As you surely know by now, the NHL has suspended the 2019-20 season amid the coronavirus outbreak. This decision, of course, reflects the best interests of players, team staff, fans, and everyone engaged with the hockey community. However, from a hockey standpoint, the paused season benefits some teams more than others. The Philadelphia Flyers, for example, have played some of their best hockey in recent years, and a break in the season has halted the team’s momentum. For other teams, the waiting period provides time for key players to heal.
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The Colorado Avalanche have been plagued by injuries this season and currently have seven key players out of the lineup. The Avalanche rank fifth in the NHL in man-games lost to injury with 222. Forwards comprise 169 of those games lost, defensemen 31, and goalies 22. This halt in action will allow the team to reset for a strong playoff push should the NHL resume play and award the Stanley Cup.
Superstar Nathan MacKinnon sustained a lower-body injury last Monday against the Los Angeles Kings. Head coach Jared Bednar indicated that he will likely be out 1-2 weeks. With 93 points in 69 games, he has 43 more points than the next-highest producer Cale Makar (50). MacKinnon has powered the Avalanche all season.
While not a devastating injury, losing MacKinnon at such a critical point in the season had the potential to seriously hinder the Avalanche’s push for first place in the Central Division. Now, the 24-year-old center can heal and reinvigorate the lineup when he returns after play resumes.
Two seasons ago, Mikko Rantanen produced a breakout season with 84 points in 81 games, and he has continued his stellar offense ever since. Unfortunately, this season the 23-year-old right winger has been limited to 42 games after suffering multiple injuries. The most recent occurred against the Tampa Bay Lightning in early February and knocked him out of the lineup for “weeks.” (from ‘Avalanche’s Mikko Rantanen to miss “weeks” with upper-body injury suffered in overtime loss to Lightning,’ Denver Post, 02/17/2020)
Even with only 42 games under his belt this season, Rantanen is fifth on the Avalanche’s scoring list. His 212 points in 197 games over the past three seasons are second only to MacKinnon (289 in 225). Hopefully, Rantanen can heal and rejoin the Avalanche, as his talent will be needed for a Stanley Cup Championship push.
The Avalanche made multiple moves in the offseason to bolster their offense, including the acquisition of Nazem Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs. So far, the move has paid off, as he has added not only offensive production, but also a layer of grit to the talented Avalanche. Unfortunately, he has missed 19 games this season after suffering a lower-body injury on Feb. 9.
Initially, head coach Jared Bednar told reporters Kadri would miss “weeks, not days.” The Avalanche subsequently placed him on injured reserved, indicating he would miss 4-6 weeks. While there are no definitive updates, it has been about five weeks since his injury, meaning he could be ready to return when the NHL resumes. His offensive production (19 goals, 17 assists) and grit would be a welcome addition.
Another offseason addition of the Avalanche, Andre Burakovsky has flourished in the Avalanche sweater with 20 goals and 25 assists. His career season has been a more-than-welcomed addition to a team previously lacking depth scoring.
Unfortunately, he has missed 12 games this season, including the last seven. Victim of an upper-body injury, there remains no definitive timetable for his return, but he was listed initially as day-to-day. As recently as March 11 he practiced with a no-contact jersey, so he should be ready to take the ice after the NHL pause.
In his second season with the Avalanche, Matt Calvert is one point away from tying his career-high total of 26. However, the 30-year-old left winger suffered an injury during the 2020 Stadium Series Game against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 15. This follows the scary injury he incurred earlier this season when he took a puck to the head off the stick of Elias Pettersson.
Combined, these injuries have caused Calvert to miss 20 games this season. The veteran’s experience and hard-hitting style (58 hits in 50 games) have been missed. The break in the action will allow him to recover and enter the lineup, providing a boost to the Avalanche’s third and fourth lines. It will also provide the opportunity for Calvert to break a 10-game goal drought.
Joonas Donskoi improved upon his solid numbers this season with the Avalanche, netting 33 points in 65 games. His production has been an extremely valuable addition for the Avalanche, and that is why Brendan Lemieux’s hit to Donskoi’s head on March 11 is upsetting and concerning. Lemieux has been suspended by the NHL, though the parameters of the suspension are unclear because of the NHL’s hiatus.
Donskoi left the game with a head injury, and there have not been many details released regarding the extent or seriousness. He suffered a concussion earlier this season in January, so the team will certainly be cautious evaluating him. Fortunately, he will have plenty of time to rest and recover, but the protocol for monitoring his progression will be complicated by the season suspension. Nevertheless, rather than missing any more games, Donskoi will have a chance to recuperate in time for resumed play.
Injuries have not only ravaged the Avalanche’s offensive core but also their number one goaltender. Philipp Grubauer suffered a lower-body injury against the Kings in the outdoor game. Following the game, the Avalanche categorized him as out “indefinitely,” though he practiced as recently as last Wednesday.
Luckily, backup Pavel Francouz has stepped up in Grubauer’s absence, enabling the Avalanche to secure important points heading into the postseason. Regardless of Francouz’s performance, it will only benefit the Avalanche to have their starting goaltender back in the lineup. Two viable netminders is a problem any team would like to have.
Rest and Relaxation
The Avalanche have clearly suffered at the hands of the injury bug this season. And, while we all hope that everyone remains safe amidst the coronavirus outbreak, the Avalanche will benefit from recharging their batteries and rehabbing their taxed team. Of course, the NHL’s indefinite pause obscures when and if the regular season resumes. Commissioner Gary Bettman has stated, though, that the NHL has every intent to continue the season when it is safe. The Avalanche will be in a strong position to succeed if it does.
Nick Haydon covers the Colorado Avalanche for The Hockey Writers. An avid hockey fan, he loves watching, talking, and writing about hockey. He strives to tell stories, providing insight and analysis with engaging content.