As the Colorado Avalanche embark on their final handful of regular season games and prepare for the postseason to defend their Stanley Cup title, a few questions linger and we tried our best to answer them.
How important is winning the Central Division?
Evan: In my mind, it is crucial to win the Central Division. To avoid the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild will be nice, especially if those two beat up on one another in the first round. It would allow for a fun matchup in the first round for the Avs, explained more down below.
Jackie: I, too, would prefer to not face either aforementioned division foe but with how the divisional playoffs are set up the Avalanche would still have to play one in the second round at minimum. The Tampa Bay Lightning have gone years without winning the division and it hasn’t hurt them in the playoffs. It’s a nice goal to shoot for to end the regular season but I don’t think it’s that important, especially this year with how weak the western conference has been.
Eddie: I have two different thoughts on this. On one hand, the Avalanche only lost one game on the road in the postseason last year. However, this year's team isn’t as talented as last year's. That combined with the fact that I think having home-ice advantage allowed the Avalanche to play with less pressure on the road makes me not as confident. Overall I think it is important, but it won’t make that much of a difference if they don’t also climb above some Pacific Division teams.
Jacob: I tend to think it’s fairly important, if only to try to ease players like Gabriel Landeskog, Josh Manson and Artturi Lehkonen back into the lineup. If the Avs won the division, they would very likely play one of Seattle, Winnipeg, or Calgary in the first round, who are easier opponents than Dallas and Minnesota. That said, if those players hit the ground running (and lest we forget, this is exactly what happened with Landeskog last year when he had knee surgery before the playoffs), it shouldn’t really matter too much who the Avs square off with, they’ll be solid favorites against any team they could possibly play in the first two rounds.
Ezra: Hey that would be great, and better seeding can only help in the defense of the Cup. But is it going to be the difference? I don’t think so. On paper, the Avs are the team to beat in the West when they’re at full strength and who they play doesn’t change the fact that they need guys back in the lineup executing at a high level. Time to tune those guys up would be nice, but taking any first round opponent lightly as a tune up round would be a critical mistake and is not a championship mindset - get out there, play the system, and beat whoever the hockey gods throw in your path.
Which team would you prefer the Avalanche to face in the first round?
Evan: I’ve been telling everyone and their mother about how fun a matchup against the Seattle Kraken would be. Now, of course, this would have to have the Avs win the Central Division, hence its importance, to avoid the Stars and Wild. I believe they could take on the Kraken in seven games. Plus, the storylines surrounding former players playing the Avs in Seattle’s first-ever playoff appearance would be fun. Of course, there’s Philipp Grubauer but also would hope Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi are okay and can go against their former team in the postseason.
Jackie: A rematch with the Nashville Predators of course! And it’s becoming possible with each day that goes by as they are now in the mix with the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames for the last wild card spot. It happened on the last day of the season last year when the matchup was set with Colorado and could happen again.
Eddie: For the easiest road for the Avalanche I would say the Winnipeg Jets. If you want a little bit of story line and a bit of an easier road then the Seattle Kraken. Personally, I want the story line. Give me that sweet sweet revenge against the Minnesota Wild or the Dallas Stars and if you beat them in the first give me the other in the second. Full exorcism mode this year.
Jacob: Winnipeg is the most attractive first-round matchup given how much they have struggled in the second half of the season, and it would be an ideal team to get Landeskog and the other injured players back up to speed against—as even though there is a skills mismatch, Connor Hellebuyck plus the Jets physicality make them a dangerously great way to get the Avs used to playoff-style hockey.
Ezra: Nashville! They got worse since the sweep last year - that’s an easy answer if you just want an easier first round. I want to knock out the best competition early and have an easier path through to the Cup Final - give me Dallas in round one and let Mikko and Nate show them what a real top line looks like.
Are any of the upcoming potential milestones meaningful?
Evan: As I said last week on our Mile High Hockey Lab podcast, Nathan MacKinnon reaching 100 points would be incredibly meaningful, especially since he’ll likely downplay it. Deep down, it will be special for him. It is one of the few things he hasn’t achieved yet in his career and he can then talk smack with Sidney Crosby about being in the 100-point club.
Jackie: Since my bold prediction on the aforementioned podcast about Byram getting to 10 goals came true I can’t choose that one now. Seriously though, the milestone I’d most like to see is Mikko Rantanen reaching the 50-goal mark. Scoring goals is the most difficult and most important thing to do in the game of hockey and it is extremely difficult to hit that mark. Some players may only get a chance to have a healthy and consistent enough season to get there once a career and I’d really like to see Rantanen get recognized for his hard work this season.
Eddie: I think having as many of Cale Makar, Valeri Nichushkin, and JT Compher hitting twenty goals is big. That would put the Avalanche at six twenty-goal scorers, one shy of last year's mark of seven. With all the injuries this year, it would be big to know you have a few guys to rely on to light the lamp when you need it, and that’s not even including Gabriel Landeskog who may potentially return in the postseason. It’s nothing too special or flashy, but it’s important. The way secondary scoring often is.
Jacob: Don’t look now but Alexandar Georgiev has a chance to lead the NHL in wins. Given that the Avs are in must-win mode nearly every night, and how Boston clinched a playoff spot forever ago, Georgiev could conceivably catch Linus Ullmark. He’s only two wins behind him (35 to Ullmark’s 37), and Boston has been evenly splitting time between Ullmark and their other excellent goalie, Jeremy Swayman, the second-half of the season. Assuming Ullmark gets half of Boston’s remaining starts and wins them all, that would put him at 40 wins. Georgiev would have to win six of Colorado’s last eight games to pass that figure, and currently he has won five out of the Avs last eight, so this is race is far from over.
Ezra: I’m also going to repeat my podcast opinion here — if Mikko doesn’t hit 50 goals something went seriously wrong, so MacKinnon hitting 100 points feels like the more meaningful milestone. I don’t see how he can get there without feeding Mikko a couple, but there are plenty of ways Rantanen gets his without sharing the wealth with Nate. Give me both, baby!
Who is your 2022-23 regular season MVP? (You can only choose one!)
Evan: I want this to be tough, but Mikko Rantanen is my pick. He’s been consistent for the majority of the season and really got the Avs through some tough stretches in December and January when the entire team was injured to hell and back. His highest-scoring year has been a good one, as he still looks to hit 50 goals within these final couple weeks of the season.
Eddie: It’s Nathan MacKinnon. With Gabriel Landeskog out MacKinnon is the leader of that Avs locker room right now. And as the best player on the team, he’s the leader on the ice as well. His torrent-scoring pace is enough to put him in the lead of this conversation, but what makes it a landslide is how the team reflects his play. If it’s a good night for Nathan MacKinnon the team often has a good night, and the same is true on bad games too. Fortunately, Nathan MacKinnon has a lot more good games than bad.
Jackie: My choice is also Rantanen. As I said before his consistency and reliability is something that has carried this team at times and he’s the one who has put the puck into the back of the net. Miraculously he hasn’t missed a game all season (knock on wood) and has become an even more visible leader being the one who talks after bad losses and generally gives the media the pulse of the team.
Jacob: Only Boston, Carolina, Minnesota and Toronto have allowed fewer goals than Colorado this season, while 13 teams have scored more goals than the Avs. Mikko Rantanen has had his greatest season ever at a time the Avalanche desperately needed him, but Colorado has been at their best this year as a tough defensive team, and that starts with the guy in net. Aleksandar Georgiev is 2nd in the NHL in wins, 4th in save percentage, tied for 1st in shutouts, 5th in minutes played, 5th in shots against, and 7th in Moneypuck’s goals saved above expected metric—half a goal behind the all-world goaltender he backed up last year, Igor Shestirkin. Aleksandar Georgiev is the best goalie the Avs have had in the Nathan MacKinnon era, and he is the biggest reason why they have a chance to win the West going into the final stretch.
Ezra: All due respect to Eddie and Jacob, my best friends and confidants whom I have loved and cherished since we shared our mother’s womb (we’re triplets), but not saying Mikko Rantanen is an insane take. The Moose scooped this entire team up with his big Finnish antlers, threw it on his back, and galloped into the playoffs, ignoring all the weight - even giant Kurtis MacDermid trying desperately to anchor him down with penalties and turnovers - to score 50. MacKinnon is a superstar, Georgiev was great, and the defense as a whole is a huge part of his success that deserves a shoutout here, but without Mikko’s consistent offense and versatile 200 foot game at all three forward positions this season would have been lost to injury by December.