In part one of my rankings of the last ten season of Avalanche hockey I looked at what I considered to be the bottom five. Now I will be looking at the top five seasons of Colorado Avalanche hockey (out of the last ten seasons)
5. The Worst of the Best - 2013-14 Season
Finally, a winning season on this list. The 2013-14 season will be one of the most memorable seasons in Colorado Avalanche history. Colorado won their first division title in 11 years and came in second in the West behind what most consider, in retrospect, a fluky regular season.
The Avalanche had one of the most stacked top sixes in team history, featuring eventual Calder winner Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’ Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, and Paul Stastny, who have all made the All Star Game in their career. Even with this stacked offense Colorado would often find themselves behind going into the third period of games, and would always find a way to come back, giving them the moniker “The Comeback Kids”. This late game magic carried into the playoffs when the Avalanche got two of their three wins in Overtime, after scoring in the final minute and a half of regulation to tie it up. Before I get into the moment that has ruined the sound of the post for every Avalanche fan I feel like I should highlight the real reason Colorado was so successful, Semyon Varlamov. Varly, as he’s fondly referred to by Avalanche fans, had to carry the load of the team’s lack of defense. The fact that he didn’t win the Vezina after winning a league leading 41 games, while being the only goalie to face two thousand shots, is one of the more upsetting snubs in Avalanche history. Now the reason this season is so low, the end. Looking back on the regular season it’s no surprise Colorado didn’t get past Minnesota, but the way they didn’t get past them is what hurts. Nino Niederreiter’s series clinching goal off the post and in will forever tarnish this great season, and it is why the 2012-13 season is the lowest of all the playoff seasons.
4. 2017-18 Season
Now is where we get into a lot of positives. Of course every season has its downs but these final four have had so many great moments to shadow those that were bad.
This season was one of the most unlikely turnarounds in sports history, a team goes from the worst performance in league history to making the playoffs in the final game of the regular season. That’s some movie type stuff. What made this improbable run possible? the emergence of Colorado’s current top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen. Colorado’s top line, dubbed the “Three-Headed Monster”, had a stellar 64.4% Goals-For percentage after potting 47 goals together, despite only playing with each other after the Duchene trade. For a team with the lack of depth that the Avalanche had in the 2017-18 season it was a necessity for the top line to perform so well for Colorado to have any chance at making it to the playoffs.
During this season Colorado also made a trade, one that didn’t make an immediate impact for the team, but is now paying dividends for the team. A three way trade between the Avalanche, Nashville Predators, and Ottawa Senators saw the Avalanche send Matt Duchene to the Senators, who in turn sent Kyle Turris to the Predators, and both teams combined to give the Avalanche prospects Samuel Girard, Vladislav Kamenev, and Shane Bowers, Ottawa’s first and third round picks in the 2019 Draft (although the first was originally intended for 2018), Nashville’s second round pick in the 2018 Draft, and goalie Andrew Hammond. I won’t be diving into what each of those assets was flipped for, but I would suggest watching Steve Dangle’s Trade Tree video if you are interested in said developments. Samuel Girard has developed into one of the best top four defenseman in the NHL and was locked up through the 2026-27 season by Colorado for an AAV of 5 million dollars, a contract that looks better by the second.
Although not replicating his success in Ottawa, Andrew Hammond did help the Avalanche steal Game 5 against the Predators, in Nashville, after keeping the Predators from scoring any legal goals on 45 shots. The biggest acquisition from this trade, the 2019 first round pick, was used by Colorado to select star prospect Bowen Byram, who is poised to play his first full season with the Avalanche this upcoming season. After making the trade everything was looking up for the Avalanche, although they still had their previously mentioned flaws. Colorado made a push for the playoffs and earned a Game 82 win (in regulation) and go to the playoffs or lose and go home situation against the St. Louis Blues, which we all know they won, pretty convincingly. Their win over the Blues in front of a rambunctious Pepsi Center crowd locked up their matchup against the President’s Trophy winning Nashville Predators. The series was far closer than anyone imagined, with the Avalanche pushing the Predators to a Game 6, which was the only game the Avalanche really got outplayed in. This playoff birth and strong fight against the Predators gave the team hope after a 2016-17 season that made it feel like there was none.
3. Bronze Medal - 2019-20 Season
This was a great season for the Avalanche. After a busy offseason of acquiring players to help address their continuing lack of forward depth the team was looking to build off of their success in the 2019 Playoffs, and they did just that.
The Avalanche got off to one of their best starts in team history, going undefeated in regulation through eight games, but things quickly took a turn. Colorado faced a dearth of injuries, mostly to top players. Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, and Philip Grubauer were all sidelined for a significant amount of time, starting in the beginning of November. These injuries looked like they were really affecting the team, until they exploded for nine goals at home against the Predators and thanks to Nathan MacKinnon entering MVP mode never looked back. Injuries were again a problem in February of 2020, but due to the league being paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic they didn’t have as much of an impact on the team. When the league was paused the Avalanche were dueling it out with the St. Louis Blues for first place in the Central Division, and at the time of the pause were only two points behind the Blues, with games in hand.
After the league restarted in the bubble, Colorado continued where they left off, securing the second seed in the West and obliterating the Arizona Coyotes in five games, but one period into Game 1 of the second round series against Dallas the injury bug reared its ugly head yet again. Colorado lost Philip Grubauer, Erik Johnson, and Matt Calvert early in the series, key components in any hope the Avalanche had in halting Dallas’ biggest strength, their power play, and fell down 3-1 in the series. The Avalanche got to work and clawed back to even the series at three games a piece, but it was at the expense of Captain Gabriel Landeskog and Connor Timmins (Johnson’s replacement). Most, if not all, Avalanche fans know what happened next so there’s no point in me dwelling on it. Seems like a pretty successful season, right?
Colorado had their most successful season since the aforementioned 13-14 season and had a pretty successful playoffs for the most part, even the offseason that followed was a big positive for the team after acquiring winger Brandon Saad and defenseman Devon Toews for no high value pieces. Even despite losing in the second round, for what was at the time the second year in a row, Colorado showed a lot of resilience to get to Game 7 of said series. Unfortunately I can’t put this season higher than the top two, just for a comparative lack of tangible success or fond memories. Not to say this season had none, just that it had less than the top two.
2. Silver Medal - 2021 Season
A legitimate surprise here to Colorado fans. One of the most exciting Avalanche teams ever, won their division, and won the President’s Trophy, put at only second on the list for one simple reason, expectations.
The Avalanche came into the 2021 season after a strong offseason and a lot of promise. After a rocket start to the season they lived up to that promise. Cruising through their division (one that was one of the worst in the league) the Avalanche clinched the President’s Trophy in the final game of the season and, not even a week later, swept the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs. The second round, again, didn’t go well. After a 7-1 thrashing of the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 and an OT win in Game 2 the Avalanche lost four straight to the Golden Knights and were eliminated in the second round yet again. Up until that second round series Colorado had their strongest season of the 2010’s by a significant margin.
The Avalanche offseason was pretty average, outside the acquisition of Darcy Kuemper, although there were some promising additions (ones that you can read about in my first article) none of them were as high of a caliber as additions in years prior, and they didn’t need to be. The Avalanche already have a strong team going into the 2021-22, especially with internal additions like Alex Newhook and Bowen Byram, so they didn’t need any big name signings or trades, however it does keep this season out of first.
Gold Medal - 2018-19 Season
One of the most memorable seasons in recent Avalanche history. This season was packed to the brim with positive memories, and although the ending stung a bit at the time, looking back it’s hard to ask for much more from the team.
Much like the 2017-18 season this Avalanche team had very little depth outside and were carried to the playoffs by their stellar top line and a white hot Philip Grubauer. Colorado was 15-6-5 at the beginning of December and then proceeded to lose 17 games throughout December and January, and started February with six straight loses. After the 5-2 loss to Toronto that marked their sixth loss out of six games in February a flip seemed to switch for the Avalanche. They went 16-7-3 to end the season and beat the Winnipeg Jets in overtime in their final home game of the season to clinch their spot in the postseason and set their matchup against the Calgary Flames, the number one seed in the Western Conference. In one of many shocking upsets during the 2018-19 postseason the Avalanche defeated the Flames in five games, winning four straight after losing Game one 4-0.
The highlight of the series was Game three in Colorado when Cale Makar made his NHL debut just days after winning the Hobey Baker and taking UMass to the NCAA Championship, scored a goal in the first period, and helped the Avalanche to a 6-2 domination of the Flames. Anyone who was at the game, and perhaps even those who watched the game on TV, could tell you how electric the atmosphere at Pepsi Center was that night. Colorado’s second round opponent was the San Jose Sharks, who were fresh off a Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights that still lives down in controversy. This series was much closer than the Calgary series with each team winning no more than one game at a time. In fact four out of the seven games were decided by only one goal, the most dominant victory between either team in the series being a 3-0 Colorado win in Game four.
Even Game 7 was decided by one goal, which made the offside call that disallowed what would have been the game-tying goal for Colorado that was much more controversial. The Avalanche had shown that they could be a serious contender in the West if they had depth so they made it a point to get just that in the offseason. Joe Sakic worked his magic to acquire Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, and Valeri Nichuskin, who all played prominent depth roles in the seasons prior, all while extending Mikko Rantanen and Samuel Girard long term. This season was the true beginning of Colorado’s window of being Stanley Cup contenders. It showed the league that the Avalanche could contend and forced Joe Sakic to acquire the players that now play instrumental roles on the current Stanley Cup favorite Colorado Avalanche.