In 2022-23, the Winnipeg Jets have 26 tilts against fellow Central Division teams — four games apiece against the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and three games apiece against the Arizona Coyotes and Dallas Stars. In anticipation of the campaign to come, our THW Jets team’s “Opponent Preview” series takes a look at each Central Division foe.
It goes without saying that the Colorado Avalanche had a decent season in 2021-22, as winning the Stanley Cup is a pretty good indicator of success. Having dominated the Western Conference in the regular season, they waltzed through the playoffs losing only four games on their way to hoisting the Cup. Along the way, they bullied the Jets three of the four times they met during the regular season with their only loss coming in the final week as they prepared for their playoff run.
Avalanche Changes for 2022-23
Colorado has a similar lineup this season but there are some significant changes to note. First and foremost they will have a new goaltender, as the Washington Capitals signed Darcy Kuemper to a five-year $26.25 million deal the Avalanche were not willing to pay. As a result, they acquired Alexandar Georgiev who was the backup to Igor Shestirkin with the New York Rangers. However, the move comes with some risk as he has never been a starter in the NHL. In five seasons as a backup, he has a 58-48-11 record with a .908 save percentage (SV%) and a very respectable 2.94 goals-against average (GAA) along with eight shutouts. His $3.4 million contract is also significantly lower than what Kuemper got in Washington.
Nazem Kadri is also gone after he signed a seven-year $7 million average annual value (AAV) contract with the Calgary Flames. Losing Kadri to free agency was not a surprise as the Avalanche simply couldn’t afford his price tag. What they did lose was a player that managed 87 points in 71 games including 29 power play points – which will be tough to replace from within. Kadri also centred the second line behind the Nathan McKinnon – Gabriel Landeskog juggernaut. This season, that may fall on the shoulders of J.T. Compher or Ben Meyers.
Another option could be elevating Alex Newhook into the second-line centre role. He put up 33 points with a plus-11 in 71 games as a bottom-six forward last season. Whatever the Avalanche choose to do will be a bit of a downgrade from Kadri. However, Newhook and Compher are both in the final year of their contracts which could mean improved production as they look for a larger pay cheque next summer.
Colorado’s Advantage Over the Jets
You don’t need an engineering degree to understand that the Avalanche have a huge advantage over the Jets on the blue line. If you’re a Jets fan, you know all too well about the team’s struggles on defense and the changes they are trying to make this season. Last year they were embarrassed twice by the Avalanche. On Jan. 6, they opened the scoring in the first period then gave up seven consecutive goals in a 7-1 loss. Then on Feb. 25, things got worse, as they took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission only to give up three goals in the second period, followed by three more in the third. A debacle that mentally damaged the Jets who were at the time trying to claw back into a playoff spot.
The Avalanche defense is anchored by the 2022 Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar. The 23-year-old is a difference maker in every sense of the word. First, in 2020 he was awarded the Calder Trophy for being the NHL’s best rookie, then in his second season, he was a Norris Trophy runner-up before being named the NHL’s top defenseman this past year. Finally, to top it all off, he added the Conn Smythe Trophy to his portfolio as he was voted the Most Valuable Player in the 2022 Playoffs.
Alongside Makar, Bowen Byram could make a name for himself this season. The 21-year-old who was drafted 4th overall in 2019, had a breakthrough type of playoff run. He played in all 20 games, had nine assists, a plus-15 rating and averaged 19:22 of ice time throughout the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup run. He will provide more stability to a defense that is already very good at defending and transitioning the puck from their own end.
Avalanche vs. Jets 2022-23
To say the Avalanche have the upper hand this season would be the understatement of the year at this point. There are just so many unanswered questions with the Jets right now. They have a new coach with a new system that promises more emphasis on team defense. The question is, can they execute that change?
|2022-23 Schedule – Colorado Avalanche vs. Winnipeg Jets|
|Winnipeg @ Colorado – Oct. 19 @ 7:00 pm|
|Colorado @ Winnipeg – Nov. 29 @ 7:00 pm|
|Colorado @ Winnipeg – Feb. 24 @ 7:00 pm|
|Winnipeg @ Colorado – April 13 @ 8:00 pm|
The firepower of the defending Stanley Cup Champions combined with the uncertainty of the Jets’ defense makes it reasonable to predict the Avalanche will again win at least three of the four meetings between these teams this season.