As part of our summer series previewing the 2014-15 NHL season, CSNwashington.com is analyzing all 30 NHL teams, division by division. Today we continue with the Western Conference’s Central Division.
Today: COLORADO AVALANCHE
2013-14 record: 52-22-8 (112 points)
Where they finished: 1st in the Central; 2nd in the West; 3rd in the NHL
Coach: Patrick Roy (2nd season)
Key additions: C Daniel Briere, RW Jarome Iginla, RW Jesse Winchester, D Brad Stuart
Key subtractions: C Paul Stasny, RW P-A Parenteau, D Matt Hunwick, G Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Gabriel Landeskog – Matt Duchene – Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay – Nathan MacKinnon – Ryan O'Reilly
Jamie McGinn- John Mitchell - Maxime Talbot
Cody McLeod - Daniel Briere - Jesse Winchester
Extras: Patrick Bordeleau
Erik Johnson - Jan Hejda
Tyson Barrie - Brad Stuart
Nick Holden - Ryan Wilson
Extras: Bruno Gervais, Zach Redmond
Semyon Varlamov - Reto Berra
Our take: Despite losing No.1 center Paul Stasny via free agency, the Avalanche have reason to believe that they will be back among the NHL's elite franchises next season.
For starters, the Avalanche are returning their top-four leading scorers from a year ago, with Matt Duchene [23 goals and 70 points], Gabriel Landeskog [26 goals and 65 points], Ryan O'Reilly [28 goals and 64 points] and Rookie of the Year Nathan MacKinnon [24 goals and 63 points]. Perhaps most impressive is that none of the four offensive leaders is older than 23.
That said, if inexperience was a concern with this young Avalanche bunch, it shouldn't be moving forward. In addition to holdovers Alex Tanguay, 34, and Maxime Talbot, 30, the Avalanche used this offseason to acquire forwards Jarome Iginla, 37, and Danny Briere, 36, as well as defenseman Brad Stuart, 34. Between them, Iginla, Briere and Stuart have more than 3,200 games of NHL experience, plus another 347 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Iginla signed a three-year, $16 million deal with the Avs on the first day of free agency as the future Hall-of-Famer continues his quest for that elusive Stanley Cup ring. The 12-time 30-goal scorer is expected to play alongside either Duchene or MacKinnon on one of Colorado's top-two lines. Iginla will also see time on a power play unit that ranked 5th in the NHL last season [19.8%].
It's also worth noting that with Stasny joining the St. Louis Blues, MacKinnon will shift back to his natural position of center after spending much of his impressive rookie campaign as a right winger. MacKinnon played some center late last season and at the start of the playoffs, while Duchene was sidelined with a knee injury. MacKinnon, 18, responded with 10 points in 7 playoff games before the Avalanche were eliminated by the Minnesota Wild in overtime of Game 7.
With Duchene back healthy, and Tanguay returning after missing 66 games last season, the Avalanche are confident in the the blend of young talent and veteran leaders they have assembled up front.
Defensively, the Avalanche are in desperate need of an improvement from a year ago, when they gave up 32.7 shots per game (2nd most in the Western Conference). The Avs also ranked 25th in Corsi Close and 27th in Fenwick Close, two advanced statistical categories that measure possession numbers.
There is a thought within the advanced stats community that the Avalanche were fortunate to win 52 games last season with such low Corsi and Fenwick numbers. Colorado also had the NHL's best record in one-goal games at 28-4-8 (.700).
Of course, a large reason why the Avalanche were able to win so many games despite their defensive flaws was the play of former Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov.
Varlamov led the NHL with 41 wins and finished second among goalies with a .927 save percentage (minimum 30 appearances). The 26-year-old was the only goalie to face more than 2,000 shots last season and finished second in Vezina Trophy voting, behind only Boston's Tuukka Rask.
Varlamov is entering the first season of a five-year, $29.5 million extension.
Will they make the playoffs in 2014-15? Yes, the Avalanche will qualify for the postseason for a second straight year.
Against the Capitals: Thu. Nov. 20 at Colorado; Mon. Jan. 12 at Washington