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The Avalanche look to rebound after a dismal 2016-17 campaign

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As teams across the league kick off training camp, we though we'd take a peek at the Central Division and see what has changed, and what to expect. Today we look at the Colorado Avalanche.

Colorado Avalanche v Calgary Flames Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

After a season many Colorado Avalanche fans would just assume forget ever happened, the team looks to rebound in their 2017-18 campaign. The Avs were hit early, and often with blow after blow of bad news and bad hockey. On the bright side for the team and fans alike, when you finish a season posting the lowest point total since moving to Colorado by a wide-margin, you have to expect that your team will have a better run at it this season. (Or at the very least, you can’t get much worse)

The proverbial puck dropped for the Avs last season earlier than expected. On August 11th, less than a month before training camp opened, Avs bench boss and infamous hot-head Patrick Roy (not Wah) threw in the towel after 3 seasons as the Head Coach for Colorado, leaving General Manager Joe Sakic to scramble through the ashes of the off-season for a new captain to steer the ship. Sakic rolled the dice on Jared Bednar. Bednar had just taken the Lake Erie Monsters to the Calder Cup Finals in the 2015-16 season, winning the most coveted prize of the AHL.

The Avalanche came out of the gate firing on all cylinders scoring 10 goals in their first 2 games and earning wins over the Dallas Stars and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Avalanche would win just 20 games in the remaining 80 on the schedule and finish the season with a record of 22-56-4. Their 48 points would have them finish 21 points behind the NHL’s second worst team, the Vancouver Canucks who finished with 69 points.

Colorado Avalanche 2016-17 Vitals

Wins Losses OTL Points GF GA PP% PK%
Wins Losses OTL Points GF GA PP% PK%
22 56 4 48 165 276 12.60% 76.60%

New faces

Nothing about the 2016-17 season was fun for the Avalanche, so they had a little fun during the offseason. On July 1st they addressed one of their big needs by signing Jonathan Bernier away from the Anaheim Ducks. Bernier appeared in 39 games for the Ducks last season, 33 of those being starts. He finished the season with a 21-7-4 record, a .915 Sv%, and a GAA of 2.50. Bernier was brought in as Semyon Varlamov had a lack-luster season between the pipes, and the infirmary. Calvin Pickard picked up the bulk of the work for the Avs, but his numbers certainly weren’t starting any Vezina conversations.

The Avalanche are looking to resurrect any semblance of an offence this season, and in doing that they are hoping to resurrect the career of former 1st overall pick Nail Yakupov who came over from the St. Louis Blues after a disappointing season of his own. Yak played in just 40 games for the Blues last season, but wasn’t able to crack 10 points, scoring just 3 goals along with 6 assists. Break it down though, Colorado gets a 23 year-old young gun, once highly touted, on a 1 year contract for under 1 million dollars ($875K). This is what they call in the business, a “good value bet.” The upside with Yak can be tremendous, but if it doesn’t pan out he’s not exactly breaking the bank and both parties can walk away at season’s end. Sneaky good deal for the Avalanche here.

The Avalanche also brought in Colin Wilson via trade with the Nashville Predators. Wilson was a 7th overall selection in the 2008 NHL draft and is a solid pickup as a depth center. The Avs gave up just a 4th round pick in 2019 to acquire Wilson who scored 12 goals and notched 23 assists last season in 70 games with the runner up for the Stanley Cup.

The Avs rounded out their off-season with a string signings to fill out the AHL side of things, including Dominic Toninato who is one of us and a University of Minnesota Duluth alum. Also picking up contracts with the Avalanche this off-season are Jesse Graham, Andrew Agozzino, David Warsofsky, and Alexander Kerfoot. Combined, Graham, Agozzino, Warsofsky, and Kerfoot bring a combined 9 points in the NHL with 49 games played. To be fair, those numbers are weighted heavily in favor of Warsofsky who played 39 of those games, scoring 2 goals with 4 assists. The remaining 10 games being played by Agozzino.

It’s so hard to say goodbye

Of course no offseason is complete without having to say goodbye. The biggest name to make his departure from the Avalanche this off-season is going to wind up being Francois Beauchemin with his 836 games of NHL experience guarding the blue line. Beachemin has missed just 1 game for the Avs over the last 2 seasons, picking up 13 goals and 39 assists for Colorado along the way. The 14 year NHL veteran has played for 5 teams (just 1 game for the Montreal Canadiens ) and is returning to Anaheim where he had spent most of his career (525 games) playing for the Ducks.

Beauchemin’s departure may be nice for the wardrobe personnel who no longer have to stitch that name on the back of Avalanche sweaters anymore, but he is not the only blue liner to make his exit from Colorado. Patrick Wiercioch has taken his talents, as well as his 268 career NHL games of experience, to the Canucks. In 57 games for the Avalanche last season Pat, (Is it OK if I call you Pat?) scored 4 goals and pocketed 8 assists.

The Avalanche lost some AHL depth as well this offseason. Mike Sislo has played in 42 career NHL games, but has been a career AHL forward. Sislo isn’t the only Wisconsinite to make a departure from the Avs. Will Butcher will make his was to the New Jersey Devils organization after graduating from the University of Denver last spring. Jeremy Smith played a spell with the Iowa Wild and the goaltender saw 10 games (8 starts) with the Avalanche last season, but he will find a new home with the Carolina Hurricanes organization come next season. He posted a .888 Sv% and a 3.55 GAA in his time playing for the Avalanche, with a record of 1-6. Turner Elson will be moving from the Avs farm to the Detroit Red Wings farm, perhaps to troll the Avs/Wings epic rivalry. Elson has just 1 assist in the NHL in 1 game for the Calgary Flames and otherwise has spent his time navigating through the AHL.

Where do we go from here?

As much as we like to take our liberties with the Avalanche and their fanbase, you have to remember this team does have the firepower to be dangerous. It has been 3 seasons since they’ve sniffed the playoffs with their 2013-14 divisional banner year. You remember Wilderness! The year Nino Niederreiter etched his name into Minnesota Wild lore?

If the Avalanche can clean up the defense, and get better goaltending, they have the kind of skill guys to break through on the offensive side of the puck. Nathan MacKinnon might not be 18 anymore (shocking, I know) but he remains their biggest threat on the team. The perpetual trade talk surrounding Matt Duchene has gone nowhere, and the menace that is Gabriel Landeskog still patrol the frozen waters of the Pepsi Center in Denver. Cleaning up the defensive side of things should logically produce more offense for the team that finished last in the NHL in scoring last season.

There are still plenty of holes in the Avalanche lineup however. Barring a massive turnaround this team still feels like they’re pressing closer to a big rebuild over a run at the playoffs. On paper, it looks like the Avalanche might be in for another long season, but don’t expect them to be anywhere near as atrocious as they were last season.