NHL 2014-15 preview: Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche had a lot of success last season, but the numbers tell a different story.

Counting down the final 30 days to puck drop on the 2014-15 NHL season, Sportsnet previews all 30 NHL teams in reverse order of how we believe they will finish the regular season.

A dozen reporters and analysts from Sportsnet’s hockey brain trust — Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Chris Johnston, Damien Cox, Mark Spector, et al. — submitted a list ranking all the teams in order of how they think the NHL season will shake out. We crunched the numbers and will be unveiling our consensus standings prediction from worst to first.

Colorado is our 12th-ranked team.

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Colorado Avalanche
Division: Central
2013-14 finish: 52-22-8, 112 points, 3rd overall; lost in quarterfinals to Minnesota
Leading scorer: Matt Duchene (70 points)
General manager: Greg Sherman
Head coach: Patrick Roy
Captain: Gabriel Landeskog
Opening night starter: Semyon Varlamov
Key acquisitions: Daniel Briere, Jarome Iginla, Jesse Winchester, Brad Stuart, Bruno Gervais, Zach Redmond
Key departures: Paul Stastny, P.A. Parenteau, Matt Hunwick, Brad Malone, Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Off-season grade: B+. General manager Greg Sherman spent his summer adding maturity to his immensely talented yet inexperienced roster, bringing in veterans Jarome Iginla, Danny Briere and Brad Stuart to play with his burgeoning crop of skilled youngsters. Losing Paul Stastny and his 25 goals to the St. Louis Blues might hurt, but the Avs should be able to replace that production between Iginla and the kids. Losing Stastny also allows wunderkind Nathan MacKinnon to shift back to his natural position at centre, where he could be one of the top 10 players in the league as a 19-year-old.

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Greatest strengths: It’s tempting to mention the Avs’ impressive bounty of young talent here—and we’ll have more on them later—but the true MVP of this team last season was Vezina Trophy finalist Semyon Varlamov, who took a massive step forward under the tutelage of goaltending coach Francois Allaire. Varlamov won a league-high 41 games, posting a goals-against average of 2.41 and a save percentage of .927, and single-handedly kept the Avalanche in games at times as his defence crumbled around him. He’ll likely be in for another heavy workload this year (Varlamov faced more shots than any goalie in the league last season) and will have to be stellar yet again for the Avs to repeat their success.

Greatest weaknesses: Defence, defence, defence. The Avs allowed 35 shots or more in 28 of their games last season—and 32.7 on average—which is a recipe for disaster. They were also among the worst teams in the league in both Corsi close and Fenwick close, which measure a team’s ability to possess the puck. And if not for Varlamov’s sheer brilliance between the pipes, Colorado’s 24-4-8 record in one-goal games may have looked a lot different. Colorado simply has to get better in its own end, or the regression monster will catch up with them.

Biggest story line to watch: Tracking the continued development of Colorado’s young guns will likely be the most interesting story line to follow this year. MacKinnon won the Calder Trophy after scoring 24 goals and 63 points, and many think he’s on a quick path to superstardom. Meanwhile, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene are no slouches themselves, all scoring more than 20 goals and 60 points last season and joining MacKinnon to form a terrific offensive core of dynamic players in their early 20s. The continued development of that quartet could make the Avs one of the most exciting teams to watch in 2014-15 and might be enough to make everyone forget about the team’s defensive woes.

2014-15 prediction: It will be difficult for the Avalanche to repeat the incredible heights of their breakout 2013-14 season, especially if they don’t get better on the back end, but this is still a playoff team in a strong Western Conference.

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