The Colorado Avalanche decided to add numerous small pieces at the trade deadline rather than making one big splash. That means big changes to the roster, and while things won’t work out straight away due to injuries, here’s a look at how the team will shape up when everyone is healthy.
With four new players, the Avalanche now have a new man on the blue line, help on the third line, and a fourth line combining two new players and one dropping down from higher up, which is going to give the team a completely different feel. Depth is going to be key, so not only am I going to look at the starting lineup, but I’ll be naming a fourth defensive pairing and fifth line in reserve for when inevitable injuries occur.
Avalanche Have Four Players to Fit on Bottom Defensive Pairing
Defensively, the Avalanche have four pairings they can put out on the ice. Of course, only three will play, and the bottom two pairings are likely to be mixed and matched to suit the opposition and depending on the players available.
Here’s a quick look at the top-four, which is full of skill and puck-moving ability when everyone is healthy.
Pairing 1 – Toews – Makar
Pairing 2 – Byram – Girard
Assuming the news remains positive surrounding the health of Bowen Byram, that is the top four Colorado should head into the playoffs with. There will be talk about splitting up Samuel Girard and Byram to try and protect them from heavier play in the corners, but those four are the best defensemen on the team, so the coaching staff will give them the most minutes and put them in the best situations to succeed.
Who Will Play & Who Will Sit?
Pairing 3 – J.Johnson – Manson
Pairing 4 – E.Johnson – Murray
The only player among these four who is almost guaranteed a spot in the lineup is Josh Manson, who will presumably raise his game above the other three and claim the fifth defenseman spot.
Joining him, I’ve gone with Jack Johnson, though all three have a fair case. The reason for choosing the 35-year-old is simply because we’ve seen his worst this season when the team elevated him into a position that is too high for his ability. As the sixth defenseman, he’s been perfectly fine; better than Erik Johnson.
There is a case to be made for Ryan Murray having a higher ceiling than Johnson, but in terms of very steady, stay-at-home play, Johnson comes out on top. He’s played 1000 NHL games and looks to be pretty hungry for more. When you consider the other five players in the lineup, that is all the Avalanche need from whoever becomes their sixthand final player on the back end.
However you order the three players fighting for this spot, we can all agree that the Avalanche will have a better eighth defenseman option than anyone else in the league.
Avalanche Top-Six Remains the Same
While the top-six is the most exciting part of the team, there is nothing to report in terms of the deadline and this will stay the same as they head into the postseason.
Line 1 – Landeskog – MacKinnon – Rantanen
Line 2 – Burakovsky – Kadri – Nichushkin
I think the team will revert back to Gabriel Landeskog on the top line for the playoffs, putting him head-to-head with any big line they face. Then, the team will rely on their depth being better than the opposition.
Three Additions to New Look Avalanche Bottom Six
The biggest change to the roster has been to the bottom six. I wrote a few weeks ago that the Avalanche needed to address their bottom-six scoring, and they did exactly that: they’ve made themselves tougher to play against, added a third line forward with upside, and brought in two fourth-line players who are tough to play against.
Line 3 – Lehkonon – Newhook – Compher
Line 4 – Cogliano – Sturm – O’Connor
Line 5 – McDermid – Helm – Aube-Kubel
I think all three newcomers to the bottom-six will take a roster spot, with Artturi Lehkonen, who was brought in from the Montreal Canadiens, playing on the third line alongside Alex Newhook, while Andrew Cogliano and Nico Sturm will form two-thirds of a brand new fourth line.
We’ve seen both Newhook and J.T. Compher thrive when they are surrounded by talent, and now they have Lehkonen to play with them, who will bring that. If Newhook and Lehkonen, in particular, find chemistry, we could see the Avalanche’s third line score as many points as any other while also remaining defensively responsible.
The new fourth line should have an identity, something the team has been missing for a while. Cogliano, Sturm, and Logan O’Connor are at different stages in their career, but all have one thing in common, they are incredibly difficult to play against. Cogliano should be hungry, and now that he is in the lineup, the Avs can rely on his experience rather than having to keep Darren Helm in the lineup.
O’Connor should thrive now that he is back in a role that suits his style. We’ve seen him play on every line this season, and a run of points gave fans hope that he would become more than just a fourth-line grinder. However, over the past few weeks, we’ve seen O’Connor hit his ceiling, and a switch to the fourth line will once again allow him to flourish with less responsibility on his shoulders.
Rounding out the line, Sturm, a player traded in from the Minnesota Wild, is a tough-to-play-against, bottom-six center. He is good in the faceoff circle, can kill penalties, and can do everything a fourth-line player needs to.
A Fifth Line of Depth if Needed
Just like their defense, the Avalanche have a line’s worth of depth that they can call on when needed. Kurtis McDermid can come in to bring toughness if needed, Helm can bring experience, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, a waiver claim from the Philadelphia Flyers, has shown glimpses of promise, and while that may have faded recently, in terms of a 12th or 13th player, he is certainly able to fill a role for the team.
The ability to add toughness through McDermid, experience with Helm, or speed with Aube-Kubel is another big positive for the team. If they feel they are lacking at any point, the fourth line can be switched up to suit their requirements for a particular game.
The Bottom Line: The Avalanche are Better
However you view the trade deadline, or whether a big enough piece came into the franchise for a playoff run, we can all agree that with just one roster piece moving out and four coming in, the Avalanche are better and deeper than before the deadline. The big question is whether or not these moves are enough to help them raise the Stanley Cup.