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Has secondary scoring really improved for the Colorado Avalanche?

Taking a look at the pace the Avalanche forwards are setting this season

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the Colorado Avalanche are carried by their top line. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog form arguably the best triple-threat combo in the NHL, and having a trio like that score most of your points is not a bad thing.

The Avs have struggled over the last several years to find scoring depth. This isn’t the only reason why I feel the team isn’t ready to take the “next step” towards being a true playoff competitor, but it is one of them. If the top line is being stymied at even-strength, the 2nd and 3rd lines have to be able to chip in and even up the score.

This season, overall even-strength production (and differential) is up, with the Avs outscoring opponents 74-63 through 30 games played (last season they were 188-183 on the year). Have the depth lines finally figured out how to contribute, or is this an illusion? Let’s look at some numbers:

Even Strentgh Point Production Pace

Player 2017-18 even-strength points 2018-19 even-strength pace
Player 2017-18 even-strength points 2018-19 even-strength pace
Nathan MacKinnon 65 85
Mikko Rantanen 49 90
Gabriel Landeskog 45 62
Blake Comeau 34 -
Carl Soderberg 32 37
Alex Kerfoot 26 28
Matt Nieto 26 25
J.T. Compher 16 38
Tyson Jost 14 20
Sven Andrighetto 13 19
Colin Wilson 12 21

2018-19 values are as of December 7th and are based on pace over an 82 game season.

Additional notes: Calvert is on pace for 20 ES points, and Kamenev is on pace for 15

So, good news and bad news…

Good news: the top line is kicking ass at even-strength even more than they did last season, and this is carrying the team to a much-improved overall goal differential. At the end of the day, scoring more than the other team is all that matters.

Also, Carl Soderberg and Alex Kerfoot are producing on the PP at a much higher rate than they were last season. Secondary scoring is really helped when you have a second power play unit that can score at a high rate.

Bad news: The rest of the team still hasn’t quite stepped up at 5v5. Soderberg, Kerfoot, Nieto, Andrighetto, and even Jost are on pace for very similar even-strength values to last year. Wilson’s rate is almost doubled, but the value isn’t very high to begin with so the overall effect is minimal. The bright spot among the bunch is J.T. Compher, who’s pace has more than doubled, jumping to a value that is worthy of 2nd-line time. That being said, this rate is for an 82-game pace, and he already missed time with injury, so he won’t actually see this total at the end of the campaign.

What should they do?

It seems unlikely for Nieto or Soderberg to see much of a jump in rate values at this point. But they’re still the second-most-used line at even-strength lately. Maybe giving Jost-Compher-Wilson more ES time will see Compher maintain his improved pace and Jost take the step we all expect him to take soon. Furthermore, Kerfoot is too talented to be on the 4th line. Fix this please.

The more fun approach to improving secondary scoring is through trade of course. There are a number of rental options due to be available at the trade deadline, it’s just a matter of what the organization feels like giving up for that boost. Names like Mats Zuccarello, Gustav Nyquist, or Brock Nelson could be affordable ways to get an instant boost in the middle-six scoring. And of course there’s always Mark Stone if we’re really swinging for the fences. I haven’t actually done the cap math on any of those names (this isn’t a trade speculation article), just some examples of what the other playoff-bound teams will be looking into come February.

When all is said and done, I don’t think Colorado should be expected to do real damage in the playoffs this season. They could, but going into this campaign, I don’t think it was the goal.

Perhaps trying to solve the secondary scoring issue from within rather than giving up assets at the deadline is the better approach right now. Making trades in the off-season often requires a lower price because of an expanded market. But if the team is expected to become a true threat in 2019-20, they might need to bite the bullet and pay up for a proven scorer.