With the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs starting, now comes the time for fans and hockey enthusiasts to start making their playoff predictions. Many pundits make their predictions round by round, while others are already touting top-of-the-league teams like the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Calgary Flames or two-year consecutive reigning champs Tampa Bay Lightning to go all the way. Others have no doubt the Colorado Avalanche will win it all. But while the Avalanche boasted the best record in the western conference and second-best record in the league, and have a fantastic squad, a deeper look at what lies ahead for them may reveal a different story.
A Breakdown of the Chances of Colorado Winning the Stanley Cup this Year
Coming in Cold
While it is not necessarily an indicator of things to come, a quick look at the Avalanche’s record in the last 10 games of the season reveals a record of 4-5-1. Compare that to other Western Conference teams like the Minnesota Wild (8-1-1), the Calgary Flames (6-2-2) and the St. Louis Blues (7-2-1), and it seems like Colorado’s top challengers in the west looked more primed and ready for the playoff crunch coming down the stretch. Looking at the Eastern Conference, the Panthers, Hurricanes, and Lightning are all boasting hot streaks going into the tournament. Colorado can of course easily turn this around with a decisive first-round victory, but there is more at play.
The Avalanche Have a Tougher Road to the Finals
When it comes to big cup contenders like Florida, Tampa Bay and Carolina in the eastern conference versus Colorado, Minnesota, Calgary and St. Louis in the western, it might seem that with all their offence, Colorado will face the easier opponents. Not so. Colorado might easily dispatch the Dallas Stars in the first round in five to six games (or less), but when it comes to the crash and bang style of a Minnesota Wild, the high octane Calgary Flames (with Matthew Tkachuk and Milan Lucic being no strangers to mixing it up) and recent cup winners the St. Louis Blues in the second or third round, the Avalanche may well find themselves served up an early playoff exit, as has happened the in the last two years.
They will have to rely on the intensity of players like Nazem Kadri to contend with these teams. And then, even if the Avalanche do make it to the finals, they would be pretty banged up and beaten and perhaps not ready to take on the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, or whatever came next.
Great goaltending is everything in the playoffs, and Darcy Kuemper has been solid, if not great for the Avalanche. His .922 save percentage and five shutouts this year attest to this. But does he have what it takes to help take his team to the Cup?
A quick look at his past playoff experience does not tell a great story. In nine games in the bubble (including a series against his current team) he allowed twenty-nine goals in 9 games. His previous playoff resume is sparse, and when matched up against the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury in Minnesota or Jacob Markstrom in Calgary (or recent cup winners St. Louis) the edge in goaltending goes to at least Minnesota and Calgary. Furthermore, if or when Kuemper is forced to play offensive powerhouse teams like the Flames (three 40 goals scorers, four at over 30 goals) or the Panthers, Kuemper will have to be at his sharpest, and so will his defence in front of him.
The Colorado Avalanche have a great head coach and proven winner in Jared Bednar. They finished second overall in the league just behind the Florida Panthers (coming only three points shy of winning the President’s Trophy) They undoubtedly have a powerful offence in their arsenal with Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, and a possible return of Gabriel Landeskog. They received top-notch goaltending all year from Kuemper. But looking at the big picture, questions remain as to whether or not they can bring the cup home. Their team defence ranked only seventh in the league this year in goals against, is it good enough? Coach Bednar to date does not have the playoff track record and winning experience compared to Blues coach Craig Berube, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour and Flames coach Darryl Sutter, the latter two of who often receive god-like status and loyalty from their fans and players alike.
Can Kuemper be the goalie that they need him to be throughout a tough playoff run? And will they be tough enough overall when facing the Wild, Flames, or Blues down the stretch? The next month will reveal if the Colorado Avalanche can rise to the occasion and prove they have what it takes to be Stanley Cup champions, or end up turning in yet another disappointing playoff run.