Taking a look at the Colorado Avalanche after the first 11 games, who or what has been the greatest surprise? The greatest disappointment?
Jackie: Alexander Kerfoot still brings a smile to my face every game. He might not have the largest role currently but he still manages to make at least one outstanding play a game. There were no expectations for him going into the season so everything about him is a great surprise but he's earning the praise as well. Conversely, it has been disappointing that Nikita Zadorov hasn't solidified his place in the lineup yet. Part in consequence because of picking up Patrik Nemeth off of waivers and also having several young defensemen to work into the lineup but Zadorov hasn't taken the reins either. Hopefully, that sorts itself out soon as the season rolls along.
Tom: I’m going to go with the captain as most surprising. Gabriel Landeskog hasn’t just been good, he’s been great - and a little unlucky. Landy doesn’t sit in the top-5 in team scoring, but that’s not for lack of effort. His 4.35 sh% is among the lowest on the team and when his shooting finds its way to his career average, the points will come. He leads the Avs in 5v5 high-danger scoring chances and there’s an argument to be made that he’s been the team’s best forward. That’s not something I expected.
As far as disappointing it has to be Nikita Zadorov. Simply put, he hasn’t been good. He was expected to be a rock in the team’s top-4 but he hasn’t been anything close. Z will have to make a huge improvement in his play as the season goes on.
Mike: I’ll echo Tom’s vote for Big Z being a letdown. I honestly don’t know if there’s a legit conditioning aspect or if he’s entrenched in a doghouse, but the early season has not been kind to Zadorov.
As for the surprise side, I’ll throw Semyon Varlamov into the list. With the exception of the Vegas game where the other 20 guys on the roster gave zero shits, he’s been performing very well in net.
Sylvester: I’ve got to start weighing in earlier on these things, because my early surprise is definitely Alexander Kerfoot. He has such outstanding vision and hockey IQ for a rookie, and plays a great two-way game. For a guy not many people thought about before camp started, he’s really been a rock for the forwards this season so far.
In the interest of not just echoing everyone else, (although, yes, Zadorov is the biggest disappointment thus far), I’ll say Erik Johnson. His defensive play has been more or less fine, but it’d be nice to see such a skilled player get on the scoresheet a little more.
In a small sample size what has been the biggest improvement thus far? What area needs the most improvement?
Jackie: Just plain scoring goals is something that's high on my wishlist this season. Currently sitting at just over three goals scored per game is nice to see and hopefully that production continues. Continuing issues such as consistency and team defensive play continue to persist but those are long range works in progress. The lineup is still a bit fluid thanks to improved depth and it is good that thus far they seem to be committed to the the youth movement but one short term issue I'd like to see ironed out is a more established role and plan for Tyson Jost when he returns from injury in the near future.
Tom: The powerplay still isn’t anything more than mediocre, but it’s drastically improved from last year’s. The first PP unit has looked great at times and Alex Kerfoot gives the team another creative playmaker that can drive possession in the offensive zone.
Team defense still needs a big improvement. The Avs are giving up the 4th most high-danger scoring chances in the NHL and if not for incredible goaltending, their record would look a lot worse. They’re going to have to improve the defensive play because you can’t count on Semyon Varlamov to bail you out as often as he has.
Sylvester: The Avs are scoring the puck! That alone is good news. Guys like Sven Andrighetto and Mikko Rantanen aren’t going to sell jerseys, but they’re putting up consistent point production.
The Avs need to stop giving up the crooked number in losses. There are nights when the team seems to just shut it down when they’re being outplayed. The Vegas 7-0 beatdown and the first loss in New Jersey stand out in this department. That’s a sign of a young team still coming together, but that’s the kind of cultural change that needs to take place sooner rather than later.
Where does the Matt Duchene situation stand now? How would you proceed from here?
Jackie: Nothing has really changed in my outlook on the situation. Duchene getting off to a decent start with eight points in eleven games plus the team having an acceptable record above .500 relieves some of the pressure from Colorado's side. Still, if an offer comes in that moves the needle for Sakic, he has to pull the trigger even if that offer is futures heavy.
Tom: This is tough, and so much depends on how the player sees his future. If the goal is still to move on to a fresh start, you have to still be actively listening to offers. Teams will get desperate and offers will improve as we get closer to the trade deadline. I suspect, sometime between the new year and the trade deadline, Joe Sakic is finally going to get that offer he can’t refuse.
Mike: I’d continue to let Duchene be Duchene. It’ll always be a balancing act to get the max return before he goes stone cold (keep him away from Landeskog!) and hurts his trade value because you know one of his slumps is coming (if not already here - ZERO shots against Chi-town!!).
Sylvester: I love Matt Duchene as much as the next guy, but I think it’s incredibly short-sighted to change the game plan for Duchene this early. The Avalanche aren’t going to be contenders with this team. And let’s say for argument’s sake that they’re battling for the 8th seed somehow down the stretch. Let’s say they even make the playoffs! Is this a team that will contend for a Stanley Cup in the next three seasons without a major roster move? I don’t think so. I don’t think getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs as a best-case scenario warrants pivoting away from the original plan to move Duchene.
With eight defensemen currently on the roster plus depth and call up forwards playing well, what roster moves would you make when everyone gets healthy?
Jackie: Trading a depth forward or defenseman would be an ideal scenario but unlikely given that it requires another party and even Colorado's interest in making such a move. Probably they will just reset at the opening night roster but it will be interesting to see which forward has fallen out of favor with everyone healthy and previous scratches such as Matt Nieto playing well. Colin Wilson could possibly become the odd man out when he gets healthy.
Tom: I’d get Andrei Mironov and A.J. Greer down to San Antonio to play as many minutes as possible. The two of them haven’t looked out of place when in the lineup, but you can see both are still learning on the fly. The potential is there for both of them to make a major impact on the lineup in 2017-18 and getting the ability to play in all situations in the AHL will help them get there.
Sylvester: That’s above my pay grade. I’d like to see more Nieto in the future, and I’d like to see Jost not buried in the fourth line, but I’m more or less happy with the look of the team right now, minus the fact that Duchene is still on the roster.
American Thanksgiving is typically the mark of if a team really has a shot at the playoffs or not. Predict what will be Colorado's record at this time (the 20 game mark) and will they hold a playoff spot then?
Jackie: The Avs feel like a .500 team right now and the schedule isn't too tough in the nine games before the Thanksgiving holiday so I'll go even a bit above and say 11-8-1, which would surprisingly put them in a playoff spot at this goalpost.
Tom: I think that the goal for the Avs should be .500 and it’s probably that they can get there. Beat Carolina, win one of two on the road then split the trip to Sweden. That gets you up to nine wins with a game against the Red Wings and the Stars at home. Ten wins in the first 20 is definitely doable.
Mike: 9-10-1 with a playoff spot because the Central has been weird this year so far. It’ll be The Blues up top with a bunch of teams circling .500 just like now. Too many squads are trying to figure things out (Dallas, Chicago) or dealing with injuries (Wild).
Sylvester: I could see them in a playoff position at Thanksgiving, but I cannot stress how strongly I feel that this is not a playoff team. The rest of the Central will level out and the Avalanche will sink to the bottom of the division over time. This is a much-improved hockey team, but not a playoff team.