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MHH Roundtable: Fighting the Injury Bug

The Colorado Avalanche have weathered the storm with some encouraging and concerning moments

NHL: OCT 28 Avalanche at Blues

Just one month into the season the Colorado Avalanche have endured their share of ups and downs, endured the roulette wheel of injuries, COVID related absences and a suspension, yet are hanging in with a 4-5-1 record with hopefully some brighter days on the horizon. Some areas of concern linger, however, and it’s time to address those.

Getting the negative out of the way first. Whose absence as hurt the Avalanche the most over their first ten games?

Evan: I think the injury to Devon Toews has hurt the most. One of the top defensemen on this team had missed out in every game so far this season until last week. Along with several other injuries in the back, it has left the netminders left out to dry often. With the recent return of Toews and Cale Makar’s return imminent, it will be interesting to see what defensive pairings Jared Bednar will roll with.

Eddie: Valeri Nichushkin, who played only the season opener for the Avalanche, has been big loss for the team through the last nine games for Colorado. No surprise that losing your teams best defensive forward takes a toll on your teams defensive performance. Not only is his elite defensive game lacking from the lineup a big hinderance for the team, but his absence on the second line is causing guys like Logan O’Connor and Sampo Ranta to play way above their heads. Colorado needs Nichushkin, who is currently week to week, to return to help bolster up their highly touted defensive system.

Jackie: I’m going to take an obtuse angle and say Alex Newhook. I never believed that he was anywhere near penciled in for the second line when training camp began but after already cycling through at least half a dozen players who should see significant time in the AHL this season — including defenseman Jacob MacDonald playing as a forward — it’s painfully obvious that NHL level talent is desperately needed in a depth capacity on this team. Newhook has scored 11 points in ten games in his AHL tune-up and should be back with the Avalanche soon. Getting meaningful contributions out of Entry Level Contracts is going to be critical as the season progresses and Newhook should be able to make a difference. On the actual NHL roster I agree Val Nichushkin is a huge loss as a key defensive component on the team of which there really is no replacement.

Other than just get healthy what do the Avalanche need to do in order to pick up more wins?

Evan: The Avs simply just need to find their footing. Yes it’s been a struggle, yes it is difficult to start on the wrong foot like they have this season. Once the Avs find their footing and get their chemistry straight, they should be a well-oiled machine when they are missing big names. If the depth can find that chemistry together with the top six, this team will be successful.

Eddie: Colorado just needs to get up to speed and find some chemistry. Big players like Samuel Girard and Andre Burakovsky, before he got injured, have yet to truly begin performing where the team needs them too. Nathan MacKinnon has also under performed, but he has shown enough flashes of what makes him the MVP to not be the teams bigest issue.

Jackie: As always special teams need to get tightened up if the Avalanche want to get anywhere. A 29th ranked power play running at an 10.5% clip isn’t good enough and neither is a middling penalty kill, though it has improved lately. Overall handling adversity is something this team is going to have to learn especially since they were on cruise control most of last season. The stars are not setting a good enough example through their play especially outside of the offensive zone. Way too many defensive lapses, turnovers, failure to execute and half-hearted efforts from those who are supposed to lead the team.

Who is your first month MVP (and why is it Bowen Byram)?

Evan: Yes. Just yes.

But on a serious note, Byram has come into his own in just this first month alone. With three goals and five assists in 10 games, he is simply proving his worth. He was a great replacement for Makar while injured against the Columbus Blue Jackets. And the best part about this? He is still really young. The sky is the limit for the young man from British Columbia.

Eddie: Bowen Byram has been an absolute horse for the Avalanche so far this season, there’s no doubt he’s Colorado’s MVP to this point. But we can’t ignore the performances of Nathan MacKinnon and JT Compher through the first month. Nathan MacKinnon hasn’t been his normal dominant self but he’s still managed to produce at over a point per game pace. JT Compher has had a white hot start after having an extremely poor season last year. He’s been the team’s only semblance of depth scoring thus far.

Jackie: I wish Compher had more than one point at 5v5 to give him the nod but he’s looked more engaged in the offensive zone at least. Logan O’Connor never cheats the effort and finally got rewarded with a nice goal whilst playing on the second line is in the mix too. Of course the early MVP is Byram, though. The eight even strength points — which leads the team and is second among all defensemen in the league — and big goals have been impactful moments for him and was much needed to prove to some folks what he can bring at the NHL level. But really it’s been the consistency of his play at both ends of the ice, the large portion of time on ice, the physicality, attitude and swagger he brings and all while filling the shoes through the absences of Devon Toews, Sam Girard and Cale Makar is what makes Byram such a valuable player and member of this team.

Should the Avalanche have pushed harder to land Jack Eichel?

Evan: Absolutely. I said it a couple months ago that it was certainly possible for the Avs to make moves to get one of the top five centers in the league. When the trade was ultimately made with the Vegas Golden Knights (gross), the return was certainly something the Avs could have challenged on. If Joe Sakic did make a move, it probably would have consisted of a top six player, two to three prospects, and a second/third round draft pick. It was something Sakic didn’t want to bite on despite Eichel thinking he was going to end up in Colorado according to his interview with Elliote Friedman. Depending on how he recovers from his surgery and performance onwards, Avs fans will either be thankful or kicking their own teeth in for not going for it.

Jackie: Given the return to Buffalo for Eichel wasn’t in the franchise altering sort of realm it does give a little more pause but at the end of the day it is still the right call to sit this one out. The Avalanche do not play the LTIR type of games in order to make adding a $10M salary work. A dwindling pool of assets doesn’t help matters plus the Avalanche roster is top-heavy as it is. Going after upside RFAs who have either fallen out of favor or another team’s price range such as how Andre Burakovsky and Devon Toews were acquired is much more of how trades to bring in players have worked out the best for the Avalanche.

Eddie: A Nathan MacKinnon-Jack Eichel center duo would dominate the league, but $20 million dollars dedicated to two centers is not a recipe for success. Although the return for Eichel would have been completely manageable for the Avalanche the cap hit that Eichel carries would have made a big difference as far as the make up of the team. With players like Andre Burakovsky, Nathan MacKinnon, Darcy Kuemper, and Bowen Byram needing contract extensions soon Colorado doesn’t have the space for a $10 million second lie center when you already have a Nathan MacKinnon. Second line center isn’t even close to an area of issue for the team and the assets and money the team would have needed to dedicate to getting Jack Eichel would have been much better spent elsewhere.