Welcome back to The-Rink folks! Hope everybody had a nice holiday break and new year. As we enter a new decade, there is a lot of promise with the Colorado Avalanche. This is a hockey club that has been built through the draft by a patient general manager who is in it for the long term. Although the Avalanche weren’t able to close out games at the end of 2019, there is still plenty of time for the team to get better come playoff time.
With that being said, we thought it would be a good idea to do a round table article with our predictions for the next year featuring JJ Seaward and our newest contributor Lucas Rozell. 2020 is going to be a big year for Colorado hockey with the future looking bright for the next decade. Let’s get started!
Will Cale Makar win the Calder Trophy, and will Nathan MacKinnon win the Hart Trophy?
JS: I would say that Makar is a shoe in for the Calder trophy, if he can continue to contribute on a daily basis. Nothing against Hughes, but Makar is just the complete package, and is just a stronger player overall. As for MacKinnon, I definitely do think he deserves the Hart trophy, and he proved that when we kept the Avs in winning form with injuries to Rantanen and Landeskog.
LR: Cale Makar should be a clear favorite for the Calder after the season he’s already had, even more so if he can continue to produce at the level we’ve been seeing him at. His excellent games have far outweighed his poor ones and the period during his injury showed just how integral to the defense he is. Other rookies this year have been impressive, but Makar has decided to take the NHL by storm this year and I think he’s definitely the most deserving.
I think MacKinnon should win the Hart just based on how he put the team on his back during the injury bug. He doesn’t lead the league in points, but if the NHL decided he didn’t deserve the Hart after the 2017-18 season due to his excellent linemates, the same can absolutely be said for the McDavid and Draisaitl duo this season.
AG: If Makar can stay healthy, he should have the Calder locked up. Even in his first game in the NHL he was an immediate contributor. It shows that with that extra year at UMass, Makar was able to better prepare himself physically and mentally for the NHL grind. And already quarterbacking the first unit powerplay, Makar has already established himself as trustworthy and not afraid to take a shot when it’s there.
I think people are finally seeing Nathan MacKinnon for who he is. This season with all the injuries the Avs have had, MacKinnon has been the only constant and Colorado has been able to weather the storm. The Avs are finally seeing success and MacKinnon is a big part in leading that effort. It would be a shame if he didn’t get the Hart this year but this may be his best chance yet.
Is the tandem of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz good enough to win in the playoffs?
JS: I believe that they are. Although Grubauer was not the main guy in net during the Caps cup winning postseason run, he was very important. He only gained more experience last season, and once he gets back to feeling like his old self, he will be solid. It is a little bit more difficult to say for Francouz, as he hasn’t had that experience yet, but seeing how he has been able to elevate his game so far, fans should not worry about him.
LR: The goalie question is complicated by the defensive struggles the Avalanche have seen this year, but I do think we need to see more out of Grubauer and Francouz in this next stretch if the Avalanche are serious about being cup contenders. While both goalies have had some incredible highlight-reel worthy saves this year, they’ve also both let in some soft goals and Francouz was downright leaky during the December 27th game against the Wild. Our offense has bailed them out on some of their worst nights, but it isn’t realistic to expect the offense to continue with these high scoring games.
AG: This is an interesting one. Grubauer has had his moments but is also having a hard time staying healthy. Luckily for the Avalanche, Joe Sakic rolled the dice on Francouz and he seems to be playing pretty well in the NHL. There are also a few goalies in the system that will be options in the future, but the Avs need help now. For the moment, I think the Avs stand pat, but if the goaltender position is an issue in the playoffs, this will be addressed in the offseason.
What position could be stronger for the playoff push? Will Joe Sakic add any rentals at the trade deadline?
JS: He might, but I don’t think it is a necessary option. Most of this season the Avs have not had a fully healthy squad. Once everyone gets on the same page, things will start clicking once again — no need for a meaningless rental that will only mess up the chemistry.
LR: Our defense could be stronger in many areas, though that isn’t as easy a fix. Arguably we have the talent for a strong blue line, but the play has been disjointed and the team struggles with a five-man defense. I don’t see Sakic as likely to add a rental around the deadline, given the previous discussions the team has had on high-profile rentals. I think the playoff push is more a matter of tightening up the game than adding new players into the mix.
AG: Sakic did a lot during the offseason including importing an entire second line. It’s possible he adds some more depth in the bottom six and on defense, but I don’t think it will be anything significant. The Avs have about $6 million in cap space and they do have some draft capital. The time is now to take advantage if they feel they are a true cup contender this season.
Is Ryan Graves for real? What kind of contract will he command if so?
JS: Leading the league in plus-minus is impressive, and he just seems to be doing everything right. He is physical, elusive, and has been very good this season. I can see him getting a three-year contract if he resigns.
LR: I’m a big Ryan Graves fan. I love how he’s been playing this season, especially for a guy we didn’t know would have a roster spot coming into the year. He obviously has room for improvement in some areas, but he only has 63 NHL games under his belt, and he’s shown an ability to adapt his game in response to his weaknesses. He’s definitely producing, as he and Makar have combined for the vast majority of the defense scoring this year. I like his penalty kill presence as well. He’s not afraid to get into shooting lanes to break up plays and he’s equally as willing to join the rush at the other end of the ice. Add on to that the fact that Bednar says he’s earned the trust of the coaching staff and you have a recipe for a guy with a future with the Avs.
If he can continue playing like he has, and maybe tighten up a few aspects of his game going forward, I can easily see an extension in his future. He’s on a one year “prove it” deal at the moment, and I’m inclined to say he’s proven his worth. He’s definitely going to be more budget-friendly than other options going into next season and I think that’s going to be appealing given the number of players that are going to end up as RFAs in 2020.
AG: Ryan Graves is having a fantastic season and a lot of that development has to do with the core group he’s playing with. With a healthy mix of veterans and elite young players, Graves has been able to succeed playing his game. He likes to jump into the rush, he can play the body, and has been reliable in his own end. As an RFA, Graves will command a significant raise, but the question is if Sakic believes Graves can be part of the core long term.
Where will the Avalanche finish in the Central Division?
JS: Not being able to beat the Blues, I can see the Avs finishing second or even third in the Central division with 98 or so points.
LR: Assuming the Avalanche aren’t on the verge of a total breakdown, I can see them comfortably sitting in second place in the Central, probably sitting around 100 points. If the Blues decide to tank, the Avs might jump into first, but I wouldn’t put money on it as of right now. However, I think the Avalanche should be safe this season from having their playoffs position decided by the second to last game in the season, which is a nice change.
AG: I’m not sure what to think of where the Avs would benefit most finishing in the central. They had so much success being an underdog and I’m not sure how they would do coming out as a favorite. There have been high expectations for this team all year and it’s easy to get complacent. I believe if the Avs want to get to the Stanley Cup, the road will have to go through St. Louis who has always been a bad matchup for the Avs. It will be a true test.
Will Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon play together during the playoffs?
JS: I can see them being split up for a little bit and then maybe being put back together for certain situations. The line has regressed from last season, and I honestly would like to see MacKinnon play more with Donskoi and Burakovsky some more.
LR: Our top line has been underwhelming lately. They’re far from the dominating force they were last year, with most of our recent point production from depth players and the defense. I wouldn’t be against splitting them up again – Maybe slotting Donskoi back in on MacKinnon’s wing, as that combination worked well during the injury bug. What I don’t want to see is Bednar going back to the salad spinner method of picking lines. It hasn’t done the job this year.
AG: I think they do play together. Yes, they do get some powerplay time together but what has made this team so good the last couple years is their ability to strike quickly and change a game. This top line gives you that along with more depth this season. There is a lot of chemistry there and the Avs have to lean on their best players to get the job done when it matters most.
Will the Avalanche make it past the second round?
JS: Why not? The Avs were only one goal away last year, and they seem to get stronger each time they make the playoffs. With a young squad that is hungry, and now has that second round experience, I can see them advancing. With a talented, speedy squad, and MacKinnon and Makar both raising their games to the next level, the Avs will be a tough second round exit.
LR: The Avs are capable of playing absolutely insane, blow the competition out of the water, dominating hockey. If they play to their strengths and play a full 60 minutes, they’re very difficult to beat. The question, of course, is if they’re going to bring the right energy into the playoffs. They fell apart in the second round last season after dominating the Flames in the first round and it was a difficult loss to swallow. I think this team has the ability to make it past the second round, especially if they can tighten up some of the flaws in their game before the start of the postseason.
AG: Denver was absolutely electric last season during the playoffs. And with another opportunity for the Avs and Nuggets to be deep in the playoffs, Colorado will again be rocking. The Avalanche are building to be a perennial contender for a long time and it wouldn’t surprise me if that started this season. They continue to takes steps each year and this is the logical next step. We saw a lot of depth players contribute last year in the playoffs and they will need heroes like Matt Calvert and Matt Nieto to come through again.
Will Bowen Byram make the 2020-21 roster?
LR: It’s possible. It’s also possible that the Avs want him to develop further before pushing him into the defense core. He’s put up decent numbers in the WHL this season, though his recent performance in the U20 has been underwhelming. In contrast, Timmins has been playing very well in the AHL this season, so he may be a more appealing choice to pull up to the NHL for the 2020-21 roster. The Avs might want Byram to develop at the AHL level before they call him up for good – The Eagles tend to do great things for player development and confidence, especially with their younger players.
AG: It won’t matter. Joe Sakic knows that Byram is a key piece to this Avalanche team moving forward and he will be as patient as he needs to be to make sure Byram excels at every level before advancing to the pros.
Will Comcast finally get the Avalanche back on TV?
JS: Highly doubtful. Streaming is your friend, people.
LR: I’ve tried to stay out of the Altitude debate, but it’s disappointing to see the argument continuing on both sides. I’d like to see Avs back on all cable networks because not having hockey on TV is the worst way to grow a fanbase. Avalanche fans deserve to watch the team, especially with how exciting it’s been to watch them play lately.
AG: This is a very sad situation for the Avalanche and all of their fans. When the team is finally doing well, a lot of people can’t even watch them. At this point, I hope other options are available to watch the games because it’s sad how the customers have become the biggest losers in this.
Will Colorado win the Stanley Cup?
JS: Although I would love to say yes, and see another Cup parade in Denver — I just don’t see it this season. Although the Avs are carrying the reputation of being the team to beat in the West, there is one thing that people have to remember. They have to get past the Blues. The defending Stanley Cup Champions are no slouch, and as history will show, the Avs do not have the best track record against the Blues. However, maybe I am wrong, and I would love for the Avs to show me that I am wrong. Come playoff time, get past the Blues, and THEN we will see if the Avs can close it out.
LR: For the first time in a long time, I think the answer to this question could be a potential yes. This group has the talent to win the Cup this year. That’s obvious when you watch the Avalanche play their truly dominating games, where they embarrass the opposition. It’s also obvious when they find ways to win games that they otherwise shouldn’t have won – A team that can find a way to win in any situation is a team that’s dangerous come playoffs. If they can keep the foot on the gas, I see no reason this shouldn’t be their year.
AG: Before the season started, I picked the Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals to go to the Stanley Cup. But every time I go to Pepsi Center, something feels different about it. There is a different vibe this season. The fans are confident, they’re loud, and the games are so exciting. I’d like to say they won’t, but something is telling me their time is now.