As the holiday season approaches, PHR will look at what teams are thankful for as the season nears the quarter point of completion. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We take a look at what’s gone well in the first month and what could improve as the season rolls on. Yesterday we examined at the Washington Capitals.
What are the Colorado Avalanche most thankful for?
A conclusion to the Matt Duchene saga.
The hockey world has been all over the Avalanche and GM Joe Sakic for how they handled a trade request from one of their star players. Duchene wanted to get out of Colorado during a brutal 2016-17 season, but Sakic wasn’t willing to make a move until his high price was met. Earlier this month the bill was paid by the Ottawa Senators and Nashville Predators, and the unhappy Duchene can finally move on.
Sakic needed to include a third team in the deal but eventually did get his reported ask of a young mobile defenseman, first-round pick and top prospect. In fact, he even added another prospect and two other draft picks to that total, coming away with quite the haul for a single player. Samuel Girard (the young defenseman) has flashed his top-pairing potential early, while Duchene has struggled to get on the scoresheet in Ottawa. Though it is far from decided, Sakic came out of a hard situation quite well after months of harsh criticism.
Who are the Avalanche most thankful for?
Overshadowed by the terrible record of the team, MacKinnon once again had a solid season for the Avalanche a year ago. With 53 points he easily led the team, and set career highs in shots and faceoff percentage. While nothing from last year’s Avalanche can be considered a positive, he at least wasn’t the anchor pulling the team down.
This year is another story. MacKinnon, surrounded by a young more dangerous offensive squad is off to a tremendous start with 25 points in 20 games. That number puts him among the leaders in the league, and at the ripe old age of 22 there is still a legitimate chance his game could get even better over the next few years. Locked in at just $6.3MM per season through 2022-23, the Avalanche are in a prime position to build around their underpaid superstar with the next wave of talent.
What would the Avalanche be even more thankful for?
A return to form for Semyon Varlamov.
In 2013-14 a 25-year old Varlamov played in 63 games for the Avalanche, recording a league-leading 41 wins and posting a .927 save percentage. That was good enough to earn him a fourth-place finish in Hart Trophy voting, while coming in just behind Tuukka Rask for the Vezina. Varlamov was an elite goaltender in the league and was rewarded with a five-year extension mid-season.
Since then, his save percentage has dropped to an average .913 and sits at just .903 this season. While last year’s struggles can be explained away at least somewhat by injury, this year has shown him to be an average-at-best netminder in the league. A bounce-back to his previous highs would make the Avalanche an legitimate bubble candidate for the playoffs, if they aren’t already.
Varlamov has another year left on that extension after this season at $5.9MM, and will have to prove he can still be a starting goaltender in this league if he wants another contract with the Avalanche.
What should be on the Avalanche Holiday Wish List?
More young defensemen.
Even though the team has added Girard, brought over Andrei Mironov and drafted Cale Makar, there is still a shortage of NHL-caliber defenders in their system. Nikita Zadorov fulfilling some of his potential would help, but the team will likely still be after other intriguing young defensemen on the trade market.
With some interesting trade chips to use this season—there is no telling whether Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Barrie are still on the market, but they weren’t part of Sakic’s “untouchable” group last year—the Avalanche could once again infuse some immediate talent into the back end.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images