We continue our trek through the Central Division with one of the top up-and-coming franchises in the entire NHL, the Colorado Avalanche.
Last season: 38-30-14, 90 points, 5th place, lost to San Jose in conference semifinals
Key losses: D Tyson Barrie, F Alexander Kerfoot, G Semyon Varlamov
Key additions: F Nazem Kadri, D Calle Rosen, F Andre Burakovsky, F Joonas Donskoi, F Pierre-Édouard Bellemare
After multiple seasons of assembling a young, talented group of players, the Avalanche started putting it all together late last season. Colorado went 8-1-2 down the stretch to earn a playoff spot, eliminated the Flames in five games and pushed the Sharks to a seventh game before its season was ended.
The Avalanche have a glutton of young talent. Center Nathan MacKinnon remains one of the game’s most dynamic players and his frequent linemates in Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen provide Colorado with one of the most dangerous lines in the entire league. On the blue line, Sam Girard’s emergence meant the Avalanche were OK with unloading Tyson Barrie in the offseason, acquiring Kadri to boost the team’s defensive play. Cale Makar will get his first full NHL season after dazzling in the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring and Bowen Byram could be a future mainstay, but he’ll be skating in the WHL for the immediate future.
In net, Philipp Grubauer returns after backstopping Colorado’s late-season surge and will be backed up by Pavel Francouz now that Varlamov has left for the Islanders.
Injuries to veteran defensemen Ian Cole and Erik Johnson will test Colorado’s young core early. But after a surprise run to the postseason last spring, Colorado is shaping up to emerge as a Western Conference contender — in the short-term as well as the long-term.