It is time to review the Colorado Avalanche season as it has finally come to an end. The team fought hard to a game seven but it ultimately ran into a resurgent Dallas Stars team that also had its number during the regular season. It is time to review what took place and look forward to a bright 2020-21. This could look very different but there is plenty of excitement in store for the mile-high city.
Colorado Avalanche Season Review
The Avalanche went 42-20-8 with 92 points during the shortened regular seasons. They had one of the single best offences in the entire league with a Western Conference-leading 237 goals for. Their defence was also quite solid, only allowing 191 goals against. That figure was third-fewest behind only the Stars and Arizona Coyotes.
There is no discussion of the Avalanche season that doesn’t include some mention of Nathan MacKinnon. The 24-year-old was simply one of the best players in the entire league as he pursues the first Hart Trophy of his career. MacKinnon would have set a new career-best in points had the season not ended due to the pandemic but he still scored 35 goals and 93 points in 69 games. The next-most productive player on the team was rookie Cale Makar, who scored 12 goals and 50 points in 57 games. Makar was so good that he might just give the Avs two award winners in 2019-20 if he wins the Calder alongside MacKinnon’s Hart.
The two biggest stars got plenty of support as well. Veterans Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri all scored at least 19 goals and 35 points during the regular season. The spring pause hurt some of their raw numbers but it allowed each to return to health after various injuries plagued the team in late February. Those three along with MacKinnon and Makar form the core of what should be a regular Stanley Cup contender.
There are almost too many surprises to count in 2019-20 but there are a few that stand out. Andre Burakovsky went from a bottom-six role for the Washington Capitals to a key part of the Avs offence. The 25-year-old set new highs for himself with 20 goals and 45 points in 58 games. He hadn’t scored more than 38 points in any of his previous five seasons with Washington. Burakovsky earned himself significant consideration for a big contract this offseason.
2019-20 turned into a major redemption campaign for Stars cast-off Valeri Nichushkin. The former tenth overall pick from the 2013 Draft failed to register a single goal in 2018-19 with Dallas but exploded in Colorado’s system. Nichushkin scored 13 goals and 27 points in 65 games and might have challenged his rookie numbers had the season not ended when it did. One could take issue with his lack of offence in the postseason bubble but this was a successful season regardless.
The final major surprise of the year has to be Ryan Graves. Graves was not expected to play a huge role with so many well-known blueline options but he simply crushed it. The former fourth-round pick from the 2013 Draft had nine goals and 26 points in 69 games. He led the league in the meaningless +/- category with an incredible +40. Just over 1/3 of Graves’ minutes came next to Makar. There was definite chemistry between the two young defenders that hopefully carries over to next year. He was just one piece of a special season that just ran out of steam.
Final Grade for 2019-20: A-
Challenges for 2020-21
First is what to do with underperforming pieces. Tyson Jost and Nikita Zadorov are two players who seem capable of great things but struggled throughout the season. Jost has flashed offensive ability but can’t put everything together for long stretches. Zadorov is the team’s most physical player but took the most penalty minutes of any defender despite being an important part of the penalty kill depth. He simply displayed too many gaps in his game this season and saw Graves duplicate much of his intended role. Figuring out what to do with some restricted free agents is key.
Next, some big decisions are scheduled for the blue line. Zadorov and Graves are restricted free agents but Colorado also needs to replace Kevin Connauton and Mark Barberio. The team needs to decide if it’s time to push star prospect, Bowen Byram, into a role or if Conor Timmins is ready for more NHL action. There’s also the question of developing chemistry among those who do remain. Colorado had one of the youngest rosters in the entire league. They were tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs in average age and the youngest team was younger by only six months. That much youth can be hard to manage even for an organization as prepared as Colorado’s.
Finally, The Avalanche is likely looking at a rebuilt fourth-line in 2020-21. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was a very good acquisition last offseason but he could see two new linemates. Both Matt Nieto and Vladislav Namestnikov are likely to reach the open market barring some surprise discounts in their next contracts. Martin Kaut, Logan O’Connor and Shane Bowers are just three young, promising skaters worthy of consideration next season. The Avs have plenty of talent but their offseason will be one of the most interesting to watch.
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