Parker Michaels continues his NHL Season Preview series in reverse to first order according to his projected standings. Be sure to bookmark our Season Previews home base here where links to all 31 teams will appear as they’re posted. Today at No. 14, the Colorado Avalanche.
The Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils were the two surprise teams of the year last season both taking significant jumps from last place in their respective conferences to a wild card playoff spot. In the Avalanche’s case, that jump was nearly a one hundred percent increase in going from a historic low of 22 wins and 48 points in 2016-17 to 43 wins and 95 points and the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. It was the fourth largest single season increase in NHL history.
We cashed an easy over bet for the Avs regular season point total last year which was set at 69.5 points. While I expected Colorado to be better, I still underestimated them and found myself on the losing end of a lot of bets when going against them. In fact, no other team in the league cost me more money when betting against them, as fading Colorado netted me a 3-9 record with -8.05 units lost. Even with a 5-3 record for +3.02 units when betting on them, the Avs were the third-worst team for me in terms of money lost with only Detroit and Dallas costing me more.
Colorado’s trip to the playoffs was not without suspense, coming down to the final game of the regular season in a “win and you’re in” scenario which also applied to their opponent, the St. Louis Blues. The Avs held off the Blues in that final game and earned a date with the conference’s top seed, the Nashville Predators. While few gave Colorado much of a chance, the Avs stretched the Preds to six games and gave them a bit of a scare, playing competitively for most of the series.
Avs fans had to be thrilled with the team’s performance but were left wondering what might have been if starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov had not been on the shelf for the entire playoff series with injury. Backup Jonathan Bernier started the first four games and struggled, allowing at least three goals in each game and finished with a .883 save percentage. An injury to Bernier at the end of the second period of Game 4 then forced third-stringer Andrew Hammond into action, who stole Game 5 with a 39-save effort before succumbing in Game 6.
Entering the playoffs, Colorado was the youngest team on average in the NHL at just 25.8 years old. With the team’s sudden rise to success, it could have been easy for General Manager Joe Sakic to think about fast-tracking the rebuild and going after more high-end free agents, but he vowed to stay the course and not blow things up.
At the June Entry Draft, Sakic selected right-wing Martin Kaut with the No.16 overall pick. Kaut has an all-around offensive game with playmaking skills and a pure ability for scoring goals with the potential to be a top-six forward in the NHL. He displayed his skills throughout training camp and appeared to have an inside shot at cracking the roster on the second line before being a late cut this week. He will open the season with the Eagles in the AHL but showed he is NHL-ready and could be an early call-up if needed.
Sakic’s biggest move of the summer came on Friday night of the draft weekend when he sent a 2018 second-round pick to the Washington Capitals for soon-to-be free agent backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer and veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik. Grubauer has been one of the best (if not the top) backups in the NHL the past few seasons and will provide Colorado with increased stability in net. Sakic ended up buying out the remaining contract of Orpik and then signed Grubauer to a 3-year, $10 million contract.
Once the July 1 free agent period opened, Sakic remained true to his word and did not overbuy, choosing to add a pair of veteran depth options in hard-nosed forward Matt Calvert and shutdown defenseman Ian Cole. Two excellent additions for the backend of a young team.
Grubauer will replace Bernier in goal who was let go to free agency along with forwards Blake Comeau and Nail Yakupov. Comeau is the biggest loss as he brought a value of 3.1 Point Shares last season with his 13 goals and 34 points with Yakupov a smaller loss at a 1.7 value. Calvert and Cole bring that back plus a bit more with a projected value of 5.8 Point Shares this season, added with the slight increase of Grubauer over Bernier, and the Avs look like a bit better team on paper.
It was also announced the Avs would have a more conveniently located AHL affiliate this season. After sharing San Antonio with the Blues last year, the Avs will have their own team now with the Colorado Eagles moving from the ECHL to become the Avs top affiliate. The Eagles will be just 51 miles north of Denver which will give them a little more roster flexibility.
Stanley Cup: +6000 (Bookmaker)
Western Conference: +3000 (Bookmaker)
Central Division: +3000 (Bookmaker)
Regular Season Points: 88.5 (-115, -105) (Bookmaker), 88.5 (-120, +100) (BetOnline), 89.5 (-105, -125) (Bovada)
Make Playoffs: YES +130, NO -150 (BetOnline), YES +150, NO -180 (Bovada)
Current odds as of September 28, 2018
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
*Individual Player Ratings represent how many points in the standings each player is directly responsible for over the course of the full season and is called Point Shares. It involves the base formula created by Justin Kubatko at hockey-reference.com. An explanation of how I further use his methods can be found here with a more detailed methodology by Kubatko himself, here. The average value for a forward is 3.5 and a defenseman is 4.4 Point Shares
*Salaries in green denote entry-level contract
NHL RANK: 5
Colorado ranks fifth overall down the middle thanks to the second-best center in the game, Nathan MacKinnon. He projects to be the second highest value of any player in the league behind only Connor McDavid’s 13.4 and ahead of Brad Marchand at 13.0 Point Shares. MacKinnon finished fifth in the NHL scoring race with 97 points but only played in 74 games. His points per game pace was second to only McDavid with 1.311 ppg (McDavid had 1.317).
Tyson Jost was drafted as the No.10 overall pick in 2016 with the idea he could eventually become the team’s second line center. As a 19-year old, he had a decent 22-point season in his rookie year while playing 65 games but has a lot more potential upside to offer. After bouncing around the lineup last season, head coach Jared Bednar has Jost penciled into the second line spot and his development this season will be a major key to the Avs success.
Carl Soderberg bounced back after a down season in a big way, producing 37 points on the offensive end while becoming part of the team’s best shutdown line with Matt Nieto.
J.T. Compher had a nice rookie season even if he was victimized by a low 4.4% shooting percentage. He was a key piece in the Ryan O’Reilly trade and should be a useful depth player if he can take another step forward.
NHL RANK: 26
The left-wing position is the weak link for Colorado with a steep drop-off after Gabriel Landeskog who bounced back with a 25-goal, 62-point season alongside quality linemates. I still do not know who is going to fill the second spot and not even sure Bednar knows yet. Martin Kaut lined up here most of the preseason before being cut this week and now the best guess is Sven Andrighetto. The Avs have another preseason game tonight which will shed more light on the final roster.
Colin Wilson is a possibility for any of the three remaining spots on the left and while I have him penciled into the third slot, Gabriel Bourque or Matt Calvert could also start here, with one of these players filling the fourth spot, as well. Bourque became a bit of a regular late last season on the third line with Soderberg and Nieto, but he gives the least value of any Avs forward. If Bourque is slotted into the opening night lineup rather than an extra forward, the Avs would actually drop in projected points below the Dallas Stars who I currently have just 0.7 points behind in the overall standings.
NHL RANK: 11
The right-wing side is a bit easier to sort out with Mikko Rantanen locked into the top spot after a tremendous breakout sophomore season with 29 goals and 84 points. It is a tough bar to reach again but at just 21-years old and playing alongside one of the best players in the world, the Avs will need a similar performance.
Alex Kerfoot started hot last year with 15 points in 18 games over the first six weeks of the season but fizzled after February 1 with just 11 over the final 33 games, including a 12-game dry spell from late February to mid-March. Kerfoot shot a ridiculous 23.5% over his 79 games (0.1% higher than Vegas’ William Karlsson!) but only fired 81 shots on goal for the season. Kerfoot can also slide over to center too, but Bednar said he wants to keep him paired with Jost on a line. Whether he is at center or on the wing, the Avs will need him to shoot the puck more on a scoring line.
Logan O’Connor is in position to secure a spot on the fourth line after an impressive showing in camp but is still in competition with guys like Dominic Toninato, Sheldon Dries and Vladislav Kamenev for not only the starting spot but as an extra forward. O’Connor played the past three seasons with the University of Denver and brings speed and energy to the lineup.
NHL RANK: 22
The defense will have a similar feeling but entirely fresh look this season as Bednar plans to shift around the pairs. Samuel Girard was the key piece in the three-team trade that sent Matt Duchene to Ottawa and had a solid rookie season playing 68 games with Colorado after five games with Nashville. He showed up to camp with a lot of added size and his conditioning has looked improved. Girard has huge upside potential and it looks like Bednar will look to unlock some of this with an increased role on the top pair.
Nikita Zadorov has also been noticeably better in camp this year. He looks quicker and still has his trademark physical style. The improvements projected for Girard and Zadorov who are just 20 and 23, respectively, are another big reason the Avalanche project to be able to maintain last year’s success.
Patrik Nemeth and Mark Barberio are still competing for the starting spot on the third pair, but both should make the lineup and split time here.
NHL RANK: T-6
The Avs are anchored on defense by two strong right-side defenders in Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie. Johnson has become a solid shutdown defenseman when healthy but has been limited to 46 and 62 games over the last two seasons. He logged over 25 minutes per game last year against tough competition and will be relied upon again to shut teams down. Barrie set a career-high with 14 goals and 57 points and has become a premier powerplay quarterback for the Avs. With a thumper for a partner, the Zadorov/Barrie pairing are a great complement for Girard and Johnson.
Ian Cole is a Stanley Cup winning defenseman who should provide a lot more value with his experience in a young locker room than just his on-ice skills, which are underrated.
NHL RANK: T-7
(Starter – T-25, Backup – 32)
Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer are going to be a great 1a and 1b combo this season. They are projected for almost identical values on a per game basis (with Varlamov slightly better) but Varly gets the boost in projected Point Shares with a 45-37 games played split. If Varlamov and Grubauer were projected for the usual 55-60 games for a starter, both would squeeze into the top-15 overall. That is how good each of these guys is individually and why as a combo they should form one of the best duos in the league.
With Varlamov’s injury history, Grubauer will likely see close to a split in games and depending on how things play out, could seize the starter’s role before the end of the season.
I am on a bit of an island in projecting the Avalanche to remain a playoff team, so I am a bit wary of where I have them overall, but everything lines up for another successful season. I will not deny Colorado overshot their skill level last year but with the youngest team in the league, the Avs get the biggest boost of any team in the NHL in terms of age adjustment, something I do not believe many models out there take into consideration. Most models also penalize Colorado for their historic low season in 2016-17 which is less of a factor in my projection, which lowers the value of outliers to an extent.
Colorado’s entire top-six is age 25 or under and only one forward in their top 12 is over the age of 28. Changes made by Sakic to bring in Calvert and Cole, along with the upgrade in net to Grubauer have the Avs looking better on paper this season and coupled with the age adjustment there is reason to believe the Avs should be able to stay in that 95+ point range again and in the thick of the playoff race.
The Boston Bruins have the best line in hockey with Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak, but Colorado projects to have the second best with their Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen combo. The young trio exploded onto the scene last year with 93 goals and 150 assists. It is going to be difficult to put up that kind of production once again but considering their ages of 25, 23 and 21, respectively, this unit possibly has not reached their peak yet. The development of Jost, Kerfoot and Compher and the secondary scoring they provide will be critical to take some of the heat off.
My point projection of 97.7 is significantly above where offshore sportsbooks currently sit at 88.5 to 89.5 overall. That number has been lowered by the market, as well, after opening in the 91.5 range, proving again that I am on Avalanche island alone. I could maybe buy in to a lower number but below the 90-point line is too much for me so Colorado over 88.5 regular season points at Bookmaker is a number I would recommend locking in as a bet. Even the 89.5 at Bovada is fine here if that is your preferred account and anywhere else under 90 points is fine.
Current Stanley Cup Futures list Colorado in the average range of 20th to 22nd overall with a high I am seeing of 18th currently. Consensus is Colorado will not be a playoff team and while I have them higher at 14th overall, I also have them barely sneaking in as the second wild card team in the Western Conference. As I mentioned above, with a simple lineup change of Bourque in for Wilson or Andrighetto, the Stars would jump over them. That being said, while I do not like the Avs chances at winning the Cup this season, the +6000 number currently at Bookmaker does hold some value for myself and I would recommend a small quarter of a unit wager at that price, which holds more value than teams priced above them like Dallas, Calgary and Minnesota. If the Avs do sneak in, it will be a nice cheap ticket to have in our back pocket and give us more options. Prices found elsewhere between +3300 to +4000 I would not recommend.
Regarding prop bets for awards, Nathan MacKinnon is unsurprisingly listed under the Hart, Art Ross and Rocket Richard categories at +1500, +1600 and +1800, respectively. The Hart would be of most interest here after a runner-up finish to Taylor Hall last season and if the Avs get into the playoffs again, MacKinnon should be a big reason. I am not currently going to fire on anything here right now but may early next week when I release my final list of award prop bets.
Salary numbers from capfriendly.com, stats from hockey-reference.com and naturalstattrick.com