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MHH Roundtable: Managing Expectations for the Colorado Avalanche

Time for a check-in with the staff through a third of the season

Boston Bruins v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Now that the Colorado Avalanche have experienced a strong start to the season with their 17-7-5 record, what are your expectations for the season?

Jackie: At this point playoffs are an appropriate expectation. It would be nice to challenge for a divisional playoff spot as well. Hopefully management doesn’t go too crazy trying to chase things at the deadline and instead rides the momentum the current group has built.

Tom: It’s been an incredible start, especially given how much of the season they’ve spent on the road. Winning 16 of their first 28 games puts the Avs on pace for 47 wins - a total that would put them safely into the playoffs. Given how many games they have remaining at the Pepsi Center, I think it’s easy to expect that this pace continues. Beyond that, you’re looking at a matchup with someone like the Jets in the first round and I don’t know if that’s one we should expect the Avs to win.

Hardev: The team won’t keep playing at this pace all season. Lots of offense-first teams have slow stretches in late January to February; it’s just really hard to be at full octane during the slow months of a long season, players admit to this all the time. Anyway, I expect them to have struggles but end up about where they are now, probably third in the Central Division behind the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets. From there, it’ll be tough to beat one of those teams in the first round, especially they’re much more experienced than us (Winnipeg has Wheeler, Byfuglien, and Myers in key lineup spots).

I wouldn’t have much to complain about if they win a few games in the playoffs and scare their opponent a bit before bowing out. A second-round berth would be exhilarating. I know that I have the same expectations this year as last year, but proving you belong is a big first step before being able to challenge the contenders.

Skyler: Colorado has 39 points through 30 games, a 106.6 point-pace. Over the last five seasons, a 106.6 point team (yes, I know you can’t actually finish a season with a decimal point-total, but bear with me) would have placed 8th, 6th, 4th, 5th, and 6th, so the Avalanche are performing better than about 80 percent of the league.

The general consensus of this roundtable seems to be that this is unsustainable. And conventional analytic wisdom (that might be an oxymoron) would agree.

The Avalanche have a PDO (a rough estimate of puck-luck, using shooting and save percentages as its components) of 101.2. Some people would expect this to regress to 100. Colorado is also riding a 30.2 percent power play, which would be the best unit in the last 25 years. That’ll probably regress too.

But I’ll go a bit against the grain: this team has star power, and teams with star power defy the common wisdom. Teams like the Penguins and Capitals routinely outperform PDO expectations because their skill excels with consistency.

Looking at the Avalanche, they have the top two scorers in the league right now. MacKinnon is the best player in the world not named Connor McDavid. Unless teams start to figure out how to stop the top line (newsflash: they won’t), they’ll be in the playoff picture come April.

I expect 105 points in the regular season, and then it’ll come down to matchups. I like the way they match up with Nashville more than Winnipeg. Young teams historically don’t fare so well in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but I wouldn’t put it past Colorado to take a series.

Ross: The Avs have spent a lot of time on the road so far this season, so getting a few more home games will certainly be beneficial. As good as they’ve mostly been so far, they still have a long way to go until the playoffs. It’s not going to get any easier, so I’m interested to see if they can keep pace with the other stronger teams in the Central Division like Nashville or Winnipeg.

Cat: At this point, I think the team needs to consider the anything short of the playoffs a disappointment. The Central may be the weakest it’s been in years; the Wild are floundering in net, the Blackhawks have completely fallen off of a cliff, the Blues seem to be chasing them right to the bottom, and the Predators are excellent one night and then destroyed by teams from the Pacific (which is an absolute gongshow this year) the next. Winnipeg has been in the thick of things with Colorado and Nashville, but the Stars are the only other Central team that looks like they could be a threat. The playoffs are really anyone’s game, but I’d expect the Avalanche to comfortably earn a home berth when all is said and done — and if they’re lucky enough to somehow draw Dallas as an opponent, I think they could make a fairly decent run.

Which aspect of the Avalanche’s play or player has surprised you the most this season?

Tom: Big Ol’ Carl Soderberg. I really didn’t expect the 33-year old to be the catalyst for the secondary scoring on the team. With 10 goals through his first 30 games, Soderberg is on pace to shatter the career high (16) total he set last season. He’s served as the team’s second best center this season and while the Avs rely on him to kill penalties and take the tough matchups, it’his contribution to the offense that has been impressive - and surprising.

Jackie: A third into the season I’m surprised the Avalanche are the number one power play unit with over 30% success. They had a top ten unit last year so not completely unexpected but will be interesting to see how long they can keep that sort of percentage going. The second unit, usually with Sam Girard, has given their overall power play success a boost too.

Hardev: Semyon Varlamov. I always knew he was a good goalie, but I honestly believed Phillipp Gubauer would steal his job. I never expected Varly to be bad, I just didn’t think he would be this much better in a similar role to Grubauer. Instead of the starter-backup scenario in my head, it’s become a real 1A-1B situation, which is probably what the team were hoping for. Having two good goalies to manage the reps has always been a smart, analytical approach.

Skyler: I knew Mikko Rantanen was good, but I didn’t expect him to be top-scorer-in-the-league good. He’s on pace for 131 points (90 at even strength) and it seems like even east-coast dwellers are starting to notice his existence.

Ross: So far, it’s Samuel Girard. The Avs saw glimpses last season of how impactful he can be with the puck, but so did other teams. Opposing teams know about Girard now, but he’s still showing off his skills with the puck and teams are still having problems dealing with him.

Cat: Grubauer, but not necessarily in a good way. He’s openly expressed frustration with the fact that his game has been inconsistent, and transitioning to a new team and a new system can be hard. Still, it’s not a good enough excuse; we’re into December and he’s still sitting well below his usual numbers.

Who are you looking toward to have a big second half of the season?

Tom: Is it a cop-out to say Nathan MacKinnon? He’s been absolutely amazing so far this season, but with 2/3 of the year still to play, I think he’s only going to get better - or at least stand out more. Rantanen leads the team (and league) in scoring, but MacKinnon is still the one that has the biggest impact on the team. I have a feeling he’s going to take over the scoring lead as the season progresses and it’s going to push him towards the Hart Trophy he should have won last year.

Jackie: I’m looking forward to watching Martin Kaut at the World Junior Championship and expecting a him to build some momentum from a successful tournament. The Avalanche should also give him a look at some point but keep Kaut under nine NHL games to keep him exempt from the Seattle expansion draft. He has consistently shown improvement in his time in North America and should look ready for a spot on the Avalanche going into this summer.

Hardev: Once Vladislav Kamenev gets his feet under him and his brain into mid-season form, I think he could be a very dynamic middle-six player in the back half of the year. Another player I’m hoping to see take a step and stay at that level is Alex Kerfoot. We’ve seen flashes of a legitimate 2C, but let’s see him bring it every night.

Skyler: It needs to be JT Compher or Alex Kerfoot. Teams don’t win in the playoffs unless they have more than one reliable center. The third-line seems like it has an old-school, chippy, playoff style, but we need to see more consistency from the second-line, whether it be Compher or Kerfoot manning the dot.

Ross: Kerfoot and Jost. The top line is going to get their points throughout the season, but there will be some nights were opposing teams shut them down. Kerfoot and Jost on the 2nd PP unit and from the 2nd line need to provide scoring when the top unit can’t get it done.

Cat: I’ll go with Jackie here. I think the World Juniors could have huge implications for Kaut, and I expect him to come roaring back in the second half of the season.

How many points will Mikko Rantanen have at the Christmas break and will that total still lead the league? (that’s seven more games)

Jackie: I’m hoping Rantanen ends up with at least a cool 60 points at the holiday break and he is on pace to do so. That should also still lead the league.

Tom: I’m going to say he ends up with 54 points, but no he won’t have the league lead by the break.

Hardev: *Looks at schedule* “Edmonton, St. Louis, Dallas, NY Islanders, Montreal, Chicago, Arizona.” Hmm.. Yeah, I can see him taking a sniff at 60. Let’s go with 59 points in 37 games to close out the unofficial first half.

Skyler: I think he’ll get to 62 points with an easy upcoming schedule, and while that may be enough to keep the league lead through that point, I expect Nikita Kucherov to overtake Rantanen and MacKinnon by the end of the season.

Ross: I’ll say he picks up an even 10 points and keeps the league lead. What an obscene pace this guy is on.

Cat: Sitting just two points shy of 50 right now with seven games left before the holidays? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think he could hit the 60-point mark before the roster freeze. If he does that, though, I’m fully expecting us to see Nathan MacKinnon hit just shy of the 30-goal mark in the process. I cover Arizona so I’m going to cross my fingers and hope he doesn’t dismember poor Cal Pickard, but matchups against Jake Allen, Mikko Koskinen, and possibly Cam Ward before all is said and done? There’s a hat trick in there just waiting to come out — it’s just a matter of which team it comes against.