Out of all of the would be Stanley Cup Champions in the Western Conference, the Colorado Avalanche offer up the most intriguing case for being a sleeper pick come post season play. Despite the Avalanche being one of the newer teams in the NHL, they have still managed to valiantly win two Stanley Cup titles since their inauguration into the league in 1995. However, the once immensely imposing Avalanche have fallen on hard times within the last few years as they have failed to make the plays within the last three seasons and haven’t won a playoff game since the 2007-2008 regular season. Yet, even with these blemishes, the fierce and dedicated Avalanche have found a way to revitalize themselves thanks to a potent offense and a tenacious power play squad that makes the most of man up opportunities. Although it may be premature to say that the Avalanche can easily win the Stanley Cup this year, this bustling franchise hasn’t look this good since their last 50 win season when they won their second Stanley Cup (2000-2001).
Although it may be easy to initially look at the Avalanches youthful roster to quickly surmise that this team’s lack of veteran leadership is a hindrance, it actually allows the Avalanche to function as a durably swift offensive team that can wear the opposition down while putting one well-placed shot after another on goal. Thanks to the unwavering tenacity of center Matt Duchene, the Avalanche has garnered a well-deserved reputation as being one of the most lethal shooting teams in the NHL (three goals per game, 4th in NHL). While Duchene has always been known for his versatile contributions on offense, this was the year that Duchene stepped up throughout the course of an entire as the Avalanches best point scorer (70 points this season, career high). However, what makes Duchene’s coveted abilities even more impressive is his ability to contribute emphatically to his teams cause during power play opportunities (the Avalanche score on 20% of their power play opportunities, 7th in NHL). Although Duchene hasn’t scored nearly as many power play goals as he did during his rookie season (10), his unselfish puck facilitating has lent itself more effectively than his shooting prowess (12 power play assists, tied for career high).
Yet, even with Duchene’s illustrious numbers, the Avalanche has prided themselves on being one of the deeper teams in hockey. Between back up center Ryan O’Reilly exceptional break out season (28 goals and 63 points, both career highs) and the electric left-winger Gabriel Landeskog who has blossomed into a show stopping wunderkind (26 goals, 29 assists and 65 points, all career highs), the Avalanche have hit their stride with their young athletes at the right time. What makes these veteran feats even more impressive is the fact that they came from three players who are 23 years of age or younger. Although having veteran talent is considered a premium on most successful franchises, the Avalanche have done a way with that traditional philosophy by giving their vivacious youngsters a chance to prove that they can go head to head with even the most battle-hardened players in the NHL.
Although the offensively supercharged Avalanche aren’t necessarily known for their formidable goalie play, they have the luxury of having a rare dynamic shot-blocking duo in Jean-Sebastian Giguere and Semyon Varlamov. Like with the Avalanche’s entire roster, the younger goalie Varlamov is a bit more consistent than his veteran counterpart Giguere (both record saving percentages of 92.7% and 91.2% respectively). However, having a contingency plan in Giguere can’t be overlooked as his vast experience has undoubtedly contributed to Varlamov’s growth into one of the most underrated goalies in the NHL.
In the end, the Avalanche has the endurance and well-built roster to shock any opponent they may face in the playoffs. While the Avalanche have a blatant Achilles heel because of their lack of power play defense (only prevent 80.4% of power play opportunities, 24th in NHL), they also are fortunate enough to have a young and capable roster that can nullify this discrepancy thanks to their attention to detail and on ice composure. If the Avalanche can continue to overwhelm the opposition with their nifty offense and underappreciated goalie play, this team could go farther in the post season than most expect them to do so.