The Colorado Avalanche are on tear right now, 9 games into the 2019-20 NHL campaign, with a 7-1-1 record. They are currently the only team in the league that has yet to record a loss as they are an absolute wagon this season, coming off of a playoff run last season that ended in the Western Conference Semi-Final Round in a 4-3 series loss to the San Jose Sharks. Not only does this team now have some playoff experience, but they received the 4th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft through a trade with the Ottawa Senators. With this pick, they selected from the Vancouver Giants of the WHL: Defensemen Bowen Byram—who will be a very good hockey player in the future. With all of that said, I am still not convinced that this is a team who will represent the West in the Stanley Cup Final this Spring.
Behind the tandem of superstar Nathan Mackinnon, power forward Gabriel Landeskog, and sniper Mikko Rantanen; is a team of below average depth players who rely on their stars to produce. They make up for average goaltending by scoring 4.00 goals per game (tied 1st in the league). It was seen in the regular season and the playoffs of the 2018-19 season; when the first line is shutdown, the Avalanche are incapacitated and found unable to surpass a deficit. If Mackinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog do not put up a combined 250+ points, the team will fall behind in the highly touted Central Division, of the Western Conference, showcasing teams like the Nashville Predators, Chicago Blackhawks, and the St. Louis Blues.
Blockbuster Trade for… Kadri?
The previously mentioned New Jersey Devils in a separate article won three Stanley Cups by having the best defense in the NHL. They would allow >3 goals a game, matching similar scoring and would win every game by a one or two goal lead. The Devils have never been a team to put up six, seven, or eight goals in a game. In contrast, the Avalanche have a very offensive-minded game-plan, relying on their ability to out-score their opponents. This requires, former Washington Capitals backup goaltender PhilippGrubauer, to bail them out. Colorado has one of the most underwhelming defensive-cores featuring Ian Cole, Eric Johnson, young gun Cale Makar, and Samuel Girard. Colorado traded star Tyson Barrie to the Toronto Maple Leafs, giving them the puck moving defensemen they have been praying for since the Big Bang. In return, the Avalanche received veteran winger Nazeem Kadri. This might be one of the worst trades since Chicago dealt superstar LW Artemi Panarin to Columbus for former Blackhawk LW Brandon Saad. If a team is going to rely on its offense to win the Stanley Cup, you better have the highest scoring offense the NHL has ever seen. It is safe to say that Colorado’s offense is not equivalent to a team like the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers’ that featured five players score 90+ points, with Gretzky scoring 205. It’s noteworthy, that goaltender Andy Moog of that Oilers team allowed 3.78 goals per game. The team compensated for his poor net-minding abilities by scoring 5.58 goals per game (outscoring the second best average by 1.08 goals)
This is not a debate. Nathan Mackinnon can, and will, single handily carry his entire team on his back, skate in 1 on 5 and go bar south. He is getting more accurate, faster, stronger, smarter, agile, dynamic, etc. That list can go on until my fingers fly off and even then, there will still be more to add. He is becoming one of the best players in the National Hockey League and shows no signs of slowing down. Outside of him however, he has line mates C Gabriel Landeskog and LW Mikko Rantanen that simply feed off of his production. Mackinnon plays with the puck on a string outside the circles, with Landeskog parked in front of the net and Rantanen back-door for a one-timer shot or rebound. If MacKinnon is having an off game, it significantly impacts the performance of his “co-stars”, as they are no more than pigeons: players who pick up the scraps from highlight-real plays of their far more talented teammate. If you were to take away Nathan Mackinnon from this lineup, you will see this team be placed below the abysmal L.A. Kings in the Western Conference.
No Chance in France
The chance that the Avalanche will make it to the Stanley Cup Finals is equivalent to me becoming the “Champ-Champ” of the UFC by beating Conor McGregor — it’s not happening. If you take a gander at the past four teams who won the Stanley Cup, they had three key components: bottom six scoring, defensive depth, and exceptional goaltending. The Avalanche have half of the first component. They have top six production but nothing from the third or fourth lines, their defense is underwhelming, and Philipp Grubauer is not a starting goaltender in the NHL. Year after year, goalies who are very good backups for a team leave because they feel they should be a starter in the league. In recent years, you can tee-off on a list guys who had this same idea and were put in their place like Scott Darling, Antti Raanta, Petr Mrazek, and Philipp Grubauer. The only goaltender — that started for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but served as a backup after the comeuppance of Matt Murray — who is deservedly a starter, is Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights. Make no mistake: this is a good team, but they do not have what it takes to go to the Finals, never mind win the Stanley Cup.