Good morning all. The Avs finished big and are on to face the Flames in round 1. Before that starts I wanted to jot down some initial thoughts from the staff on how the regular season went while it’s fresh in our minds.
Before we get to that, we have a Burgundy Rainbow NHL Bracket Challenge group so please feel free to try your luck. You can find that here, and the password is GoAvsGo. Bonne chance!
The questions posed were as follows:
Q1: The Avs had a remarkable streak of 18 points in 10 games to clinch their playoff position. Do you feel this was luck or about where they should have ended up?
Q2: Who would be your regular season MVP for the team and why?
Q2A: Who would you say is an underrated or overlooked player this year?
Q3: What aspect of the team do you feel was the most consistent from beginning to end?
Q1: 8-0-2 to finish the season (Sharks game was a throw away) is certainly a remarkable task. I don’t think that run is the real Avs, nor is the 2 months that shall not be spoken of. The Avs have shown this year that when they are on, they are nearly unbeatable. Of course, when they are on, has mostly coincided with goaltenders playing well (shocking, I know). But the universe balanced itself out, and the Avs regressed to the mean with a respectable point total. The truth is, I have no clue who this team is, even after 82 games. But what I do know is that the Stanley Cup Playoffs isn’t about the best team. It’s about the healthiest and the hottest team (read: goaltending). The Avs could be healthier, but Grubauer is red hot at the best time of the year.
Q2 & 2A: So let’s get the easy one out of the way, in my opinion, which is Nathan MacKinnon. 99 points, 41 goals, ezpz MVP. Homie crushed it and carried this team on his back, as usual, but that’s boring. So let’s talk about Tyson Barrie. Last year, Sam Girard was the shiny new piece. MUCH better defensively than we ever could have imagined. EJ was a horse for most of the year until he got hurt. Z was starting to show some consistency that had fans excited. That led to some lofty expectations this year, many of which weren’t met in my opinion. EJ and Girard struggled for chunks of some if not most of the year. Z went back to his super inconsistent self where you weren’t sure if he’d take a game over, get 2 minutes for being big, or stopped moving his feet and got beat every play. Tyson Barrie though, he lived up to expectations. He was also a huge part of that ten game run that secured the Avs final spot in the playoffs. For the year he had 14 goals and 45 assists for 59 points. That’s good for 7th in the league. 7th. Yes, he leaves a bit to be desired defensively, but 7th in the league. 7th. In that 10 game run, he had 7 goals and 4 assists. On a blueline that didn’t meet expectations, he continued to produce. With Makar coming, and Barrie needing a new contract soon, no one knows if he’s going to be here much longer. But take some time to appreciate the hell of a season he had.
I feel Matt Calvert spent most of the year as the whipping boy for Avalanche fans. He ended the season with 11 goals and 15 assists. UFA acquisitions always will see more criticism. They’re often overpaid (which often makes up for being underpaid in rfa years but that’s a whole other article) and brought in to do a certain job. So often with third and fourth liners you also see the “if only he didn’t have bricks for hands and could finish”. If he could finish, he would have signed for a lot more than $2.85 million. The Avs got what they expected. A player with no quit, willing to sacrifice himself, and always grind away. They also got some depth scoring and at the end of the season, the most ultimate sacrifice of all, with his famous shot block. He will sometimes be a frustrating player, players on the third and fourth lines often are. Especially when the coach plays them elsewhere (which isn’t their fault). But the Avs, in my opinion, got what they paid for.
Q3: I think the most consistent thing we’ve seen the last two years was Joe Sakic’s trust in this team. This year, they won early, then struggled and got hot before the deadline. Sakic had a choice to make. Sell a few pieces, stand pat or add around the edges. He decided to sell no one, and add around the edges for a fairly cheap price. But this paragraph isn’t talking about whether you like that move, or that decision. It’s about Joe Sakic telling his team “You’ve earned this shot. Go out and prove me right”. And boy did they ever. Was the West weak? YEP. Would any other year be a death sentence for the Avs? YUP. But that isn’t this year. The Avs earned this shot, earned this playoff spot, and showed the trust Sakic gave them at the deadline was a solid bet. I’m so excited to see what they do in the playoffs, and hope they return even bigger dividends to Sakic for his trust.
Q1: The end of the season was no more variance than the crappy streak was. During the winter they kept scoring goals in bunches and the goaltending was porous. At the end they lost most of their scoring to injury and Grubauer just slammed the door shut. There were times early this season with buckets of goals and hot tending, and then there was January, where the Avs had neither. On balance, that’s about where they should have ended up in my opinion. Maybe slightly low because of overtime voodoo.
Q2&2A: Nathan MacKinnon is the obvious favorite but I’ll actually point to Mikko Rantanen here. If he’s able to stay healthy and finish out the season, he outscores Nate, and MacKinnon’s scoring dropped significantly without him. I said a-Mikko Rantanen.
Just because everyone in the world wants to trade him while he single handedly kept the Avs scoring on pace without Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog, I’m pulling out Tyson Barrie as the player without enough love. @ me, I don’t care.
Q3: Question 3 is a trick because the only thing consistent about the Avalanche this season was inconsistency in every single aspect of their play. One week they score 20 goals, the next, 4. One week they don’t allow more than 2 goals in a game, the next they eat a Brazil and almost give up another one. Sometimes they control the whole game, sometimes they get outshot 60-10. You can never really tell which Avs you’re going to get. That’s true of a lot of average teams, and it’s definitely true for this one.
Q1: My prediction was 88 points so to end up at 90 was pretty on the mark. How the Avs arrived there of course was the unpredictable part. There are many aspects of their game that seem close to taking the next step but that’s where true good teams achieve and maintain that consistency. After game 82 it does feel like the Avs got what they deserved.
Q2&2A: The MVP in my eyes is a tough call since many different players had their hand in carrying the team for a stretch and enjoyed career years in production but the one player who elevated his game and with the most consistency was Gabe Landeskog. Crossing the 70 point and 30 goal mark is a big accomplishment and he only had two consecutive games without a point four times this season. In fact, every year Landeskog scored 25 goals and 60 points the Avs made the playoffs. Landeskog is also the king of intangibles and sets the physical tone. Without him the best line in hockey wouldn’t have their anchor.
The most underrated to me continues to be Sam Girard. He took on a much larger role this season ending up second in 5v5 time on ice and third amongst the defense in all-situations while facing top competition much of the year. The flashy things he does such as the patented Tornade get the attention but he’s solid defensively, moves the puck very well and is on ice for more goals in the positive than against. Many were hoping he would put more points on the board in his second season but Girard was 10th on the team in power play time on ice cut a bit into that production potential. Still, Girard managed to finish second among the defense core and hit a career high of 27 points including six in his last nine games. With his mobility, vision and creativity there is still much more upside Girard possesses while being an integral member of the team at present moment.
Q3: As Steph said the most consistent part of the 2018-19 Avalanche was inconsistency. So I’m going to choose to beat a familiar drum instead and say the most consistent aspect of the organization continues to be a lack of fruits from development. No drafted player received a NHL debut this season and AJ Greer led the drafted callups with 15 games played and Ryan Graves the most of any from the minors at 26. It was another frustrating year of roster mismanagement and disappointing results from the system.
Q1: It’s luck that things came together for the Avs when they did, but many–myself included–felt that this was a playoff team at the start of the season. Going streaking seems to be part of the Avalanche DNA. Going on an 8-1-2 run to finish out the season was a sterling example of the Avalanche assessing the position they were in and doing what needed to be done to accomplish their goal of returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Six of those eighteen points came on the road against divisional opponents where the Avs have had little success. The victories at Pepsi Center, minus two exceptions (a 3-0 shutout vs. NJ on 03/17 and a 6-2 comeback win vs. EDM on 04/02), came against teams that had already secured playoff positioning or were battling the Avs in the wild card race . For the Avs to do the simultaneous duties of leapfrogging would-be contenders for the second wild card spot, delivering a few knockout blows to those teams (looking at you, Chicago and Minnesota!), and putting together impressive wins against teams like Vegas and Winnipeg speak to a turning point in this team’s collective development as it enters the postseason for the second straight year. Maybe they should have finished higher than the wild card, but this Avs team unquestionably should have been one of the final sixteen teams playing postseason hockey.
Q2&2A: How could my pick for the Avalanche regular season MVP be anyone other than Nathan MacKinnon? Proving that his breakout year was far from a fluke, MacKinnon’s numbers this season (41G/58A/99PTS) improved upon his totals from the previous season (39G/58A/97 PTS) as the team’s top center. This isn’t to say that MacKinnon didn’t struggle throughout the season; in fact, there were several noted instances where chances on offense would fizzle out on MacKinnon’s stick, or less than stellar performances in overtime. Through his struggles, Bednar never once moved MacKinnon off the top line, an unspoken acknowledgment from the Avs’ bench boss that the team had no equal in pure talent to supplant MacKinnon in that role. This alone is a testament to MacKinnon’s importance to his club, but when the season was on the line, he stepped up and rewarded his coach’s trust: during eight of the team’s final ten games, MacKinnon put up ten points (5G/5A), including the lone goal in the shootout that would give the Avs a much needed win–the most important win of the season–over the Arizona Coyotes back on March 29 to put them in the wild card spot for good. It is without dispute that the regular season MVP crown of the Avalanche belongs to Number 29.
Shifting gears slightly, one of the players that has been overlooked this year has been Matt Calvert. While he was never signed to be a goal-scoring forward, he was one of the few forwards that was scoring during the team’s cold snap between December and February: sixteen of his twenty-six points came between those months which saw the Avs fall from the heights of the Central Division and crashing down to its cellar before making its run for the postseason. Depth scoring is essential to any roster, and becomes more so when that team’s biggest weapons go silent. When it seemed like the Avs would never score a goal again, Calvert’s name would pop up on the score sheet: an assist here or there, and even a goal or two (if not more) along the way. Personally, I admired Calvert’s hustle to race for pucks during games; he may not have always won the race, but he made sure to make life difficult for anyone jockeying for puck possession against him. Coach Bednar has made it clear he has no time for passengers on his roster, and the energy Calvert brings to his role ensures he won’t ever be labeled as one.
Q3. It’s a little known fact that the Avs actually have two–yes, two!–power play units. The second one is rarely spotted in action because the top unit eats up so much power play time. This unit became known for three things: the drop pass to MacKinnon, funnelling the offense through the stick of Tyson Barrie, and the aforementioned ice time the top unit sees on the man advantage. Ray Bennett tinkered with the zone entry late in the season, utilizing a two-forward carry-in system with MacKinnon and Alex Kerfoot in the absence of Mikko Rantanen, but the execution by this unit remained largely reliant on shots from the blue line followed by rebound-inspired chaos in front of the goal. While the power play finished as one of the top ten power play units in the League, there is definitely a case to be made where consistency could use a refresh; with the Avs becoming fully healthy in time for the playoffs, this is a perfect time for a special teams retool. Given that there’s so much video footage of what the Avs already do, it’s time for a decidedly different look to keep the opposition guessing. Perhaps utilizing both power play units would be a good start?
Q1: The Avalanche”s 18 of 20 points down the stretch was impressive. While a certain amount of luck goes into any win, this stretch seemed more about adapting and refusing to quit. They were each well-earned victories, many times they outshot or kept pace with their opponents, and they finally got good goaltending. If the goaltending had been league average from mid-December to mid-February, the Avalanche could have easily ended higher in the Central Division rankings.
Q2: My regular season MVP would be Gabriel Landeskog. He changes the atmosphere of the team when he’s playing. Landeskog led the league for 3rd period goals with 20 (3 ahead of Patrice Bergeron and was second in game winning goals with 9 (one behind Phil Kessel). Neither Rantanen nor MacKinnon were as effective without him. He opens up space on the ice, has learned when to take a penalty, and how to fire up the team with a good hit. He has become the total package as a captain and team leader.
Q3: I thought Coach Bednar was the most consistent aspect of this year’s team. Neither too high nor too low, managing to keep an even keel even in the dreadful January, refusing to throw players under the bus while acknowledging room for improvement, and offering some honest viewpoints without giving too much insight. His calm demeanor was almost infuriating during the losing stretch but he managed to keep his head & figure out a way to motivate the team.
Q1: I’ve struggled with this all year from the highs of the first two months to the pit they threw themselves into for the middle third and back to the highs of the stretch run. Looking at the important numbers post game 82 it looks fairly close to what I expected at the beginning of the year. Points are a little low, goals for/against and differential is reasonable, shot metrics are better than expected but I suspect some of that is playing to the score. This team was extraordinarily streaky and inconsistent. I think the luck, if there is any involved, came with being on the right side of those characteristics when it mattered most. Overall they underachieved relative to their capabilities but not relative to the rest of the conference. My initial conclusion about this season is that we looked for them to take a step forward they weren’t equipped to take but they didn’t lose ground and ended up with what they deserved.
Q2&2A: MacKinnon is the obvious answer and I’m not going to outthink myself going in another direction. While he was still susceptible to the same inconsistency and streakiness the rest of the team endured it wasn’t to the same degree. Without the season he had the Avs would have cleaned out their lockers on Monday.
For me, Alexander Kerfoot doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his capabilities and play. While Tyson Jost wandered aimlessly most of the year and JT Compher got a lot of benefit of the doubt, Kerf bounced around the lineup in various roles. Despite showing polish in the right situations the coaching staff had trouble focusing in on that and preferred to square-peg him rather than take advantage of what he does well. He’s a skilled playmaker and has a better 200-foot game than he gets credit for. He could be a 2nd line forward on many teams, why he isn’t on the Avs is still a mystery.
Q3: For better or worse, Jared Bednar was the most consistent aspect of the Avs season. There are times I admire that, never too up, never too down. That’s a good thing for a coach. There are times when consistency turns to stubbornness and it hurts the team. Paradoxically I think his consistency turning to stubbornness and unwillingness to explore changes when things are going poorly might be a root cause of the Avs inconsistency. I appreciate not abandoning a strategy or personnel alignment if it doesn’t work right away (like his predecessor) but a coach has to have a feel for when to move on to other things. I’m sure that this summer there will be a full post-mortem on the middle third of the season by management (and those of us with the curiosity to dig into it), hopefully they come to some solid conclusions about how to prevent that from happening again.
Thanks to our trusty staff for their insights. Keep an eye peeled for a playoff prediction edition coming out on Thursday