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NHL’s 30 in 30: Colorado Avalanche

For the month of June, Last Word On Sports will be covering each team in our 30 in 30 series. Once a day, we take a look at an NHL team’s past season, what their off-season looks like, and what they could hope to achieve before the start of their 2015-16 season. Everybody wants to get better and improve upon last season’s success or downfall and NHL’s 30 in 30 gives you that analysis and preview you need to get you by during another long and grueling summer season. 30 days in June, 30 teams to cover. Starting on June 1st we start from the bottom and make our way to the very top.

Today’s team: The Colorado Avalanche. Check out our previous 30 in 30 articles here.

NHL’s 30 in 30: Colorado Avalanche

Finishing 21st overall, the Colorado Avalanche posted a record of 39-31-12 to end up with just 90 points. Their home record (23-15-3) accumulated for 49 points, making them the fourth best team in their own building among non-playoff teams, tied with the 20th ranked Florida Panthers. Their away record (16-16-9) was a complete contrast, as they struggled to stay above .500. Their shoot-out record was an impressive 10-4, however their short-comings while on the road hurt their chances significantly and the inability to replicate out-of-this-world goaltending paired with a high team shooting percentage was inevitably what did them in.

The 2014-15 Regular Season

After last season’s incredible 112-point finish, the Colorado Avalanche were one of the teams expected to take a fall from grace the following season, and that’s exactly what happened. The team continued to be one of the worst puck possession teams in the league, placing 29th, just ahead of the lowly Buffalo Sabres. In the last six seasons, their highest finish among puck possession statistics was 11th, but that year was surrounded by seasons of finishing anywhere from 23rd to 28th.

A team that is building through young, talented players, the Avalanche iced six players aged 23 or younger who played a minimum of half the season. Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog continued to progress into a prime two-way winger, putting up 59 points (23 goals, 36 assists) in 82 games while facing quality opposition and averaging 18:30 TOI per game. Alex Tanguay’s 55-point (22 goals, 33 assists) season continued to showcase him as a top-six forward at the age of 34. Tanguay is heading into the final year of his contract, but don’t expect his numbers to take a dip, as he remains one of the more consistent players on the team. The Avalanche are familiar with veterans stepping up, as 37-year-old Jarome Iginla shared the team lead in points with 59 and led the team in goals with 29, one shy of the 30-goal plateau.

19-year-old sensation Nathan MacKinnon took a step back after an exceptional rookie campaign. The first overall pick in 2013, MacKinnon had his season cut short to 64 games, thanks to a broken foot, and his numbers dropped thanks mostly to the poor possession totals of the entire team. Averaging the most time on ice among all forwards, Ryan O’Reilly was one of the best players on the team, making everyone around him better as well. Heading into the final year of his contract and seemingly not on par with how much team management evaluates his worth, it will be interesting to see what the team does with him if they can’t sign him to an extension during the off-season.

One of the biggest stories on Colorado’s blue-line has been the rise of 23-year-old Tyson Barrie. Putting up 91 points in 144 games spread over the last two seasons, Barrie has become quite the difference maker in Colorado. Erik Johnson was having himself a remarkable season as well before it was cut short when he required knee surgery. He’s up for a contract extension after next season and the way he’s played up to his potential over the last few seasons, he’s more than likely to get a pay raise. Both Nathan Guenin and Nick Holden were two of the Avalanche’s worst defensemen in terms of puck possession numbers and both regressed significantly. Despite Brad Stuart blocking shots and hitting well, he was abysmal playing big minutes on a team that couldn’t control the puck. In a complimentary role on a team that controls the play, like the Detroit Red Wings, Stuart is a player you’d love to have but on the Avalanche, he simply falls into the back of the pack.

When playing 200 shorthanded minutes or more, no goaltender is better than Semyon Varlamov and his .914 SV% over the last two years. Varlamov has been a constant between the pipes, posting an average .925 SV% and the Avalanche will have to hope that trend continues if they have any hope of making a push next season. Prior to last season, Reto Berra received a three-year contract extension and while he got off to a poor start in the first year of that deal, he rebounded nicely. With two years left, he could garner some interest on the trade market if management decides it’s time for 23-year-old Calvin Pickard to take the role of back-up goaltender.

On trade deadline day, general manager Joe Sakic made a series of three trades. Paul Carey and Maxime Talbot were traded to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Jordan Caron and a 2016 6th-round pick. Karl Stollery was sent to the San Jose Sharks for Freddie Hamilton. Finally, a minor deal was made between two prospects as Michael Sgarbossa and a conditional 2015 7th-round pick was sent to the Anaheim Ducks for Mat Clark.

The Off-Season and Free Agents

Heading into the off-season, the Avalanche have a total of five free agents to decide on. Of the five free agents, three are restricted to the team; Forwards Joey Hishon, Hamilton and Caron. Forward Daniel Briere, and defenseman Dan Hejda are the upcoming unrestricted free agents. In terms of non-roster players, Sakic will have to decide on eight restricted free agents and two unrestricted free agents.

With just under $59 million tied to 21 players, the biggest needs for the Avalanche going forward is a top-four defenseman and a top-nine forward. With the potential loss of Hejda, the Avalanche will need some immediate help and may search for some veteran help. Names like Barrett Jackman, Johnny Oduya and Paul Martin could be suitable candidates for Colorado.

While the Avalanche are pretty much set with the forward lines, having 13 forwards signed for the 2015-16 season, adding some reinforcements could help push down some of the bottom-six players and have them excel in a lesser role with less responsibilities. With just under $11 million to spend on the cap this off-season, the Avalanche are in a good position to make a bid on a few free agents on July 1st, but expect their activity to be short-lived unless they can fire off a contract or two, via trade. Guenin, Zach Redmond and Patrick Bordeleau all make a million dollars or less and are on expiring contracts. It will also be interesting to see what happens with O’Reilly, as a deal could potentially bring in a player or two to fill some needs.

In their prospect pool, defensemen Chris Bigras and Duncan Siemens are two players who could be fighting for a spot come training camp, depending on what is done during the free agency period. Bigras, a second-round pick in 2013, has a decent frame at 6’1, 195 pounds, and has tapped into some offensive-minded potential. Jumping from junior to the NHL seems unlikely but if he can provide a strong performance, perhaps he can gain the trust of head coach Patrick Roy. Siemens, drafted 11th overall in 2011, has the large frame that Roy loves and he knows how to use it too. Avalanche fans have wanted Siemens with the team for some time and this year may be the year. Joey Hishon appeared in 13 games last season and didn’t look too out of place, despite his smaller stature and lack of experience. Having appeared in three playoff games with the Avalanche two years ago, Hishon has had some exposure at the highest level of competition.

The Draft Table

Heading into this year’s draft, Sakic and his scouting team have six picks to work with. While not the busiest of teams this year, and no fifth-round pick to work with, the Avalanche will seek help for their prospect pool with the tenth overall pick. In a deep draft, a top-10 pick will prove to be very valuable. At virtually every position, the Avalanche could get some additional talent. Defensemen Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski are both slotted to go around the 8th and 11th picks, while forwards Matthew Barzal and Mikko Rantanen have top-10 potential, while Lawson Crouse could sneak into the first ten picks after a solid combine showing. Timo Meier has a solid frame to work with and the tools that could interest Sakic and Roy.

In the second round, the Avalanche hold the 40th pick and in such a deep draft this year, that pick could turn out to be a gem. A pair of defensemen in Noah Juulsen and Vince Dunn are projected to go anywhere between 35 and 40, and could potentially land in Sakic’s reach. Filip Chlapik and Zach Senyshyn both have decent size to work with and a mix of skill and tenacity, and would be excellent candidates at the 40th spot. Another likely prospect for the Avalanche to consider is 6’1, 212-pound Christian Fischer.

Following their second-round showing, the Avalanche will pick 71st, 101st, 161st and 191st. Their 7th-round choice was involved in the Sgarbossa-Clark deal, however the conditions are not yet known. Going by Bob McKenzie’s final list, centre Anthony Cirelli is slotted at the 71st spot. While on the leaner side, Cirelli plays larger than he is and has tons of heart and character. The Oshawa Generals centreman scored the game-winning goal at this year’s Memorial Cup.

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