5 Avalanche Predictions for the 2022-23 Season

The Colorado Avalanche will enter the 2022-23 season as the odds-on-favorite to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. The team has kept most of their core group intact, with Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Valeri Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen, Cale Makar, and Devon Toews all returning this fall.

Still, winning back-to-back championships in any sport is an uphill battle, and the Avalanche will be put to the test. For your consideration, and mostly for fun, below are five predictions for the upcoming campaign. (Statistics from the NHL statistics archive.)

Cale Makar to Win Back-to-Back Norris Trophies

There isn’t much left to say about Cale Makar that hasn’t already been said. He’s been hailed a generational talent, and he’s lived up to the billing. Only 23 years old, the native of Calgary, Alberta (he’ll turn 24 on Oct. 30) has averaged 1.01 points-per-game played (P/GP) in his young career, which puts him third on the all-time defensemen list, behind only Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey.

Makar led all Avalanche players with 29 points in the 2022 Playoffs and trailed only Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers in that category among all skaters in the postseason. His 1.45 P/GP in the playoffs was fifth in the league; the next closest defenseman, Adam Fox of the New York Rangers, was 16th. He’s already won the Norris Trophy (2022), the Calder Trophy (2020), the Conn Smythe (2022), and the Stanley Cup (2022), and he’s only getting better.

In his first three full seasons in the NHL, Makar averaged 0.88 P/GP in 2019-20, 1.00 P/GP in 2020-21, and 1.12 P/GP last year. He was second in the league last season among defensemen, with an even-strength goal differential of 48 goals. This means the Avalanche scored 48 more goals than they allowed while Makar was on the ice. (Find out who eclipsed Makar in this category in the next prediction.)

Is it possible Makar could tie or pass Bobby Orr and win eight or more Norris Trophies in his career? Let’s not put that particular cart before the horse just yet, but the way he’s playing right now, there’s no reason to think he won’t contend for the trophy again in 2022-23, and he seems the most logical choice to win it.

Devon Toews Will Be a Finalist for the Norris Trophy

Devon Toews is the most underrated defenseman in the league. Last season, Toews scored an average of 0.86 P/GP, which was good enough for ninth in the league among defensemen, and his plus-52 rating led all d-men.

A look at his advanced metrics is even more impressive. Toews led all defensemen with an even-strength goal differential of 51 last season, surpassing his linemate, Makar. In short, Colorado, already a top-tier team, is that much better when Toews is on the ice.

Yes, it would be unusual to see two Norris Trophy finalists from the same team (see the Makar prediction above) in the same season. The last time it happened—and the only time it happened in the expansion era—was in the 2001-02 season, when Chris Chelios was runner-up to Nicklas Lidstrom, both of the Detroit Red Wings. It’s rare, but not impossible. I’m probably a bit out on a limb here, but I’m willing to take that risk.

Mikko Rantanen to Score 100 Points

Mikko Rantanen lives in MacKinnon’s shadow, and it’s a long one. MacKinnon is a top-five player on most lists, and deservedly so. But the truth is, Rantanen has thrived in that shadow. Compare their rankings in key scoring metrics across the league over the last three years:

Nathan Mackinnon14th7th6th3rd17th
Mikko Rantanen15th27th20th12th9th

Related: Rantanen Becoming Avalanche’s Most Reliable Star

Rantanen scored 92 points in 75 games last season, for an average of 1.23 points per game. A slight improvement, and/or a few more games played, and he’ll hit the century mark for the first time in his career. With the potent offense that surrounds him, and the stellar defense behind him, it seems very much in his grasp.

Samuel Girard to Be Moved Before the Trading Deadline

I’ve gotten some heat for being hard on Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard. Let me say up front: he’s a plus skater who deserves a role as a top-four defender on an NHL team. His scoring prowess (28 points in 67 games last season), combined with his elite skating skills, make him an asset on almost any team.

Colorado Avalanche's Samuel Girard
Colorado Avalanche’s Samuel Girard (AP Photo/Chris Seward, File)

At the same time, Girard’s even strength goal differential of minus-2 goals was dead last among all Avalanche defenders who started at least 30 games in 2021-22. That was on a team that scored a franchise-best 119 points in the standings. With his contract at an average annual value of $5 million through the 2026-27 season, he has more value to the club as trade bait. Expect general manager Chris McFarland to assess the team’s needs over the first half of the season and move Girard at the deadline to fill whatever hole needs filling.

Ovechkin to Tie or Pass Gordie Howe vs. the Avalanche

Okay, this is the whackiest of my predictions, but they are meant to be fun, right? Colorado will play the Washington Capitals twice this season, first on Nov. 19 in Washington and again on Jan. 24 at Ball Arena in Denver, which will be the Capitals’ 50th game of the season. Alex Ovechkin, who has spent his entire career with the Capitals, enters the season with 780 career goals, trailing Gordie Howe for second on the all-time list by 21 (Howe has 801 career goals).

The 36-year-old superstar (he’ll turn 37 before the season starts) scored 50 goals in 77 games last season, for an average of 0.65 goals per game. His career average is 0.61 goals per game. Assuming his age starts to catch up with him a little, if he scores 21 goals in the first 50 games, that would represent 0.42 goals per game. That seems a bit low for one of the league’s most prodigious goal-scorers. But if he were to miss a handful of games (I’ll say seven) and score 21 goals in his first 43 games, that would be an average of 0.49 goals per game, which would at least put us in the ballpark and have him arriving in Denver deadlocked with Howe.

Yes, this is a silly prediction, but math is math. If Avalanche fans want even a slim chance to see Ovechkin make hockey history, they should get their tickets for the game against the Capitals on Jan. 24 while they still can.

Season Starts in 43 Days

The Avalanche play host to the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 12 to start the 2022-23 campaign. One prediction we know will come true; Colorado will raise their Stanley Cup Championship banner to the rafters of Ball Arena that night.

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