With every new season — hockey included — comes change. Like the weather, it’s erratic and next to impossible to predict what might happen. At least in hockey, from the fan’s perspective, training camp offers a glimpse — and an opportunity to predict — at what to expect, however right or wrong it may end up being.
Us sportswriters are often too close-minded and hyper-critical when it comes to how we view a team. To humble myself, I caught up with a few fans at training camp to see what they saw from their perspective. From which players impressed them the most, to where they see the team finishing this season, it seems we’re mostly on the same page, at least with the folks I chatted with.
Often times in training camp, fans will focus their attention on the “fan favorites.” After all, it’s been months since we’ve seen his holiness Nathan MacKinnon grace a surface of ice. But I was happy to chat with some fans who not once made mention of MacKinnon or Gabe Landeskog or Mikko Rantanen or even Cale Makar or Bowen Byram. Turns out we were each more impressed with the more “second-tier” players, if you will, and the team’s recent offseason additions.
“Honestly, I was really happy with Bellemare,” said Allen, a local Denverite who’s been following the Avalanche since the 2001 Stanley Cup run. “I liked what I saw what he was contributing with his teammates, helping out, being a bit of a mentor, a little bit of that statesman; and I thought that the last two days they’ve looked very solid defensively, his line.”
Indeed, Bellemare has been sticking out in training camp thus far. Social media and the fans all seem to adore the team’s recent addition. Bellemare is the oldest on the team now at 34 years young and will provide plenty of veteran leadership to a team that’s average age at training camp is just a shade over 24.
Andrew, who’s been following the team since they moved here in ‘96, agreed that Bellemare looked solid. He’s liked how that entire line has looked. “I thought Greer and O’Connor looked great on that line, too,” he added.
Teresa, another Denver resident who’s been following the team since the ‘01 Cup run, was quick to answer my question of who has impressed her the most.
“Dries,” she said. “I thought his effort was just amazing, really good. And then both days, I think Nieto has really impressed me.”
Both Andrew and Allen said they were very impressed with the Kadri, Donskoi and Jost line, which also happens to be the best line I’ve seen in training camp so far, as well.
The Jost - Kadri - Donskoi line is a keeper. They’re fast, creating plenty of chances during every drill and then after each play, they reconvene and chat. They’re the most organized and vocal line I’ve seen so far. #GoAvsGo— Scott MacDonald (@0ffScottFree) September 14, 2019
“I thought the Kadri line has looked really good — Donskoi and Kadri,” said Allen. “Donskoi’s shot is just a thing of beauty and you can see [the Kadri line] is already trying to work on some chemistry.”
While Donskoi didn’t particularly catch my eye, Andrew also made mention of the Avs’ new 27-year-old right wing.
“Donskoi looked good,” he said, while also adding he was impressed with veteran D-man Mark Barberio, which became a subject of conversation with each person I talked with.
If you push the Makar and Bowen Byram hype aside, in my opinion, Barberio has stood out to me the most at camp. After missing half the season last year due to injuries, Barberio returns as a guy who now finds his bottom-pairing role in jeopardy, thanks to a surplus of D depth that now resides on Colorado’s blueline.
“We have a little bit of depth there where we haven’t in the last few years,” said Allen of Barberio and his fight for a roster spot. And as Teresa bluntly and accurately put it: “it sucks getting old.”
Indeed. But age is just a number, and on the ice he looks as young and spry as ever. Barberio’s effort is off the chart. While at times it looks frenetic and bit all over the place, it’s confident and controlled. The guy moves and defends with desperation. I like that and I think he deserves a spot on this roster.
So far the team looks like it’s poised for a solid season, and expectations are rather high in the Mile High City. Through the recent work GM Joe Sakic has put into making this the most complete and deep roster we’ve seen since he’s been manning the helm, there’s a buzz around this year’s Avalanche team. While Vegas has Colorado with the fifth-best odds to raise the Cup at season’s end, how realistic are those expectations?
“It depends on their goaltending because I feel like it’s depending on that,” said Andrew of how he sees the team finishing this season. “If everything goes relatively well, I have them third in the Central.”
Finishing third in the Central Division is a pretty fair estimate, I’d say. That’s roughly a 90-100 point finish and a guaranteed playoff spot. Allen was a little more confident in how his team will shake out this year.
“I’m going to say second in the division...second round at least.” he said. “I don’t see a first-round exit — second round at least.”
Teresa seems to be on the same page as Allen is, adding, “Maybe making it to the second is what I’m thinking,” she said. “Maybe the second.”
A first-round exit would be a very disappointing finish if you’re the Avalanche, especially given it would be a regression from last season’s performance. Given how well-built this roster looks and feels, Colorado has to at least make it to the second round, as they did last year. Though with all of the hype surrounding the team, it seems maybe it’s Western Conference Finals or bust.
At least from the perspective of the fans, Sakic has built a well-rounded team and has made some nice additions this past offseason. The confidence remains high on this 2019-20 squad, with very fair expectations on how the season might shake out. For now, let’s just do what we do best: kick back and enjoy some hockey. Avalanche season is officially here.