Which aspects of Colorado’s play thus far are encouraging?
Jackie: It is always nice to see goal scoring early with nine different goal scorers and 16 players on the roster with points already. It is much more difficult to get players going after a slow start when confidence and gripping the stick tighter seem to enter the equation. Getting the big line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog going with a combined 38 points after eight contests is helping propel the team as well.
Tom: I love the play of Jost and Kerfoot. The two sophomores play off each other well and have begun to show a chemistry that the Avs need from their second line.
Also Varlamov has been incredible. He’s healthy for the first time in a long while and his play is reflecting that.
Ross: The top line seems to be picking up where they left off last season. I certainly expected them to, but it’s still encouraging to see. Getting scoring down the roster is important, but it starts with that line. They’ll need to keep it up if the Avs are going to make the playoffs.
Hardev: I was happy to see that Vladislav Kamenev was able to make the team. He’s another young player with a bright future and him being able to see and play NHL minutes will be good for his development. If it were up to me, I’d rather have him in the AHL playing lots and working on other skills, but if the team feels like he has a good enough base to work his way up from the fourth line, I won’t complain too much.
Which aspects are discouraging?
Jackie: It is a long and unpredictable season with inevitable ups and downs but the wild swings in play within a game are consistency issues that the Avalanche need to figure out. There have been several games where period-to-period play was wildly different but in the last two wins that aspect is improving. Staying out of the penalty box should be the next area of focus.
Tom: The fact that this is very much still a one line team. The Avalanche have the best line in the Western Conference, but they absolutely need to find some backup for the big-3.
Ross: Faceoffs. This is the hill I will die on. The fact that this team struggles to win faceoffs every game is a problem. J.T. Compher is the only center with a faceoff percentage over 50%, and that needs to change.
Hardev: I must say faceoffs don’t worry me too much, at least at even-strength. Colorado is actually middle of the pack when it comes to short-handed faceoffs and their PK has been great. Their power play FO% is bad, but still above 40% and the power play is 11th in the league. In statistic terms, that's essentially break-even. If it gets below 40%, then it’s an issue.
After the Avalanche open the wallet and finish paying Mikko Rantanen this summer, which young player should be next in line for a hefty payday?
Tom: I’m not sure there is one. J.T. Compher, Alex Kerfoot and Vladislav Kamenev all need extensions this summer. Kerfoot is the only one of the three that will get a decent raise, and even his won’t be a drastic increase. He’ll likely get something around the Ondrej Kase (3 years/$2.6m AAV) and Chris Tierney (2 years/$2.938 AAV) contracts.
The one guy that could be looking for big money is Nikita Zadorov. The problem is, the comparables simply aren’t there to justify Z getting big money. Josh Morrissey signed for $3.15m AAV, Joel Edmondson got $3m AAV and Darnell Nurse settled for $3.2m AAV. If Zadorov’s contract drastically exceeds those three, the Avalanche are doing something wrong.
Jackie: Strong consideration should be given to signing Sam Girard as early as possible and this summer the Avalanche will be first eligible to do so. The organization will need to lock up a few of the young core early to pay dividends down the road when they will need a few bargain contracts if they become contenders. Girard seems like a smart bet as someone who will continue to bring value and if they can get him under contract long term before he really starts racking up points then the Avalanche could possibly really get a steal of a deal.
Ross: This probably all depends on how this season goes. I really don’t see anyone getting a huge pay raise pending a breakout season. Zadorov is the one I believe they need to resign the most. There isn't another player like him on the defense, and he should be a part of the future.
Hardev: They don’t have anyone like this internally, so I would like the team to sign a scorer via unrestricted free agency. Artemi Panarin, Wayne Simmonds, Mark Stone, Jeff Skinner, Mats Zuccarello, and Yanni Gourde are all players who would be great in the top-six. Heck, bring back Matt Duchene!
What are your expectations for the Marko Dano waiver claim?
Jackie: The idea of giving Marko Dano a shot is reasonable and with coach Bednar’s familiarity with him they should have an idea of what he brings to the table. The problem and continues to be is overloading the roster with depth players and an unwillingness to part with them. If Bednar wants to keep playing Gabe Bourque, Matt Nieto and Matt Calvert in addition to Dano then they have punted the idea of using young internal options as depth yet again, including AJ Greer who leads the Colorado Eagles in scoring. The addition of Dano could also say something about the organization’s faith in Sven Andrighetto and his ability to (not) stay healthy as well as concerns about JT Compher’s head injury.
Tom: I think it’s a decent gamble. Dano is a talented player that keeps getting stuck behind too much depth. Given a chance in the top-9 Dano might finally live up to the potential that made him a first round pick back in 2013. The avalanche desperately need help on the wing, so it doesn’t hurt to take the chance on Dano.
Ross: I don’t have high expectations. Hopefully he gets a chance to show what he can do outside of a 4th line role. If they stick him on the 4th line with Soderberg and Nieto, I don’t think he can succeed in Denver.
Hardev: Not much. He’s just a guy. He had upside around four years ago, but that times past. He is what he is, in my opinion.