Going into the 2019-20 NHL season, the expectations for the Colorado Avalanche were high. After a game seven loss to the San Jose Sharks in the second round of last year’s playoffs, the Avs looked like a young team ready to take a big step towards becoming a perennial contender. Despite the young core, Joe Sakic wasn’t willing to rely on internal growth to take that next step. The Avalanche General Manager went out and completely reshaped the team’s bottom-nine forward group and in the process, he traded away one of their longest serving veterans.
By trading away Tyson Barrie, Sakic did two things - he filled the biggest hole in the lineup by bringing in Nazem Kadri as the team’s new second line center, while also showing incredible confidence in Hobey Baker winner Cale Makar. So far, neither has disappointed.
Along with Kadri, the Avalanche added Joonas Donskoi, Andre Burakovsky, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Valeri Nichushkin to support the team’s superstar first line. That’s a lot of turnover for a team that was one game away from the Conference Final last season.
So far, the dedication to building a more supportive bottom-nine has paid off in a big way. While Mikko Rantanen still leads the team in both goals (4) and points (9), it has been the secondary group that has helped the Avalanche win games they might not have last season.
Only two years ago, they were the laughing stock of the league coming off the worst season in modern NHL history. Now they are the only undefeated team remaining.
With so many new faces in the lineup - and a new starting goalie - some fans thought that it might take a while for the Avs to fully hit their stride. That hasn’t been the case. The team is 5-0 and looks like a group that has the confidence of a Stanley Cup contender.
The scary part for opponents is that Nathan MacKinnon hasn’t really played up to his standards yet. He has eight points through five games, but MacKinnon hasn’t been as dangerous on a shift-to-shift basis, the way we are used to seeing from him. If he can start playing the way we know he can, the NHL is in some trouble.
No team can ride a hot streak like this for 82 games. That said, in what promises to be a very competitive Western Conference playoff race, banking these points early in the season is a huge advantage for Colorado. After sliding into the second Wild Card position each of the past two season, the Avs will be looking to grab one of the top-three spots in the Central division - and hopefully get home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Locking up a playoff spot during the last weekend of the season is exciting, but this team would do well to clinch early in order to give some rest - both physically and mentally - to the top players before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.
We’re only two weeks into the season but right now the league is on notice. The Avalanche are turning from the young up and coming team to a legitimate contender right before our eyes.