Defending the Stanley Cup begins now as the Colorado Avalanche are set to kick off their regular season schedule against the Chicago Blackhawks. Some faces are new but the core remains and the champs are ready to win another ring.
With Gabe Landeskog expected to miss time to begin the season how much will that hinder the squad?
Adrian: The mark of a truly great team is how they perform in the event that a key piece is missing from the lineup. No piece is bigger than your captain and top centerman. With that, the Avalanche are a truly great team with a deep enough roster to ride the wave of injuries throughout the season. I wouldn’t doubt that the Avalanche get off to a slow start, but I’d think that would have to do more with a quick turnaround from last season to this one.
Jackie: The Avalanche are built with still a strong top-six group of forwards and if Val Nichushkin and Artturi Lehkonen can step up as expected the team should be fine during his absence. Landeskog’s missing leadership and presence on the bench might be felt more but is difficult for outsiders to quantify. How the bottom six is shaping up is becoming a concern, however, and one more major injury might be much more challenging to overcome.
Evan: His loss will be felt throughout the locker room for sure. His presence and leadership are second to none. On the ice, I don’t believe he will be missed much at all. As Jackie stated above, there’s plenty of talent on ice that will fill that void. We even saw it to an extent during the playoff run last year when Landeskog was shuffled down from the first-line pairing to make room for those who were surging in the right direction. If he can be back by around mid-to-late November, it would be ideal, especially as the busy winter months come and the play only intensifies from there.
Ezra: Landeskog is a big presence, both on the ice and off, and he will be missed. As folks have said, there is talent to replace him in the top six, but filling that void means moving other players up the lineup and without Kadri and Burakovsky this season there is already a need for depth players to elevate their play. Gabe’s absence exacerbates that need, and I think we will see a slow start to this season as the forward corps adjusts to their new roles without 91, 92, and 95. Also gonna miss having so many 90s numbers in the lineup, I always thought that was cool.
Jacob: I think if all the new moving parts the Avalanche are incorporating don’t gel right away, it could have a fairly big impact early on in the season. There are a lot of newcomers in the Avalanche forward group this year, and key trade deadline acquisitions like Manson, Lehkonen, and Cogliano are playing their first full season in burgundy and blue. It looks like they’ll only have six forwards who began last year on the team in the opening night lineup. Don’t be surprised if the Avs drop a few games they otherwise wouldn’t if they had the stability the Landeskog-Mackinnon-Raantanen line provides for Jared Bednar on those nights that the team just can’t find the back of the net. Plus, Landeskog’s injury could become a much bigger deal if the Avalanche lose one (or more) of their top skaters, which makes Nathan Mackinnon worth watching as he got dinged up in practice the other day and left early before returning to the next one.
How do you feel about the last cuts which sent Shane Bowers and Martin Kaut to the waiver wire?
Adrian: I was shocked to see that Martin Kaut was sent to the wire mostly because it looked like he was a shoo-in to make the lineup opening night based on his camp and preseason performances. It’s possible that another team picks him up off waivers seeing as he might be a luxury here in Colorado, but a necessity elsewhere filling out some other team's bottom 6. Jackie put it best on Mile High Hockey Lab, you invested a first-round pick and four years of development on Kaut, why not give him a look? Guess he will have to be promoted later on in the season if he clears waivers.
Jackie: It's a failure of the development system plain and simple. It didn’t cost the Avalanche a Stanley Cup but hopefully, it doesn’t undermine a potential dynasty as depth is already thinning due to salary cap contracts and a lack of internal promotions. It’s also curious how Lukas Sedlak “won” a job after being on the ice for five goals against and zero for with a 42% in both Corsi For and Expected Goals in his five preseason games.
Evan: I was a little surprised to see that Kaut did not make the final team. With the number of injuries that are currently hampering the forwards, I would’ve thought he’d at least be an option to fill the gaps but ultimately he was not. Even though he was praised by Bednar throughout the preseason and got a number of looks, it falls down to not fitting into the system he was drafted into as Jackie said. It’s one of those rare instances where I think Bednar perhaps got it wrong, but I do hope Sedlak proves us all wrong. He has played with Bednar before, and that was probably a key factor in him making it to the Opening Night Squad.
Ezra: I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. Martin Kaut seems like a guy who is going to be an NHL regular once he’s given a shot at regular middle six minutes, and his camp and preseason led me to believe he’d get that shot in Denver this year. He was simply better than Sedlak, Maltsev, and Meyers the vast majority of the time. But those guys can play center and their games fit in Bednar’s system more cleanly, so he was sent down. I’m more shocked that he cleared waivers than that he was put on them. Bowers on the other hand makes perfect sense. Hopefully, he can step up if he gets NHL games but he’s an AHLer with injury problems at this point in his career.
Jacob: It was a bit surprising that Kaut was sent down, but it feels like a continuation of what started with the Tyson Jost trade last year. The Avalanche are in full cup-chasing mode, and this era of young players in make-or-break years are being squeezed by the short-term need to build teams that fit Bednar’s system and can win multiple titles. That said, given the war of attrition that is the NHL regular season, I would expect to see Kaut back up with the Avs at some point, and no one would be surprised if he forced his way into the bottom six. The AHL demotion isn’t a death blow to Kaut’s NHL chances, as Alex Newhook’s saga from beginning last year in the minors to beginning this year as 2C demonstrates.
Any bold predictions for the season? (Avs or otherwise)
Adrian: I boldly predict that the Colorado Avalanche and Golden Knights will once again meet in the playoffs. Now that the dust has settled on what was likely the most embarrassing season in franchise history, the Golden Knights are bound to begin a revenge tour. The Avalanche have gotten past the second round and hoisted the Stanley Cup but seem focused on being regarded as a dynasty once more. I think this is the season we see a playoff rematch between Vegas and Colorado for one trivial reason. Sports are romantic.
Jackie: Would it be bold to predict the Avalanche don’t make a major move at the trade deadline as they are heavily expected to and do as usual and nibble around the edges of their roster with their dwindling assets? Surprise team, I’ll go with the Anaheim Ducks as their young talent gives the team an unexpected push.
Evan: The Colorado Avalanche goes back-to-back. I rest my case.
Ezra: Bowen Byram will lead the league in +/-. It may be a faulty stat, but as a highly talented defender who gets somewhat sheltered minutes on an offensive juggernaut, Byram has a chance to dominate the +/- list this year. And let me toss in a league one - Jusse Saros wins the Vezina because Ryan McDonagh proves he isn’t washed yet in leading Nashville to a ridiculously effective penalty kill and the lowest goals against per game in the West.
Jacob: Artturi Lehkonen will score 30+ goals this year. His career high is 19, set last year. With Nazem Kadri gone, the Avs have a spot on PP1 open, and in the playoffs last year with Kadri out, that went to Lehkonen. Saying he will break his career high of 3 PP goals is not a bold prediction, that’s just a thing that’s going to happen if he spends the entire year on PP1, and it will be a big factor in pushing Lehkonen well past his career-high in goals.
Who will score the first Avalanche goal of the season?
Adrian: The first goal call of the 2022-23 season is bound to go like this: “AND THE MACK ATTACK IS BACK JACK!!” and I can’t wait to hear Conor McGahey shout it. Fresh off his newly inked contract, Nathan MacKinnon is bound to have a scary good year. One could argue that MacKinnon’s success would have earned him the Conn Smyth if not for Cale Makar. Then again if not for Cale Makar would any of it happen? Nonetheless, I see this as a career year in the making for MacKinnon. I’m talking about a Hart Memorial Trophy-type season.
Jackie: First goals tend to go to unexpected recipients (see Jack Johnson last season) but also reward new faces on the team so I’m going with Evan Rodrigues who gets on the board first for the burgundy and blue.
Evan: So who had Jack Johnson as the first goal scorer of last season? Besides the point, I think it will be a hard-earned gritty goal that will be the first of the season and not from a top player, perhaps even with Johnson on the ice since he's now with the Blackhawks. Give me Logan O’Connor. Don’t ask why, but I just have a feeling.
Ezra: It was surprise roster spot earner Jack Johnson last year, so this year I’ll go with surprise roster spot earner Lukas Sedlak. Unlike JJ’s beauty snipe though, this one is ugly - a Makar shot bounces off Sedlak’s little butt right past Petr Mrazek (who definitely should have saved it). Anyway, remember when Joe Colborne opened the scoring with a hat trick one year and then never existed again?
Jacob: If Lehkonen’s going to get 30 and make me look like Nostradamus, he’s going to have to start early.