After clinching a playoff berth and pushing the Minnesota Wild to seven games during the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Colorado Avalanche came back in disappointing fashion by finishing in last place last in the Central Division in 2015.
Plagued by various injuries and inconsistencies, the Avalanche were never quite able to rekindle the fire, energy, and success of the previous campaign that led them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Now, after an offseason which was highlighted by the departure of Ryan O’Reilly, the Avalanche have come back and acquired some much needed offensive depth in the form of Blake Comeau, Carl Soderberg, and Mikhail Grigerenko. Francois Beauchemin has also been added to the roster from Anaheim to help further bolster the blue line.
With these changes and a fresh clean slate in place, Patrick Roy and the Avalanche organization are hoping to re-find that level of success that they found two years ago when they took the league by storm and nearly shocked the Wild. If this year’s Avalanche team can stay healthy, Colorado might again be a force to be reckoned with in the Central Division.
2014-15 Record: 39-31-12 (7th in Central Division)
- Francois Beauchemin
- Carl Soderberg
- Blake Comeau
- Mikhail Grigerenko
- Ryan O’Reilly
- Jan Hejda
Landeskog – Duchene – Mackinnon
Tanguay – Soderberg – Iginla
Comeau – Grigerenko – Everberg
McLeod – Mitchell – Cliche
At 38-years-old, Jarome Iginla is entering his 19th season in the National Hockey League. This naturally begs the question of just how many years does the Colorado Assistant Captain have left in the tank? One of the best to never win the Stanley Cup, Iginla is still in search of that illusive silver chalice. With two more seasons left on his current contract, you can bet he’s hoping this will be a big rebound season for his team.
A 12-time 30 goal scorer, Iginla has shown little sign of slowing down as he’s coming off of a 2014-15 campaign in which he netted 29 goals and complimented that with 30 assists. If Colorado is to come back following last year’s disappointment, Iginla is going to have to continue his stand out play that has made him so successful for almost two decades now.
One of General Manager Joe Sakic’s best offseason acquisitions, 29-year-old Soderberg joins the Avalanche after two seasons with the Boston Bruins. Brought in as a potential replacement to O’Reilly, Soderberg will have the opportunity to, at the very least, compete for the top-line center position between Landeskog and Mackinnon.
After spending the first decade of his professional career playing in his native Sweden, Soderberg joined the Bruins full-time during 2013-14, and remained there through the conclusion of the 2014-15 season. Over that span, Soderberg played in 155 games in Boston, amassing 29 goals and 63 assists for 92 points. Given the departure of O’Reilly, Soderberg’s five year deal worth $23.75 million is an almost ideal contract. On paper Soderberg should fill the void left by O’Reilly quite nicely, and for far less money too.
Picking up Comeau was another good offseason acquisition by Sakic, and one which comes with little risk. Comeau, 29, signed a three-year contract with the Avalanche worth $7.2 million. That comes out to an AAV of $2.7 million.
While Comeau has shown some inconsistencies in his offensive production throughout his career, his offensive abilities are unquestionably there. The left-winger’s best season came back in 2010-11 when he posted 24 goals and 22 assists for 46 points. Comeau then proceed to have three downward trending seasons where he failed to hit the 20-point marker, but he responded nicely last season in Pittsburgh when he netted 16 goals and 31 points. For a cap-hit below $3 million, Comeau is a solid addition to the roster and could bring some nice offensive depth to the Avalanche.
Matt Duchene has been one of Colorado’s most potent offensive producers since he entered the league in 2009. A four-time 20-goal scorer, Duchene has also hit the 60 point plateau twice thus far over his six-year career. Even in the lockout shortened season of 2013 in which he played in 47 of the 48 games, he still posted 17 goals and 43 points. It’s probably safe to say that if that had been a full 82 game season and he had stayed healthy, Duchene would’ve reached both 20 goals and 60 points.
Regardless, the 24-year-old star is still strikingly early in his career, and just as he’s been over the past six seasons, Duchene will continue to be a key piece to the puzzle if the Avalanche are to make a return to the postseason in the extremely competitive Western Conference. Lucky for Colorado, Duchene is inked until 2019 with an AAV of $6 million.
Beauchemin – Johnson
Stuart – Barrie
Zadarov – Guenin
Veteran defenseman Beauchemin joins the Avalanche after spending nine of the past 11 seasons in Anaheim with the Ducks. After playing his first four seasons in Southern California, Beauchemin headed north to Toronto for two seasons before returning to the Ducks via a trade in 2011. Beauchemin signed a three-year deal with the Avalanche on the first day of free agency this past July 1st, worth $13.5 million.
At 35, Beauchemin has the reputation of being a hard-hitting, solid two-way defenseman. He also led all Ducks defensemen in minutes played during the team’s run to the Western Conference Final last spring, and Sakic has said that he will likely play on the top defense pairing alongside Erik Johnson this coming season.
As previously stated, Johnson will more than likely play alongside Beauchemin on the top defense pair this season. Johnson, the former first overall pick in the 2006 draft, missed the final 34 games of the season due to a knee injury, but not before posting 12 goals and 23 points. He also led the team in minutes played by more than three minutes per-game by averaging 24:25 of ice time.
Johnson, 27, is also heading into a contract year as his current contract, worth $3.75 million annually, is set to expire at the conclusion of the upcoming season. If the 6’4” 236 pound blue liner meets his top-pair expectations alongside Beauchemin, a big pay-day could be not too far down the road.
Barrie is another young defenseman for Colorado who comes with a significant upside offensively. Drafted in the third round of the 2009 draft by the Avalanche, Barrie is now entering his fourth full season in the NHL. Last season, he led all Colorado defensemen in points with 53 (12-41-53), he was second on the team in minutes played averaging 21:21, and was fifth on the team with 25.4 shifts per game.
Like Johnson, Barrie is also heading into a contract year. With his current two-year deal worth $5.2 million set to expire at the end of the upcoming season, he could also be looking for a big raise come next summer, especially if he continues on the upward trend he’s been on in recent years.
Veteran defenseman Brad Stuart will likely round out Colorado’s second defense pairing opposite Barrie. At 35, Stuart is entering his 17th NHL season and his second with the Avalanche. In his debut campaign in Colorado, Stuart posted 13 points and averaged 20:21 of ice time per game.
What is intriguing here, however, is that while on paper Stuart would appear to be the shoe-in for the top-four, it may not necessarily pan out that way. With younger guys such as Nikita Zadarov and Nick Holden on the up and up, Stuart may have to work just a little bit harder during training camp and the early going of the season to ensure his spot in the top-four.
Let’s call a spade a spade, this is Semyon Varlamov’s crease. After starting his career with the Washington Capitals, the 27-year-old Russian was traded to Colorado in 2011 in exchange for first and second round picks. Ever since then Varlamov has been the number one netminder in the Mile High city, and this season will be no different.
In four seasons with the Avalanche, Varlamov has accumulated a 106-80-23 record including a career-high 41 wins in 2013-14. He also has a career save percentage of .918 as well as a 2.55 career goals against average. Backing up Varlamov will be 28-year-old Reto Berra. Berra went 5-4-1 last season, with a 2.65 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.
Mikhail Grigerenko could be a serious dark horse for this year’s Avalanche squad. Drafted 12th overall in 2012 by the Buffalo Sabres and still just 21-years-old, Grigerenko is joining Colorado this season on a one-year deal worth $675K.
After bouncing back and forth between the Sabres and the AHL Americans over the past few seasons and struggling to find consistency and success, Grigerenko comes to Colorado with an abundance of offensive talent. In 43 games in Rochester last season, the Russian native netted 14 goals and 22 assists for 36 points, and also scored three goals and posted six total points during his 25 games with the Sabres. A fresh start in Denver could be exactly what a youngster like Grigerenko needs in order to have that big breakout season.
Player with Most to Prove:
After an outstanding rookie campaign in which he played in all 82 games, and netted 24 goals and 39 assists for 63 points, Nathan Mackinnon hit a bit of a sophomore slump in 2014-15. In 64 games last year, Mackinnon lit the lamp just 14 times, which he complemented with 24 assists bringing his season point total to 38. While not dismal, it was a far cry from his performance as an NHL freshman.
Like a number of others on this year’s Avalanche roster, Mackinnon’s current contract will run out at the end of this season. While it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the 20-year-old will get a pay raise if the Avalanche want to keep him, he will need to get back to the ways of his rookie season if he wants to get the sizable pay-day he probably feels he’ll deserve at the end of the upcoming year.
Despite some important offseason departures, most notably O’Reilly to Buffalo, the Colorado Avalanche still have quite a bit of top-six offensive talent. More importantly though, the acquisitions of Soderberg, Comeau, and Grigerenko gives the team some much-needed offensive depth beyond the top two lines. Improvements should also be coming defensively, as the Avalanche have a nice mix of younger but experienced blood in Barrie and Johnson, coupled with veterans Stuart and the newly acquired Beauchemin.
Of course many questions surrounding this team still remain heading into the 2015-16 season. Will Soderberg be able to fill the void left by O’Reilly? Will Mackinnon be able to get back to the ways of his rookie season? Those are yet to be seen, but with more offensive depth and a slightly bolstered and improving defense, this season should not be a repeat of 2014-15. While it may be a stretch to say that this year’s Avalanche team will be competing for the top spot in the Western Conference, it is not a stretch by any means to say that this team will seriously compete for one of the top three seeds in the Central Division.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.