With the 2021 NHL season schedule released and training camp dates rapidly approaching it looks like hockey is right around the corner. The Colorado Avalanche have a big year ahead of them with a lot of goals in sight and there is a lot of excitement heading into puck drop in just a few short weeks.
Some oddsmakers have declared the Avalanche Stanley Cup favorites, do you agree?
Jackie: The Avalanche had a nice offseason adding improvements without much sacrifice plus the promise of some talented young additions sets them up to have as good of a shot as anyone in the coming season. However Cup favorites seems like a level they have yet to earn without making at least the conference finals. Hopefully this year that changes.
Daniel W: Absolutely. There may be one or two other teams close to that title, yet it is hard to look at anyone above than the Avs. The work Joe Sakic & Co. has done over the course of the last 2-3 years has firmly entrenched the Avalanche as the top contender in the NHL. That is not biased, I truly believe that with the team that has been put together, alongside a shorter season and division realignment, they have what it takes. Injuries & some bad luck have hurt in the playoffs in years past, but 2021 feels like the year the Colorado Avalanche win the most prized trophy in sports.
Tom: As the great Rick Flair once said “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” For that reason, I would still put the Tampa Bay Lightning as the favorites to win the cup. Sure they’ll have to go through the regular season without Nikita Kucherov, but he is expected to be back for the playoffs and a rested superstar will have a huge impact. That said, I would put the Avalanche at number two and definitely think they’re the favorites to win the West Division.
Luke: While it is nice to be recognized, I think Nathan MacKinnon said it best, "there is still a lot of work to be done yet." While i think they're the best team in the West, they still have to get to the western final and the cup final. Once they get there they can be considered a favorite. I still think Tampa Bay is the team to beat.
Evan: I completely agree with the oddmakers. The Avalanche have to be “the favorites or whatever” according to Nathan MacKinnnon. The key to being successful and striving to play July hockey is staying healthy. Injuries killed the Avalanche last year and ultimately knocked them out of the playoffs in overtime in Game 7 versus the Stars. If the Avalanche can stay healthy throughout the year and into the playoffs, we should expect a cup run running through the summer.
How do you feel about opening the season against the St. Louis Blues on January 13th?
Jackie: Seems fitting as the Avalanche opened their schedule in the Return to Play bubble against the Blues. I’m excited to have a firm date on the calendar to look forward to. The back-to-back sets and sometimes home-and-home series will set up an interesting dynamic to how the season schedule unfolds.
Daniel W: As with any season opener, the excitement and buzz surrounding the new season is incredible. Unfortunately for us fans, the electricity in the building that amplifies the mood will be much different than years past. Regardless, I am beyond excited to get this new season going vs. the Blues for a few reasons. First, these teams have battled back and forth for the least few seasons as top contenders in their respective divisions. Right out of the gate, we get to find out who is looking ready to take this season by the horns from Day 1. Plus, the announcement of Ryan O’Reilly as the new captain of the Blues will sting for Avs Nation. This year is our moment to show we have our own arsenal at our disposal to make a statement as the team to fear in the West.
Luke: I'm pumped for hockey to start. The opponent doesn't really matter to me. I just want to see the team on the ice. It didn't end they way it was suppose to in September, but I’m excited to see the Avs play again.
Tom: The Blues will be a good test right off the bat. They lost Alex Pietrangelo but the drop off from him to the incoming Torey Krug isn’t as big as some believe. St. Louis is one of three teams that I feel will be a cut above the rest in the West (Vegas being the other), so starting the season off against a high-end team will be a great test.
Evan: I’m just happy hockey is finally back! The Avs and Blues have become top dogs of the former Central Division in the last couple of years and have built up a rivalry sure to last into this decade. It will be a shame that there will be no fans in attendance to start the season but it is the right move. Hopefully, come playoff season things will be semi-back to normal and there can be some capacity of fans shaking white pom-poms in May, June and July.
Are there any teams you will miss playing going from the old Central Division to the new look West Division?
Jackie: It will be strange not playing the Chicago Blackhawks, which has made for some entertaining games over the last few years. Also, the Avalanche won’t meet up with old friend Nikita Zadorov in the Windy City either.
Daniel W: After the recent seven game playoff to the Dallas Stars in recent memory, I’d say that one is a bummer to not have a chance to build on rivalry wise. However, not playing Matt Duchene and the Preds will take a while to get used to also.
Luke: Winnipeg. Not been able to go-to Bell MTS with my very passionate Jet fan friends and watch MacKinnon and Co. stomp the Jets will be missed.
Evan: It will be very weird not playing Chicago. We’ve played Chicago so much ever since the relocation to Denver in 1995/96 and not playing them at all will be very weird, along with a recent playoff defeat to the Dallas Stars. It will be very weird but the new division alignment will create some new rivalries with teams along the West Coast and reinforce the current rivalry with the Wild.
Tom: For me it’s Dallas. The Stars are one of the best teams in the league and it’s always fun to see two of the best lines in hockey go head to head. Chicago will be missed too. It’s a shame we can’t see Zadorov’s bad penalties help the Avs as opposed to hurt them.
What are you most interested to learn from the upcoming training camp starting on January 3rd?
Jackie: I’m very curious to see how the taxi squad works and how it impacts Martin Kaut and Bowen Byram in particular. The NHL roster is pretty set at 20 regulars but how the extras are mixed and when will be fascinating. A third goaltender is an open question now that teams are essentially required to carry one. Also, the injury and/or health status of everyone entering camp is always a mystery with a few surprises.
Daniel W: The roster to me seems established going into the 2021 season. I am most interested to learn how the lines will be constructed and the chemistry that is developed with the new additions up front and on the back end. Is it Graves - Makar as the first D pair? Last season showed they have great chemistry and compliment each others game seamlessly. Or does Jared Bednar decide to load up and pair Cale Makar with the new weapon Devon Toews? This duo would instantly become a nightmare for teams to try and figure out as both are dynamic puck movers and all around defenders. Either way, I am just ecstatic for this season and to watch this team. GO AVS
Luke: The two things I’m looking at specifically are: how Toews and Brandon Saad fit into the line up and which prospect gets the early look. I think there are jobs to be won and lost. I can see Toews taking Graves spot right away next to Makar, so where does Graves play then? Who does Saad gel with the fastest? MacKinnon or Kadri? Also does Timmins earn a spot like he did last year? Its going to be fascinating to see these questions be answered. The biggest question i have today is, does Landeskog get an extension done before camp opens.
Evan: Similar to Jackie, I’m very interested in how the taxi squad will work this season. With prospects like Kaut, Byram, and Timmins being able to be on this taxi squad, I have to question how much game-time they will get without injuries, and how they will perform without consistent play in the AHL or other leagues across North America and having to play cold. Regardless, the taxi squad will help with injury fillers with injuries bound to be present this season with no preseason games.
Tom: For me, there are two things; where will Conor Timmins fit in and how will Coach Bednar use his added forward depth. Will he keep the Big-3 together and play Saad with Kadri and Burakovsky? Or will we see some other mix of the six? Maybe Saad with MacKinnon and Rantanen while Landy and Kadri play wrecking-ball hockey to create space for Bura. We know Bednar likes to shuffle lines and now he’s got even more options.
As for Timmins, this past offseason, Joe Sakic spoke about his as though he’s a lock for the team - far moreso that he did about Byram. Does that mean he’s slotted in as the 3RD behind Makar and Johnson or is he the 7th D? I suspect we will see a ton of different options on the blue line at camp - particialry given the fact there will be a number of practices before Byram is allowed to skate with the team (NHL protocol says he has to quarentine away from the team for seven days after getting to Denver once the World Juniors are over).