The 2014-2015 Colorado Avalanche learned the hard way that a rough start to the season can result in a short season and the same mistake has to be avoided to start this season.
To start the 2014-2015 season the Avalanche only won three games during the month of October. The first win was a buzzer beater winner scored against the Boston Bruins followed by a seven goal game against the Vancouver Canucks followed by a five to nothing stomping of the New York Islanders. Out of a possible 22 points the Avalanche ended the month of October with only 10 points and they never really recovered.
The central division is arguably the deepest and most difficult division to be a part of in the NHL. The Avalanche finished last in the division with a record of 39 wins 31 loses and 12 OT loses and a total of 90 points. This total was 19 points short of the eventually Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks who won the division with 109 points. The Avalanche can not afford an October to start this season similar to the one they fought through last year. Players are going to need to step up and make sure if things are rough early that this young group gets back on track and quick.
The roster for the Avalanche heading into the 2015-2016 season features a much larger mix of veteran presence combined with young players with pure talent that have not yet hit the prime of their careers. Across the board the players on this squad will have to push each other to ensure this season gets off to a better start.
Last season it was two veteran players that lead the young Avalanche in point production when the season came to a close. Alex Tanguay had been with the Avalanche for the 2013-2014 season but was limited to playing only 16 games as a result of injuries. The next season Tanguay returned with a vengeance playing in 80 games and producing 55 points. The biggest reason for the high point production was most likely due to the fact that the Avalanche added an old friend of his on the first day of free agency leading up to the 2014-2015 season.
While being past the prime of his career the Avalanche reached out to Jarome Iginla to fill the void left by Paul Stastny who had signed with the St.Louis Blues. Iginla admitted later that his decision came down to the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Avalanche and Tanguay reached out to him to sway his decision. Had Tanguay not reached out to Iginla and convinced him to come to Colorado this season would have been much worse than missing the playoffs and having a top ten draft pick.
Iginla played in all 82 games for the Avalanche and as he seems to do every year got off to a slow start but heated up as the season moved along. When the season was over Iginla was first on the team in point production with 29 goals and 30 assists.
Exactly one year after adding Iginla the Avalanche added another veteran to the roster this time on the defensive side of the puck. Only 14 minutes after the free agency market opened on July 1 the Avalanche announced the signing of Francois Beauchemin. Beauchemin has played in 673 regular season games at the NHL level, the bulk of those coming with the Anaheim Ducks. Beauchemin was also a member of the 2007 Ducks team that won the Stanley Cup. If the Avalanche get off to a slow start like last season look for these three guys to step up as veteran leaders and drive the young core of this team to be better.
Coming Into Their Prime
While the Avalanche have great veteran players to lean on in tough times, this team also has some players that are coming into the prime of their careers and they have to learn to carry this squad. At the front of this movement will have to be team captain Gabe Landeskog.
Since being drafted second overall in the 2011 entry draft Landeskog has played in 281 regular season games all as a member of the Avalanche. When Landeskog was named captain he was the youngest captain the NHL had ever seen beating out Pittsburgh Penguin captain Sidney Crosby for that honor. At times Landeskogs play has been streaky and people outside the immediate hockey world questioned the move but it is safe to say the Avalanche have their man and he will continue to dawn the C.
Landeskog is the typical power forward with a big body who does his work in the dirty areas of the ice. Despite his size his hands are particularly quick and he has shown an ability to score goals in all situations and manners.
While Landeskog is the big body player up front, the Avalanche also have a speedy forward with a couple more years of NHL experience. Matt Duchene was drafted in 2009 by the Avalanche, third overall, and has played his entire career as a member of the Avalanche just as Landeskog has.
Early on in his career Duchene was criticized for trying to play beyond his ability and play a style that is almost to pretty. Duchene has great speed and when he uses it he can be deadly and the biggest advancement in his game during his career has been controlling that speed and using it in the most effective manner.
Both of these players are coming into the prime of their respective careers and will need to lead by example both on and off the ice. When last season finished these guys had respectable point production but it is interesting to wonder how things would had been different for both the players and the team had there been a stronger October.
Just like last season the Avalanche will open their season against the Minnesota Wild at home. In the month of October this season the Avalanche only have four games against western conference opponents. The other six October games for the Avalanche will be played against eastern conference teams. These ten games are also evenly split among road games and home games at five a piece.
If the Avalanche have a rough October like they did last season, the only thing that may save their season is the lack of central division opponents. However the Avalanche have to do everything in their power to not let this happens. Whether it is the veteran guys showing the young guys the way or the young guys putting the responsibility on themselves, last seasons rough start can not be repeated this year.