Last year, the Colorado Avalanche shocked their entire fanbase (and the NHL to boot) by making a playoff appearance just one year after the team’s worst season in franchise history. The unprecedented success of the Avalanche this past season has set the fans’ expectations high for next year. In order to not disappoint the fans, I focus on a few areas the Avs will need to improve upon to finish the season even better than this season.
Invest in Goaltending
It’s no secret that injuries are a part of the game of hockey, but when those injuries tend to plague a team’s goaltending, it can be near impossible to win games consistently— let alone make the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Avs, netminder injuries have been a major issue for years on end now. For No. 1 goaltender Semyon Varlamov, lower-body issues have been a recurring event the past few years. In turn, the Avalanche have seen the likes of the Swiss born Reto Berra, Calvin Pickard, Spencer Martin, current backup Jonathan Bernier and Andrew Hammond. Many of them, namely Bernier, have shown true grit between the pipes, but no goalie has stood out as the Avalanche’s “goalie of tomorrow.”
To top things off, Varly and the newly acquired Pavel Francouz will be the only goaltenders who are under contract for the 2018-19 season. Bernier and Hammond are unrestricted free agents, and Martin is a restricted free agent, meaning that the Avalanche are on the brink of losing the bulk of their core goaltending. So, what should the Avs do? Invest in the market, of course.
Bernier may be worth keeping around as the No. 2 guy for the Avalanche, especially with Varlamov’s proneness to injuries. Bernier proved to the team in their ten game win streak and their final playoff push that he is a good fit to be a backup. The issue with Bernier is that, like Varlamov, he is prone to frequent injury.
If the Avs elect to not extend Bernier, goalies such as Carter Hutton of the St. Louis Blues or Ondrej Pavelec of the New York Rangers might be very worthwhile investments to put behind Varly, or even split the time in net as a dual goaltender setup.
Now, say the Avs do in fact renew Bernier for a year, the Avalanche may look toward picking up a young goaltender in this year’s NHL Draft. One that comes into mind is Matthew Thiessen of the Steinbach Pistons from the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Last season, Thiessen finished with a .923 SV% and is ranked fourth in the NHL’s top North-American goaltender prospects. The bottom line: the Avalanche need to find consistency to stay competitive.
When the team came into the 2017-18 season, fears over a lack of a defensive core reigned over the fanbase. Sure, Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie would make a good top line, and Nikita Zadorov was a solid 3 or 4 player on the line, but no core had been established. Luckily for the Avs, with the Matt Duchene trade that sent Samuel Girard to Colorado and the emergence of the physicality of Zadorov cemented the top two lines with a combination of the four players.
Yet, this year the Avalanche are looking to fill the gap of the bottom two lines. It is time to yet again to shop the free agent market for at least one veteran player who can help bring stability to the incoming and returning youth of the bottom lines. Fortunately, there are plenty of veterans on the free agent market this year. One that stands out, in particular, is Luca Sbisa of the Vegas Golden Knights an unrestricted free agent. The 28-year-old from Italy would make a good stabilizing force on the third line to help coach the Avalanche youth, but most importantly, would be a critical player to move up lines, if and when injuries occur to the main D-Lines.
Stay the Course
To me, this is arguably the biggest thing the Avalanche can do: stay the course and trust management. Last year saw amounts of success that no one expected. The youngest team in the league made the playoffs, a feat that is not to be scoffed at. Yet, Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic made it clear that he expects this team to get even younger. And why not make the team younger? The young lads from state 38 got a taste of success last year, and with even more youth talent about to don the burgundy and blue, that success will help to shape the new generation of the Avalanche. The team found its chemistry last year, and with the addition of some veteran faces along with green youth, the Avalanche just may be the next NHL powerhouse.
Sakic is putting his eye to the future, rather than the now, a fact that may irk many Avs fans who wish for the team to yet again reach perennial playoff status. But, a slow and steady climb will eventually pay off. And when it does, who knows, maybe the Avalanche faithful will find themselves celebrating their third Stanley Cup victory.