The Colorado Avalanche have become one of the go-to cautionary tales whenever we see teams like the Dallas Stars pile up wins by scoring a bunch of goals without hanging on to the puck enough. Two years ago, Colorado defied all odds and won the Central Division with 112 points.
Pundits were quick to say that the Avalanche were simply biding their time before the Corsi bug bit, and that is exactly what happened last season. They dipped 22 points in the standings, collapsing down to a 90-point team.
The Avalanche were too good in 2013-14, but weren’t as bad as their record from 2014-15 indicated either. This year’s edition of the club was supposed to fall somewhere between these two extremes, and that’s exactly what has happened through the midway point of 2015-16.
Back in November, the NHL world was rocked by a hurricane of trade rumors surrounding forward Matt Duchene. There was a ton of motion on that front, and it seemed like a blockbuster trade was right around the corner. But the 25-year-old said that he didn’t want to be moved, and then backed it up with his play out on the ice.
Only five players in the NHL have scored more goals than Duchene’s 22, and he’s been one of the league’s best offensive forwards since November. He played his way off of the trade market and into the 2016 All-Star Game, and the Avalanche avoided making a terrible mistake in the process.
Colorado’s biggest offseason need was on defense, and hockey analysts (fairly) seemed to collectively chuckle when they sought out Francois Beauchemin as a viable option. After spending too much money on Brad Stuart the summer prior, the former Anaheim Ducks blueliner seemed destined for a similarly disastrous fate with the Avalanche.
Beauchemin answered the call in shocking fashion and has stepped up his game offensively in Colorado.
He’s 26th in points scored among all defenseman and has performed as well as T.J. Brodie, Torey Krug and Keith Yandle in terms of finding the stat sheet. There’s more to being a successful defender in the NHL than just points–unbeknownst to the PHWA, who vote on the Norris Trophy winner every year–but the 35-year-old has panned out better than expected for the Avalanche.
It’s easy to surpass expectations when much isn’t expected from you, but Reto Berra has been solid so far this year. Semyon Varlamov is the unquestioned No. 1 goalie here, but the 29-year-old has kept him on the bench on more than one occasion.
The backup has compiled a 5-8-o record while sporting a .922 save percentage — the 16th best number in the league. His record isn’t great, but Berra has kept Colorado in several games this year with timely saves. With the Central Division as tight as it is, a few victories can mean a lot.
Mikhail Grigorenko has also been surprising during small pockets of play. A reclamation project who came to Colorado as part of the Ryan O’Reilly trade, Grigorenko has spent time in the team’s top-six and has clicked with some of the squad’s top players.
The Avalanche had issues with Duchene’s production earlier in the season, but he’s on pace to push 70 points and 40 goals. He may not hit that scoring plateau, but this is the kind of pace Colorado wants to see out of Duchene. He’s too good and too fast to register back-to-back 55ish-point seasons.
Carl Soderberg has also been as good as advertised since coming over from the Boston Bruins as a restricted free agent. The Bruins didn’t have the cap space for the 30-year-old, but the Avalanche inked him to a five-year deal promptly after acquiring his rights. Soderberg has been one of the team’s top forward in 2015-16, and has managed to live up to his pricey contract so far.
FALLING BELOW EXPECTATIONS
Varlamov carried Colorado to the playoffs two seasons ago. Now it seems like the team will push for a playoff spot in spite of their top goalie. This is a team that scores more goals than just about anyone in the NHL, but they also allow them at alarming rates. The defense in front of Varlamov isn’t fantastic, but his .909 save percentage leaves a lot to be desired.
Colorado needs him to be better, and they’ll likely slip out of the Wild Card race if he continues to have an up-and-down campaign. He had a six-game winning streak in December, but has been decidedly average otherwise.