at the NHL level. He is a very smart, composed, and skilled center that will serve this team well. The reason that pairing him on this line is to get him used to being a top 6 center in the NHL. Duchene can mentor him and take some of the faceoffs to help ease him into his role a little better and can also be a very big contributor as a winger.
If Nieto does not work out or if Jost sees time in the bottom six, there are a lot of options. Landeskog is a really good player and a very big member of the team. However, he and Duchene have never played extremely well together. Over the years since Landeskog was drafted, coaches have tried to pair them up because logically it should work. Two very good players with high-end talent should be a lethal combination. Even their stats together versus apart look good.
But nothing ever seems to come from it. Neither player’s contributions to the scoreboard elevate nor deflate. They are not necessarily bad together so pairing them up won’t hurt the team, but it also does not seem to work like many would like. Their GF% is eerily similar with or without each other.
The other likely option for this line is Yakupov. Sakic has stated that he sees Yakupov as a top 6 forward and it seems unlikely that he will be on MacKinnon’s line, that makes the more likely spot being on Duchene’s wing. Yakupov has had a lot of trouble finding his niche in the NHL. He has trouble finding chemistry with players and has a unique playing style. But as stated above with Nieto, this could prove to be a very good option for Duchene. Duchene always seems to work well with the odd pairings like McGinn and Parenteau. This could prove to be a redemption opportunity for Yakupov and a way for Duchene to finally prove how much talent he has to the wavering faith of the fan base.
With so many new players coming into the team and coming up from the San Antonio Rampage, the options for line combinations are endless. And let’s face it, predicting them is always fun. But as far as what should work and what actually works are two very different things. The only way to find out what works is to watch it unfold as the 2017-2018 Colorado Avalanche season gets underway.
Credit to puckIQ.com for all data and images.