The Stanley Cup playoffs are upon us and what happened in the regular season goes out the window. Every team starts at zero and needs 16 wins. Here’s why the Colorado Avalanche could pull it out.
The Colorado Avalanche are in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After last season, it seemed unthinkable. The Avalanche finished dead last in the league with a whopping 48 points in 2016-17. They were the worst team in the salary cap era and didn’t make any substantial moves in the offseason to improve. Sorry, Colin Wilson.
In fact, general manager Joe Sakic was criticized all offseason and into the regular season for not trading Matt Duchene. The 2009 third overall pick showed up to camp looking like this:
It was tough to be optimistic around Denver when your franchise center came to work looking like Debbie Downer.
One month into the regular season, Duchene was traded. The trade took place in the middle of a hockey against the Islanders and he was dealt to the Ottawa Senators. By pure coincidence, the Senators and Avalanche would be playing in the Sweden Series that weekend. Duchene was out of the organization, excited to play playoff hockey. Sakic was applauded for his patience as he acquired seven assets for a guy who didn’t want to be there.
The move setup the Avalanche for the future. Like, 2021. Maybe 2020.
No one could have predicted what eventually happened.
With Duchene gone, tension eased in the Avalanche locker room. Captain Gabriel Landeskog and assistant captain Erik Johnson publicly backed the team, saying they wanted to be part of the solution and only wanted guys who were willing to problem solve with them.
Vanilla Ice appeared in the form of Nathan MacKinnon and after 82 games, the Avalanche nearly doubled their point total from last season. Following a “win or go home” game in the finale against St. Louis, Colorado is heading back to the playoffs. And they can win it all. Here’s how.
5. Nathan MacKinnon
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. MacKinnon is going to win the Hart Trophy as the regular season MVP. He had 97 points in 74 games and without him, Colorado would be back in the lottery. He went into a slump late in the season, which nearly cost Colorado a playoff spot, but that doesn’t taint his season-long success.
Longtime Avalanche fans, like myself, always saw this in MacKinnon. There were certain games where he decided, “Tonight, I’m the best player in the league and there’s nothing the opponent can do about it.” It was magical. But it was not consistent.
This season, MacKinnon decided he was going to be the best player in the league every night. And there was little the opponent could do about it. Even during his slump, he impacted the game. He felt dangerous every time he was on the ice, even if the puck wasn’t going in for him or his linemates.
MacKinnon has played one playoff series in his career. It was his rookie season during Colorado’s magic 2013-14 run fueled by Patrick Roy rage and goalie pulls. He had 10 points in seven games. In the 2013 Memorial Cup tournament, MacKinnon posted seven goals and six assists in four games. In the final game against the Portland Winterhawks and Seth Jones, MacKinnon scored a hat trick and added two assists.
This is a guy who plays big in big games. He has all the confidence in the world right now and is playing the best hockey of his career. Doubting him just feels foolish.