The Colorado Avalanche have made it back to the Stanley Cup Final. For the first time in 20 years, Colorado will get a chance at raising Lord Stanley. They completed the sweep of the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Finals. The Avs have shown the ability to overcome injuries and their own flaws time and time again. The Oilers, however, will be forced to go back to the drawing board. They flashed their talent and skill but lacked the depth and structure to keep pace. Both teams still have work to do, despite their opposing fates. The Colorado Avalanche vs Edmonton Oilers series brought lots of talking points despite being just four games.
Colorado Avalanche vs Edmonton Oilers Series Recap
Colorado’s Depth Stands Tall
The star-studded lineup of the Avs has never been doubted. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Makar, Nazem Kadri, and more. The Avalanche have the ability to match any lineup talent for talent. But, as stated many times before, the playoffs don’t just reward talent alone. What’s gotten Colorado to this point has been all the depth they possess. The bottom six has been very fruitful for the Avs. Unsung heroes like J.T. Compher, Andrew Cogliano, and Logan O’Connor have been pulling their weight. Whether it be on offence or defence, the third and fourth lines have done well for the Avs. They’ve taken significant strides year after year. Now, it’s helped them complete their championship puzzle.
This is especially impressive due to the injuries they’ve sustained. Colorado battled injuries throughout the season. Players like Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nazem Kadri missed significant amounts of time. This meant players like Alex Newhook and Nicolas Aube-Kubel had to take on bigger roles. So far, they’ve been up to the task. With Samuel Girard out for the remainder of the playoffs, Jack Johnson was thrown into the fire. Even though he made a few mistakes, he’s settled into his role. Backup goalie Pavel Francouz became a folk hero for Colorado in this series. Colorado can win in many ways, and it’s in large part due to how they’re built.
Jared Bednar and Joe Sakic Have Led the Charge
Head coach Jared Bednar and GM Joe Sakic have come a long way since their nightmare start in Colorado. Jared Bednar’s first year at the helm was the 2016-17 disaster year. The Avalanche only managed 22 wins the entire season. Losing 60 games and squeaking out 48 points is no way to start your tenure. Joe Sakic’s missteps in the draft and free agency drew the ire of the fanbase. Both looked like dead men walking. Five years later, they have the team on the cusp of a championship. Bednar became the franchise’s all-time leader in wins. Almost every move Sakic has made has benefitted the Avs in their quest. He’s managed to build a championship roster without drastic overpayments or cap maneuvers.
A lot of Colorado’s depth has been through their farm system. The minor league system has borne fruit for the Avalanche. It’s given good rotation players or good trade chips the Avs used for upgrades. A good example is the Nazem Kadri trade. Alexander Kerfoot was a big part of the deal that brought Kadri to Colorado. Another one is the deadline acquisition of Artturi Lehkonen. Prospect Justin Barron was the main part of the trade. He was a highly touted defensive prospect for the Colorado Eagles. But the Avs wanted Lehkonen to the point they were willing to part with him. The trade has been a major win for the Avalanche. These are just a few examples of how much Joe Sakic and Jared Bednar have grown.
Where do the Oilers Go From Here
Losing in the Conference Final is a tough pill to swallow. For Edmonton, it’s especially tough losing a heartbreaker on home ice. But the Oilers should have no shame in how this season went. Back in January, this team looked like they’d be lucky just to make the playoffs. With all the defensive woes, goaltending issues, and firing of their head coach, this should’ve been an awful season. Jay Woodcroft deserves a lot of credit for righting the ship. They made it farther than anyone expected. It was just a case of running into a better team. No shame in losing that way.
That said, this team has a lot of work to do for a return trip. The Oilers need to address their defence and depth scoring this summer. The Oilers have the top-end talent to make a playoff run. But they lack the consistency and structure to win a championship. General Manager Ken Holland received heavy criticism this summer. Even though they overachieved, the Oilers still have holes to fill. The question remains: can they do it quickly enough? The West is getting tougher and tougher. Edmonton will have to move quickly to get over the hump.
What Happens to Mike Smith?
For many Oilers fans, Mike Smith is the one to blame for the Colorado Avalanche vs Edmonton Oilers series loss. An .862 save percentage is an easy stat to point out. Colorado scored 5.5 goals per game in the series. But it’s not on Smith alone. The Oilers’ defence did Mike Smith no favours. Taking bad penalties and bad turnovers put them in bad positions constantly. Duncan Keith and Darnell Nurse did little to stop the bleeding. The Oilers lack an elite defenceman that can elevate the back end.
That said, it’s reasonable to doubt Smith’s ability to get it done. Edmonton will need a goaltending upgrade. There will be plenty of options on the market this offseason. Jack Campbell and Braden Holtby are two names to keep their eye on. Even wild card options like Darcy Kuemper or Marc-Andre Fleury would be upgrades in net. Mike Smith alone is not to blame for them falling short. But if the Oilers desire more, then they need a new netminder.
Colorado now awaits the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals. They will either face the Tampa Bay Lightning or the New York Rangers. That series is tied at 2-2.