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MHH Round Table: Reflecting on the 2018-19 Colorado Avalanche season

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Looking back before looking forward

San Jose Sharks v Colorado Avalanche - Game Six Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Now that we’ve had a little while to digest the end of the season for the Colorado Avalanche, it’s time to reflect before we look forward to the summer.

How do you feel after that surprising playoff run?

Tom: I think the win against Calgary is going to go a long way in the development of this young team. The run gives a sense of inspiration, not just with the team but with the management group and fans. It gave a glimpse of what the core of this team is capable of and should inspire a ton of confidence going into next season.

Chris: Now that the sting has worn off of being sent home, I do feel some sort of accomplishment with this team considering the awful stretch they had when the calendar changed to 2019. We did a mid-season round-table which asked the question if we thought the Avs would even make the playoffs. To have to call into question at that point in time a playoff run, then make the playoffs only to see them dismantle the #1 seed as well as take San Jose to seven games makes me feel good they made it that far when so many ‘experts’ had them out much earlier.

Jackie: In a word satisfied. It was a big step and an important step for the team to take. There’s excitement and anxiousness for the future. A bit of wistfulness that the journey is over but mostly just very content with the outcome of the season.

Arielle: Hopeful. This team started the playoffs with everyone expecting them to lose to the Flames, and yet the Avs beat them in 5 games. Although they lost to the Sharks, this young team played strong games and forced a game 7. If this is the beginning, I can’t wait to see what they can do next year.

Who were you most surprised by (in a good way)?

Tom: Honestly, the fact that Nathan MacKinnon got even better this year might be the biggest surprise to me. He deserved the Hart Trophy for his breakout season a year ago. He established himself as a top-5 player in the league and was finally living up to the potential. I though we were seeing his ceiling. We weren’t. He got better this season and took it a step further in the playoffs. It was amazing to watch.

Chris: Carl Soderberg. At 33 years old he's the elder of this team and I don't think many expected him to be able to hang with the 'young guns' or put up the numbers he did following two down years. 49 points? I'll take that. During one stretch of the season he was arguably the best player on the team not named Nathan Mackinnon. Hopefully he continues this trend because as young as the Avs are they need the veterans like Soderberg in the locker room and on the ice.

Jackie: Most of the players pretty much improved on who they are as players so there were no great surprises or huge steps taken. The easy answer is Cale Makar and how he exploded into the NHL from his first career goal in his first ever NHL period to the six even strength and four game winning points he put up over the course of 10 playoff games. Those who watched him closely knew he was the real deal and would fit right in to the NHL but even those dreaming of the impact he could make right away were even still blown away.

Arielle: Phillip Grubauer. He started the season as the back-up, and after a rough starch around the All-Star break, he didn’t lose a regular season game between March 17 and the playoffs. He showed that he could handle all types of situations, and used his incredibly flexibility to make a number of hi-light reel saves. After being benched during the Capitals playoff run last year, Grubauer started every game this year, and kept calm despite the immense pressure.

Who were you most disappointed in?

Tom: Tyson Jost is the obvious answer here but I’m going to have to go with J.T. Compher. For a player that has been touted for his defensive responsibility, it’s a bad sign that no Avalanche forward gave up scoring chances against at even strength at a higher rate than Compher. While he did raise his goal output this season, his production actually dropped as his ice time went up. He scored only 6 goals after Christmas and had only one int he final 15 games of the season as the team was making a push for the playoffs.

Chris: We hear so many times in the world of sports an athlete welcoming a challenge when another player in his position is brought in and could challenge them for the starting role. Semyon Varlamov did not rise to that challenge this year and it will in all likelihood result in his time with the Colorado Avalanche coming to an end. Its not like he was never given the opportunity. The Avs have been fully behind Varlamov for several years now, and by acquiring Philipp Grubauer in the off-season he was officially put on notice. Varlamov never seemed to get back to his Vezina finalist days of the 2013-2014 season and if he somehow does get back to that level of play it will probably be with another team.

Jackie: Erik Johnson’s declining effectiveness through the season was a very underplayed storyline and really came to a head in the playoffs when his time on ice began to noticeably shrink along with an increase in turnovers. Johnson was 5th among the defense core in all strength per game and 6th in 5v5 play in the San Jose series after leading the team in 5v5 in the regular season. Something was going on with Johnson that nobody really seemed to want to address. Either injury, age or just plain getting worn down after playing his first full season in a while is something the team will have to account for moving on into the future.

Arielle: I would have liked to see a little bit more from Matt Nieto. He was great in the first round of the playoffs with those two short-handed goals, but other than that, I think he generally flew under the radar. He played in 64 regular season games, but only had four goals. If he were able to replicate some of his playoff success next season, I think we will all be in for a treat.

What was your favorite moment of the season?

Tom: Midway through the first period of game three against Calgary. Neither team had scored a first period goal yet in the series. Nathan MacKinnon did what Nathan MacKinnon does as he sniped one past Mike Smith on the powerplay. Right then something clicked. It was the moment you could tell this team was going to win the series and do a lot more in the playoffs than anyone expected.

Chris: I base moments on whether I need to wake my wife up or not so she can share in the moment with me. Needless to say she can now and forever share in the moment Cale Makar scored in his first career NHL goal. How can anything beat a 20 year old who just finished his collegiate career two days earlier, find himself thrown into game three of the NHL playoffs only to net a goal in that very same game? The reaction of the crowd, his parents in attendance and the announcers calling the game is all you need to hear on how special that moment was.

Jackie: The Avalanche were pretty much in desperation mode the entire month of March and when they capped off another incredible comeback to win game 81 against Winnipeg and secure a playoff spot was a defining moment. They only needed a point at that juncture so tying the game and getting to overtime was all they needed. Carl Soderberg scored what was his final goal of the season in on a great tip play. And to be honest my true favorite moment was the first time Sam Girard and Cale Makar controlled play in the Sharks zone and killed time late in the third period of game 2 which was such a mesmerizing display of skill, IQ, skating and the future present.

Arielle: Rantanen’s overtime winner. To me, this was the game that truly gave the Avs confidence that they belonged in the playoffs. After falling behind 1-0 after the second period, the Avs scored two in the third period, including one with three minutes remaining, to force overtime. After a great save from Grubauer, Soderberg and Landeskog set Rantanen up for the game winner over Mike Smith’s left shoulder. It gave the Avs a huge confidence boost heading back to Calgary for game 5.

What are your expectations for the offseason?

Tom: I expect Joe Sakic to look for a big splash. Undoubtedly, he’ll want to talk with Artemi Panarin. Unfortunately, there is a very small chance the star winger reciprocates - much like with John Tavares last summer. The team could also throw a ton of money at Jeff Skinner. He would be a great fit but it sounds like he doesn’t want to leave the East. I suspect the Avalanche will end up with one of the second tier free agents. Kevin Hayes, Andes Lee, Michael Ferland, Jordan Eberle. The team need help for the big-3 and they have a ton of cap space to work with. The summer will feel like a failure if they aren’t able to bring in a legitimate second line player.

Chris: When it comes to player acquisitions this is difficult because the Avs have not been huge buyers in the free agency market the past few years. So the question is are they content with what they have and take pride that a young team got another year experience in the playoffs and can build upon that for next year or do they go and get additional pieces to get them over the hump? I say get those pieces. Who those players are I don’t know. That’s for Joe to figure out. GM Sakic seems to be pretty quiet come money spending time so I'm not expecting any fire works.

Jackie: I expect the Avalanche will finally have to get aggressive on the free agent market to bring in a difference maker and not just more roster filler. Otherwise they have a lot of business to take care of at home with respect to signing their own restricted free agents with up to a possibility of 10 who are eligible to file for arbitration. This summer would also be the time to make a decision on Tyson Barrie and lock him up to an extension if they choose to go down that path. It will be a very busy summer which will shape the near and long term future for this club.

Arielle: I am expecting a relatively quiet off-season. Grubauer was acquired last summer and he is here to stay. The young core of this team does not require any off-season moves, but the addition of an extra veteran presence or two wouldn’t hurt. I don’t expect any high dollar free agent deals to come to Denver.

Was it offside?

Tom: By the letter of the law, I think it was. The problem is the rules are contradictory and lack logical insight. If Gabriel Landeskog doesn’t count as a part of the play when it comes to too many men on the ice, why does he count when it comes to offside? The review perfectly exemplifies the incompetence that still exists in the NHL offices.

Chris: Ask Avalanche fans and he wasn’t. Ask Sharks fans and he was. Ask the remaining fans of the NHL and I’m willing to bet most feel like common sense should rule out. But this is where we are with sports. Micromanaging milliseconds to determine if this goal or score was good or not. Its sad any game is determined by this way of replay let alone a game seven. Maybe when the Stanley Cup is decided by a questionable call the rule will change (I can hear the Sabres fans screaming).

Jackie: No, there was no conclusive evidence to show one way or the other therefore the call on the ice should stand. A review shouldn’t be for the officials on the ice or in Toronto to find one grainy frame which contradicts the call on the ice, it should be to reverse egregious mistakes. The fact that the league did not release this supposed contradictory evidence makes it worse.

Arielle: No. I get that the whole “too many men on the ice” and “offsides” can’t happen at the same time, but that makes no sense to me. Landeskog was clearly not part of the play and was in the act of exiting the ice. As Jackie said, one grainy frame shouldn't be enough to decide offsides and negate the goal. It needs to be conclusive enough to show than a referee made a mistake that should he should have been able to see the the naked eye.