As Thanksgiving and the holiday season approaches, PHR will be taking a look at what teams are thankful for in 2023-24. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Colorado Avalanche.
Who are the Avalanche thankful for?
Although Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen are MVP-caliber players in their own right, it is difficult to imagine a successful Avalanche team without defenseman Cale Makar on the blue line. Not only is Makar one of the best offensive defensemen in the entire league, there is an argument to be made that he is the best all-around player in the league, given his ability to shut down other team’s best players.
Through 21 games so far this season, Makar has six goals and 26 assists, which would put him on pace for a 125-point season, which would be one of the best seasons put together since the days of Paul Coffey and even Bobby Orr. On the defensive side of the puck, Makar holds an impressive +20 rating, a 55.5% CF%, and a career-best 92.1% oiSV%, all while averaging over 24 minutes of ice time per night.
Even at $9MM per year for this season and the following three, the contract that Makar is under is beginning to look like one of the bigger steals in the league today. With a Calder Trophy, Norris Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy, and a Stanley Cup ring all in his collection before the age of 26, Makar is on pace to be one of, if not the best defenseman who has ever played in the NHL.
What are the Avalanche thankful for?
Last season, in an attempt to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, the Avalanche were severely knocked by injuries, using a total of 27 forwards, 11 defensemen, and five goaltenders. With a decent amount of cap space this past summer, Colorado used a majority of that to improve the depth of their team, bringing in Ryan Johansen, Ross Colton, Miles Wood, Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Drouin, Joel Kiviranta, Fredrik Olofsson, and Ivan Prosvetov.
From the forwards that were brought in, the Avalanche have gotten 25 goals, and 23 assists, allowing forwards such as MacKinnon and Rantanen to not carry such a burden on their shoulders. Although team captain Gabriel Landeskog still finds himself on LTIR, as well as the relatively recent placement of Artturi Lehkonen, Colorado has still maintained a 15-6-0 record, sitting in third place in the Western Conference.
As seen in the team’s playoff loss to the Seattle Kraken in the first round of last year’s playoffs, depth is an important part of any successful team, and up to this point, it has paid off well for the Avalanche.
What would the Avalanche be even more thankful for?
More stability in the net.
Last season, his first with the team, Alexandar Georgiev started in 62 games, winning 40 of them, while posting a .918 SV% and a 2.53 GAA. Although the wins are largely a team statistic, Georgiev still placed in the top 10 for Vezina Trophy voting after spending much of his career as a backup for the New York Rangers.
Once again leading the league in wins for goaltenders with 13, Georgiev is not producing the same way he did last season. Through 18 starts, he holds a .898 SV% and a 44.4% quality start percentage according to Hockey Reference’s analysis, a 21.7% drop from last season.
Thankfully, the defense playing in front of him has shored up a lot of his shortcomings through the season so far, but as any Stanley Cup winning can attest to, once in the playoffs, a team will rely on their goaltender to steal a game or two. Georgiev has been solid in his last three starts, but Colorado will need him to play with more consistency between the pipes going forward if they are to compete for the Stanley Cup again this spring.
What should be on the Avalanche holiday wish list?
One more goal-scorer.
As of right now, Colorado sits second in the league in goals, but due to their improved depth, Rantanen and Valeri Nichushkin are the only two players on the team with double-digit goals. Especially on the powerplay, as the Avalanche are currently sitting in 18th place in the league with a 19.77% completion rate, another goal-scorer could turn this team into a monster come playoff time.
Although plenty could change leading up to the deadline, Colorado may look for buy-low short-term options to improve their goal-scoring capabilities, as Mike Hoffman of the San Jose Sharks could be a potential fit in the next several weeks. However, given the current state of the standings in the Eastern Conference, and a potential inability to keep him on a long-term deal next offseason, there may be a winger playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins that could be up for grabs.
Currently, on the last year of a five-year, $30MM contract, there is a possibility that the Penguins will make Jake Guentzel available at the deadline if they do not climb the standings in the next couple of weeks. Hitting 40 goals twice in his career up to this point, it would be a near-perfect addition to the Avalanche, who should be looking for a winger to complete their top-six heading into the playoff season.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.