Good morning all. With the Avs passing through the first quarter of the season it’s a sensible time to look back and also forward at what the team is at this point. For reference they sit at 11-9-2 and 2 points out of a playoff spot. They are 21st in the NHL by points and thus would pick 11th in the draft if they held right it now, and it would be silly if they did.
We’ve posed a couple of questions to our BR staff today, here’s what they had to say:
The Avs rolled through the first quarter of the season doing better than expected considering last year’s record and some key injuries. Now things get real. Give me one aspect of their play that you believe will be repeatable through the rest of the year and one aspect you think might not continue.
Professor Oak: What I think will be repeatable is the progression that the Avalanche have shown. Much of this progression happened to coincide with a certain trade (technically, set of trades). After those two games in Ottawa, the Avs haven’t really gotten manhandled at all, which I think is promising. They’ve dominated some games, been even or slightly under in others. The most recent game against Calgary, I believe was their worst, and in terms of possession, it still wasn’t all that bad. Then again, I could be numb to the pain because we’ve seen much worse in recent history. Something that won’t be repeatable is the play of Blake Comeau. The guy’s been pretty much anything you could ask for and then some. 5-4-9 in 22 games, which is a 18 goal and 33 point pace give or take. Maybe he hits 30 points but I wouldn’t expect 18 goals. On top of that, two of them are short handed. He’s been great and nothing should take away from that, but I fear he will hit a wall. That being said, he’s still a very valuable trade piece, even if he does slow down, at the trade deadline. If Paul Gaustad can get a first, then anything can happen.
SeaMill: The one thing that can definitely continue is the top players performing. As much as I hate to say it, it has been pretty surprising how much of an anchor Matt Duchene was. All the top players have stepped up big, MacKinnon especially. 25 points in 20 games at one point? That is what you want to see from MacK. Landy has been lights out defensively and has flourished offensively now that he is back with MacKinnon and Rantanen. Rantanen has been putting pucks in the net like we expect. Tyson Barrie has been the defensemen that we know he can be in the O-Zone. Johnson has been a monster silently around the league but very loudly with the fanbase. Varly and Bernier have been a great tandem. If the young players like Kerfoot and Girard keep exceeding expectations, this season could go much better than we thought. I could go on and on about how the players are finally stepping up and playing how we expect them too but it is abundantly clear this is not the same team mentally as last year. However, the other thing that I do think will continue is our horrendous neutral zone play. There doesn’t seem to be much improvement in that part of their game. They need to be better because I believe that is going to be the difference between making the playoffs and not.
The thing that I don’t see continuing is Zadorov’s poor play. He has definitely had some adversity so far this season and with how his development happened through the god awful front office that is Buffalo. He has some kinks that need to be ironed out with his maturity and mental game. He has a lot of a “go with the flow” vibe that made him flourish last season and falter this season. Bednar and the rest of the coaching staff will be able to help him get his mind where it needs to be so he can be that shutdown top 4 defenseman that we need.
Mike: I think the overall defensive mediocrity and the revolving door or players will continue throughout the season. I imagine that the goaltending we’ve seen to date is pretty meh and will continue, whether it’s Varly or Bernie in net, and that will contribute to a general .500 feel for the team. The defenseman usage, as well as the middling output from all but the top line are main ingredients for streaky, inconsistent play. This is a season where guys were going to be earning roles for years to come, not this year. I expect more plug-and-play, line-blending, young guys trying out, and weird healthy scratches.
I fully expect Nathan MacKinnon to cool off. I think he’ll best his career points total (62), but I don’t expect him to finish north of 80 points (currently on pace for ~97!!) or 25 goals.
Rudo: The defensive output should be repeatable for the rest of the season. With the current roster Dmen account for about 25% of the Avs total points with 46 of 182. As EJ starts to find his groove offensively, Zadorov finally seems to be settling in again, and of course Sam Girard inserting himself as a skating powerhouse the Avs D is poised to have its biggest positive effect on the team in a long time. The bottom pairing still has a lot of question marks around it but solidifying the top four is what we should look forward to as the season progresses.
Steph: Maybe this isn’t going to be a popular answer, but I don’t know how much of their play really can be classified as surprising. The goaltending has been up and down but mostly okay. The overall team output can be either great or terrible on any given night. We expected inconsistency. We expected let downs. We expected really promising steps in the right direction from a team that ultimately won’t make it. That’s what we’re getting, and maybe their results are better than the basement teams of this season, but I see no reason they wouldn’t stay in this kind of late-00s Calgary Zone of being not terrible but not really in the hunt either. Maybe that’s not one specific thing, but we can expect consistent inconsistency. Sorry, ha. The biggest thing that might fall off is scoring in general. I still believe the exodus of Matt Duchene hurts the goals-for column of the players left behind, since there is less talent for opposing defenses to focus in on at even strength and one less excellent skater to enter the zone (a big issue for the Avs). MacKinnon is on an straight up ungodly hot streak this month, which we should expect to cool off as well.
I do have one bold-ish prediction, which is a career year for Nathan Mackinnon personally. He’s got good numbers as is and scoring is up around the league. Book it.
QueenJK: I’m going to cheat and roll both sustainable and unsustainable into one that their goal scoring should continue but not at the pace that would have the Avalanche scoring nearly 300 goals this season. Seven players are on pace for a 20 goal season or just under including Blake Comeau, which probably isn’t going to hold up over the long haul. Also the scoring absurd amounts at home, the over four goals a game clip at the Pepsi Center probably will regress. But still, there’s enough progress in the goal scoring department and from a myriad of sources that this should not be a team that finishes with under 200 goals when they’ve already scored 73 just 22 games into the season.
earl06: One of my main concerns before the season was whether the team could score goals. They have so far and are 7th in the league with a 270 goal pace, which is awesome, but I don’t think it will continue. Scoring gets more difficult as the season continues so the scoring pace doesn’t worry me as much as scoring relative to the other teams. That’s a big outlier compared to most of the other team statistics so it doesn’t feel sustainable to me. They’ve already started to slide a bit lately and that’s partially self-inflicted due to the coaching staff trying to low-event their way out of some serious defensive issues. If they keep throttling back it could spell disaster.
What I do think will continue is a commitment to playing youth and letting (most of) them grow as players. They’ve passed the first hurdle of not getting buried in the early season despite youthful mistakes and inexperience making nightly appearances so there’s no reason to question the path they’re on this year.
With 23 points in their first 20 games Colorado is on pace for a finish in the low 90’s, quite a bit higher than many expected. Does this change your pre-season outlook? Where do you see them now in relation to our brother teams in the Central Division?
Professor Oak: Although in the last few games their pace has slowed a bit, they are still on track for high 80’s and low 90’s. I think some of that was either luck, getting bailed out by goaltending and some crazy individual performances (thanks, Nate!). That being said, having seen the progression since the Duchene trade I expect the Avalanche to be more competitive. Girard is such a fantastic player, and has severely helped the depth of the Avalanche defense. Kamenev will eventually return, and Jost is getting ready to come back. This is going to be an exciting season. There’s not a bad team in the Central right now, and if there’s any reason the Avs don’t (or do) make the playoffs, it will be reflected on their divisional play. If they can win many of those games, they may be good to go, but if they keep giving away extra points to teams in the division, they may have an even tougher road ahead.
SeaMill: I had predicted that the Avs would be sitting at 85-90 points, so they are right on track for the points I put them at. However, the rest of the play does make me hesitant to change my prediction. The rookies are doing great and that could be unsustainable. The neutral zone play also makes me pretty hesitant. Games are won and lost in the neutral zone and getting more than that 85 point mark, in my opinion, entirely depends on improving play there. Even with that 85-90 point mark, that likely won’t be enough to make playoffs. The central division has been crazy so far and I dont see that changing. The central division has always been a tough one, but all the teams look good for different reasons and wont likely get easier anytime this season.
Mike: Doesn’t really change my outlook. I thought they had an outside chance of being a bubble team if development and usage were as expected. I think that’s probably the best case scenario. I still think consistency is the biggest issue with this squad and several other Central teams are just flat out better on most nights. I think STL, WIN, and NAS are all better, more consistent teams. I think CHI will likely pull it together for a run at a wild card spot, especially given the shitshow that is the bottom half of the Pacific. I think the bottom three teams (COL, MIN, DAL) could be somewhat interchangeable from a rankings standpoint, though I do feel that we are a better team than Dallas on most nights and somewhat of a coin-flip with Minny. So if everything goes right, I could see it being us and Chicago fighting for a wild card spot, but that wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing for the rebuild, IMO.
Rudo: I still don’t see the Avs reaching the 90 point mark this season. The good start is nice, giving the Avs a bit of cushion so we don’t have to hit the panic button every time they drop a few games but I do expect them to regress back toward .500 if not a bit under. The central division is still a hellscape of extremely good teams that the Avs have to play against a whole bunch of times.We are where we want to be with young guys like Compher and Kerfoot proving they belong not only in an NHL lineup but potentially in the top 6. Testing the youth should be the expectation through the rest of this season, results are secondary. This team is still very much in a building phase, even if they over perform we need to remember that. Slow and steady wins the race, jumping the gun gets you bubble out finishes and ghastly contracts.
Steph: This is a continuation of my answer for question 1, which is to say, I really think the Avs are in for a few bumps across the early winter, which should take them out of the playoff hunt, meaning they play a bunch of games with a lot less on the line than their opponents, which naturally leads to more losses. They still have a lot of their toughest opponents ahead of them, too. They should end up right around the 80 mark. I had originally projected under that, but right around 80 seems like a decent revision for right now. They should still be clear sellers in time for the trade deadline. Trust the process.
QueenJK: There’s not a whole that that could happen which would change my mind that this is a development year and really the beginning of a multi-year youth movement and progression arc. So there’s truly no shift in expectations even with a relatively decent start. The Avs currently sit 21st in the league and that’s about exactly where I’d peg them to finish, which should place them above at least one central division team.
earl06: I’ve revised my thoughts slightly upward from the high 70’s in points to 5 or even 10 points above. A playoff spot isn’t out of the question but it’s too early to go all in and say the low/mid 90’s is anything more than crazy optimism.
The Central Division has surprised me a bit. I totally didn’t see St Louis doing this well, Nashvegas is about what I thought and maybe better now with Turris. Winnipeg came out of nowhere but I don’t think they can hang on to this pace with Paul Maurice behind the bench. Chicago looks played out and so do the Wilds. Dallas is as bad as I thought they would be. The Avs are trending down but I think they fit in around the 4th-5th spot anyway. They’ll go as far as the youth getting better over the course of a season can take them.
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Thanks a bunch everyone. What do you think, dear reader? What looks solid and what will vaporize in the coming weeks and months? Do the Avs have what it takes to slide into playoff contention late in the year?