The Colorado Avalanche were a Stanley Cup favorite last season and not much has changed this time around.
The Avs were disposed of by the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinal last season, but are once again right in the mix as one of the Cup favorites in 2021.
With all-world pivot Nathan MacKinnon leading the way as one of the best players on the planet, let’s take a dive into the Avalanche, their outlook for the upcoming season, their odds as well as some predictions on how their season should shake out.
2020-21 Colorado Avalanche Season Preview & Odds
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
- Last Season: 42-20-8
- Key Additions: LW Brandon Saad, D Devon Toews
- Projected Salary Cap Space: $1,823,614
- 2021 Stanley Cup Odds: +800
- 2021 Western Conference Odds: +375
The Avalanche didn’t have a whole lot of trouble scoring goals last season.
Their 3.37 goals per game ranked fourth in the league, although it was interesting to see their power play slip to 19th where they posted a 19.1% clip despite some loaded talent on that group.
That said, we need to keep in mind what they didn’t have for much of the season. The Avs played 70 games in the shortened regular season, but only 54 of those games featured captain Gabriel Landeskog. If that weren’t enough, another one of MacKinnon’s first-line mates in Mikko Rantanen skated in just 42 of those 70 contests.
What's better than 1⃣ Nathan MacKinnon goal?
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 19, 2020
And if that seriously was not enough, their shiny offseasons acquisition – center Nazem Kadri – played just 51 games himself. Add it up and three of the team’s top four forwards missed notable time and the Avs managed to rank among the league’s top-five in offense. Impressive.
General Manager Joe Sakic added some scoring depth on the flank in the form of former Blackhawk Brandon Saad who the team hopes will skate – and produce – alongside Kadri on the second line.
That said, Sakic looked like a genius after the likes of Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi and Valeri Nichushkin produced well beyond expectations after the Hall of Fame center brought them into the fold last summer. Much of that has to do with their promotion alongside MacKinnon when Landeskog and Rantanen went down, however there’s zero doubt all of these additions played at career-high levels after coming on board a season ago.
Health permitting, there’s not much reason to believe that the 2020-21 Avalanche will be any less of a goal-scoring threat than they were with their injury-riddled forward group a season ago.
The Avs’ defense last season was a bit of mystery, at least in terms of their splits.
I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the Avalanche finishing sixth with just 2.71 goals against per game last season. The interesting portion of that discussion is that they ranked second with just 2.49 goals against per game on the road, but also tied for 17th with 2.97 goals against per game at home.
The splits aren’t so outrageous that any forward-thinking conclusions should be drawn, but it was interesting to note the difference, for whatever reason.
Splits have their way of changing from year to year, and there was a notable change made on the blueline as Nikita Zadorov is now a Chicago Blackhawk, but Devon Toews is now a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs second a pair of second-round picks to the Islanders in early October in exchange for Toews and recently signed him to a four-year pact that will have him as part of this team’s core for the foreseeable future.
Ryan Graves has leapfrogged his way into a top-pair defenseman and will form that pair alongside breakout rookie Cale Makar moving forward. The physical aspect of Zadorov’s game could be missed, the the Avs still have a pair of rear guards who can put their bodies on the line in the form of veterans Erik Johnson and Ian Cole.
✅ First Shot
✅ First Goal
✅ First Game
— NHL (@NHL) April 15, 2020
Makar, along with Toews and youngster Samuel Girard form a nice offensively-thinking group while the Avs have found a way to balance that out with the defensive-minded Graves, Johnson and Cole on what is a nice-looking top-six for the 2019-20 sixth-ranked defensive unit.
No change here.
As they did last season, the Avs are set to roll with a combination of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz between the pipes.
Grubauer was the sure-fire No.1 heading into the season over the 29-year-old rookie Francouz, but injuries tested that tandem. Grubauer ended up appearing in just 36 of the Avs’ 70 games due to various ailments, but nonetheless turned in a rock-solid 2.63 GAA and .916 SV% in that time.
Perhaps Grubauer is one of the more underrated netminders in the game. While those numbers from a season ago are wildly admirable, they are actually below his career marks of a 2.44 GAA and .920 Sv% across 174 career NHL appearances. For what it’s worth, his 2.64 GAA and .917 Sv% from his first season in Colorado as part of a timeshare alongside Semyon Varlamov in the 2018-19 season were almost identical to his work from a season ago.
While Grubauer nursed injuries, Francouz was outstanding. The now 30-year-old Czech netminder turned in a 2.41 GAA and .923 Sv% in his 34 appearances last season, posting a stout 21-7-4 mark in the process. Francouz was called upon for five postseason starts, although his production slipped all the way to a 3.23 GAA and .892 Sv% in that time, earning just two victories in six decisions.
He. Did. That. 😱
Pavel Francouz's unreal stick save highlights @Steve_Dangle's Hat Picks for the best plays of the week in the NHL.
Watch the full video ➡️ https://t.co/oTrc2wv1h2
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 2, 2020
All that said, it looks like the Avs are going to be just fine in goal. At 5v5, Avalanche goaltending ranked third with a .932 Sv% while they were up to the task when their team needed them the most in the form of a ninth-ranked .837 Sv% on high-danger scoring chances.
Add it up and Colorado goaltending finished in a four-way tie for third place league wide with a .913 Sv% on the season alongside the Columbus Blue Jackets, Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks.
There’s no reason for Sakic not to feel comfortable about his goaltending situation moving forward despite his team sporting Stanley Cup aspirations.
2020-21 Colorado Avalanche Predictions
Of course, expectations here are sky-high.
Only the Tampa Bay Lightning sport better 2021 Stanley Cup odds than that of the Avs with the Lighting as the BetOnline favorite with +750 odds to repeat. The Avs and Golden Knights are co-favorites to win the Western Conference at +375.
And rightfully so. Even when his offense was banged up, Nathan MacKinnon put in yet another MVP-caliber season while putting his team on his back. He certainly put the offense on his back en route to a top-five finish.
The defense also looks stout. The Avs ranked sixth in terms of high-danger chances allowed last season and got the goaltending they needed when those rare chances arose. Grubauer has posted consistent, impressive numbers throughout his NHL career and certainly in his Avalanche career when his workload has increased.
There’s just no reason to believe that this team won’t be a major player next season. It would appear to be that the Blues might take a step back in the Central, and the low-scoring Stars are no lock to repeat as Western Conference threats, although their defense-first style certainly benefited them this season.
In other words, I don’t see any challengers to this Avalanche team in the Central. This team is going to win the division, perhaps with ease despite the league-wide parity in the NHL, and I’ll look for them to march their way to the Stanley Cup Final over a Vegas Golden Knights team that will present a real challenge.
Folks, we could very well be looking at the 2021 Stanley Cup champs and I don’t hate those +800 odds to do so one bit.