With now under a month to go in the regular season it’s time to look at how the final stretch is shaping up for the Colorado Avalanche as they gear up for the playoffs.
The Avalanche had a quiet trade deadline for the most part adding only Vladislav Namestnikov and Michael Hutchinson. Did they do enough?
Tom: If the Avalanche think their key players are going to be ready for the playoffs, then sure, they did enough. If guys like Kadri and Calvert aren’t ready to go in the first round, than the absence of another hard forechecking middle-6 winger could hurt. It also would have been nice if Joe could have brought in one more cheap depth defender so the team didn’t have to depend on Anton Lindholm or Kevin Connauton if they run into a couple injuries.
Jackie: The trade deadline isn’t the time to find good value so I’m glad the Avs only engaged in a couple small deals and didn’t expend assets for the short term. With the contributions of Martin Kaut and Logan O’Connor leading to wins should show that there are players ready to help as depth internally.
Luke: Not paying the price for a big name was the right move. I do like the Namestnikov trade and what he brings in defensive IQ, driving the net and being a net front presence. Hutchinson is what he is. He does bring Jenna-Rae cakes with him which they should take full advantage of! But all in all, big moves don’t normally pay diffidence in the playoffs. The success of this team in the playoffs will be MacKinnon, health, Grubauer and some luck.
Jack: With their injuries, I wish they would have picked up a bit more, but the price for the bigger pieces was definitely too high. Everything Joe Sakic has done as GM gives me the impression that he’s always thinking 5 years ahead, so I’m going to put my trust in him that the trades he made and the trades he stayed away from
Will the Avalanche ever stay healthy and which of the walking wounded are you most looking forward to their return to the lineup?
Jackie: Now that the schedule is truly every other day I fear the injury carousel may never stop but there should be reinforcements by the playoffs at least. The power play has ebbed and flowed all season but going 2/24 (prior to the Anaheim game) since Mikko Rantanen’s injury is not conducive to scoring like the Avalanche are used to. Rantanen’s return might also help free up Nathan MacKinnon continue to reach peak form.
Tom: For me it’s Nazem Kadri. Earlier in the season, Nathan MacKinnon spoke about how much he loved having Kadri on the team because it helped to relieve the pressure knowing he had a legitimate 2C following him in the lineup. It’s not a coincidence that Kadri’s absence has coincided with MacKinnon’s cold streak – teams are able to load up and stop the top line without fear of a scoring center coming out the next shift. Hopefully, Kadri can get back in the lineup and back up to speed before the playoffs start. Despite all the jokes about his recent postseason suspensions, Kadri’s presence will be imperative to any success the Avalanche have during a playoff run.
Luke: A 2 way tie between Grubauer and Kadri. Ditto on what Tom said about Kadri. With Grubauer, if he comes back and continues his stellar play into the playoffs, that will be a massive boost for this team. We have seen Frank carry the load but Grubauer is the starter, they want him to be the starter and ultimately, seeing him succeed in the playoffs will be a big bench mark for the team moving forward. It only takes a hot goalie for 20 games to win a cup and we have seen that time and time again in recent years. A hot Grubauer is a what I'm looking for.
How important is winning the central division?
Tom: I think it’s very important. Finishing first in the Central would result in s significantly easier matchup in the first round as the Avs would draw the second wild card team. More importantly, it would allow the Avs to avoid the Dallas Stars in the opening round. There is still a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the Wild Card positions, but whoever it is - Vancouver, Arizona, Nashville, Winnipeg, Minnesota - the Avs will have a significantly easier draw than the Stars. Let Dallas and St. Louis beat up on each other.
Jackie: With the current playoff format there isn’t much advantage to higher seeding. The first wild card team facing the Pacific division winner might have the best draw of them all. The Avs are a better team on the road and starting a series on the road has its advantages as well. Avoiding St. Louis would be preferable but other than chasing a banner it’s not that critical.
Luke: Winning the Central would be great but it’s not the banner they're looking for. It would signify a great regular season accomplishment, particularly with what the Avs went though this year. But ultimately I don’t think the players in that room care about who they face in the 1st round or where they play. This team is best team in the Central. The best team in the West and will be a contender for the next five years. I'll let St Louis take the Central and the last banner they will rise in there rafters this year.
Final predictions on where the Avalanche will finish in the standings and who they will face in the first round of the playoffs?
Tom: I say the Avalanche pull it off and win the Central and they they will face the Vancouver Canucks in the first round. Setting up the all-encompassing Cale Makar vs Quinn Hughes matchup.
Jackie: I feel like things will remain as they are currently and the Avs will fall just short of the division but get the second seed and home ice against Dallas.
Luke: Finish 2nd. If they were fully healthy, I would think they could take the Central. But the injuries will catch up and cost them that banner. But home ice against Dallas and win the series, 4-2 I'll take.