The Colorado Avalanche will be finishing the first half of the 2022-23 season with a record of 19-12-3. Their 41 points are good enough for fourth in the Central Division and sixth in the Western Conference. It may seem like a lackluster performance for the defending Stanley Cup champion, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, Las Vegas odds makers still have the Avalanche as the team most likely to win the Stanley Cup. Some sportsbooks have the Boston Bruins as co-favorites, but the Avalanche’s sub-par record to date hasn’t shaken the faith of bookmakers. We’ll take a look at the team as it stands now, and make four predictions for the the remainder of the 2022-23 campaign.
Avalanche Will Get Healthy
Colorado has had an almost absurd number of injuries to start the 2022-23 campaign, many of them very impactful. The following players have all missed significant time, and some are still missing time:
|Gabriel Landeskog||Left Wing|
|Artturi Lehkonen||Left Wing|
|Valeri Nichushkin||Right Wing|
Several of these players — MacKinnon, Landeskog, Nichushkin, Helm, Byram, Manson, Francouz — remain sidelined, though MacKinnon, arguably the most important piece of the puzzle, could return as soon as this weekend. That the Avalanche are still in the hunt while having dealt with injuries of this magnitude is a testament to head coach Jared Bednar and his staff, and to the players who have stepped up, notably Mikko Rantanen.
The Avalanche will be a complete team, or a mostly complete team, by the end of January, and will be well-positioned for a Stanley Cup run.
Rantanen Will Finish with 100-Plus Points
Through 34 games played, Mikko Rantanen has 45 points. That puts the native of Nousiainen, Finland, on pace to score 109 points for the season. His 24 goals are tied for third-best in the league, and his 1.32 points-per-game-played is ninth-best among skaters who have appeared in at least 20 games.
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Only 26 years old, Rantanen has done the heavy lifting while his teammates have been sidelined, appearing in all 34 of the Avalanche’s games, routinely averaging 25 or more minutes of time on ice a night. “The Moose,” as he’s known to fans, shows no signs of slowing down. He has seven points (three goals, four assists) in his last four games.
There is no reason to think Rantanen will slow down when MacKinnon and Landeskog return. Just the opposite, as MacKinnon is a playmaker who will give his teammate more chances, not fewer. Look for Rantanen to finish the season in contention for the Hart Memorial Trophy given to the NHL’s most valuable player.
Avalanche Will Make Trade Deadline Moves to Shore Up the Bottom Six
Last season, Joe Sakic (team president) and Chris McFarland (general manager) made a number of moves at the trade deadline to help propel the Avalanche to its first Stanley Cup in 21 years. This year will be no different.
Colorado is in need of depth, so look for McFarland to go shopping. Likely on the trading block are a spate of young players. Possible names include Martin Kaut, Shane Bowers, Ben Meyers, and others. The club has already shown its willingness to trade young talent when they sent left wing Dryden Hunt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Denis Malgin (Malgin has yet to score a point in four games with the Avalanche).
The Avalanche have started 36 players so far in the 2022-23 season, and there are still 48 games left to play. Over 82 games last season, they dressed 39 players, which included several trade deadline acquisitions. The team is on a pace to blow through that number this year, further evidence they are in need of support.
The prediction is that the Avalanche will part with some of their young talent at the deadline, trading in future development for a legitimate chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
Girard Could Get Moved
Another option is to trade an established player. The most likely would be Samuel Girard. At just 24 years old, he will be a highly sought-after defenseman, who the Avalanche can leverage to bolster their offensive depth.
This presumes that Byram returns to the lineup at some point. According to Bednar, he is not yet close to getting back on the ice. Should he not return this season, it would seem unlikely the team will shop him. But still, he’s likely the most eligible of the core players to be moved. (Erik Johnson’s $6 million average annual value contract, which expires at the end of this season, is almost certainly too large to move, so expect him to finish the season in an Avalanche sweater.)
Avalanche’s Next Up
The key to the balance of Colorado’s season rests squarely on the team’s ability to get healthy. With MacKinnon expected back any day, and with other players slowly returning to the lineup over the coming weeks, the Avalanche should be well-situated to make a deep Cup run.
The Avalanche host the Maple Leafs at 5 PM on New Year’s Eve at Ball Arena in Denver. The team has underperformed at home this year (9-5-3), and the game with Toronto will be a chance to right that ship.