Pressing question: Are the Avs for real?

27 Comments

One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

The Colorado Avalanche went from being second worst team in the NHL to Central Division champions in the span of just one season.

That’s remarkable under any circumstances, but especially when you factor in that the team didn’t change substantially over that stretch beyond the addition of rookie forward Nathan MacKinnon and, the man that’s received most of the credit for the turnaround, coach Patrick Roy.

At the same time, certain indicators have left people wondering if the Avalanche are playing above their heads and in danger of coming back to Earth.

One of the big reasons for that fear is that, from an advanced possession statistics perspective, Colorado is roughly the same team that finished in the Western Conference basement a year ago.

Teams have a tendency to dismiss those statistics and some fans might find them confusing, but basically Corsi and Fenwick are a way of gauging puck possession by looking at how many shots are taken (including those that miss the net). Corsi also includes blocked shots whereas Fenwick doesn’t. The idea is simply that if you’re controlling the puck, you’re controlling the game and that will lead to more long-term success.

The Toronto Maple Leafs found this out the hard way in 2013-14, as their horrid Corsi/Fenwick numbers eventually caught up to them and they collapsed. Colorado isn’t nearly as bad in that regard, but the team is near the bottom of the pack.

Toronto: Corsi 42.1 percent (29th in NHL), Fenwick 41.5 percent (29th in NHL)

Colorado: Corsi 47.4 percent (25th in NHL), Fenwick 46.8 percent (27th in NHL)

All stats courtesy Extra Skater

The way the Avalanche have overcome that deficiency is through strong goaltending. Semyon Varlamov faced 2,013 shots in 2013-14, which is 125 more than any other goalie in the NHL. If he wasn’t also one of the league leaders in save percentage — he finished third, at .927 — there’s a good chance Colorado wouldn’t have made the playoffs.

So is that it then? Colorado might have some defensive weaknesses, but Varlamov is capable of covering them up? Well, maybe not. For one thing, Varlamov has very little playoff experience and none since 2010, so the man at the center of the Avalanche’s success is an X-Factor just based on that.

Additionally, the Avalanche are dealing with the loss of Matt Duchene and two-way forward John Mitchell, which might exacerbate the issues that have been laying beneath the surface.

In the end, the best counterargument to the Avalanche’s shortcomings might be pointing the finger at the team they drew as a first round opponent: the Minnesota Wild.

Minnesota ranked 29th in the league in shots on goal per game in the regular season, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres. The Wild also aren’t leaps and bounds better than Colorado from a Corsi perspective (48.2 percent, 23rd in the league). Had Colorado been forced to play against Chicago, St. Louis, or even Dallas, it would be an entirely different story, but given that Minnesota is a team that has puck possession issues of its own, that red flag in the Avalanche’s game might not be exposed.

The flip side is that this question won’t be put to rest with the Avalanche beating them. Getting past Minnesota would lead to them facing a team that might be far more qualified to exploit Colorado’s weaknesses.

For more Pressing Playoff Questions, click here.

Babcock, McLellan and Tortorella are 2017’s Jack Adams finalists

Getty
Leave a comment

The NHL Broadcasters’ Association named the three finalists for the 2017 Jack Adams Award on Wednesday: Mike Babcock, John Tortorella and Todd McLellan.

The Jack Adams is given to the head coach who “contributed the most to his team’s success.”

It might tickle some to realize that Babcock and McLellan once coached together on the Detroit Red Wings’ staff. All three coaches share the distinction of bringing teams to the playoffs who failed to make the postseason in (at least) the previous season.

The Maple Leafs missed from 2013-14 to 2015-16. Columbus failed in its previous two seasons. And, of course, the Oilers hadn’t seen the playoffs since falling in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

One could make an argument for each coach in a number of ways.

Babcock molded a Maple Leafs team topped by young players, showing a refreshing willingness to take the good with the bad (especially for a guy who’s known for his scowl). McLellan broke that Oilers slump, gradually finding a lineup that could be “more than just Connor McDavid.” The Blue Jackets were expected to be one of the worst teams in the NHL to the point that they’d get Torts fired; instead, they boasted a power play that baffled opponents for much of the season and Tortorella enacted some (gasp) progressive ideas to help Columbus compete.

Now, you could critique all three in different ways – barely making the playoffs, riding hot goaltending, deploying Connor McDavid – but that’s part of the fun, right? There are certainly some cases to be made for snubs (Bruce Boudreau, perhaps even Joel Quenneville?), yet this trio of finalists is strong nonetheless.

The NHL has a more traditional rundown of each coach’s credentials, by the way.

WATCH LIVE: Second round begins with Predators – Blues, Oilers – Ducks

Getty
Leave a comment

The second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs is set to begin on Wednesday, and the NBC Sports Group has you covered with wall-to-wall coverage.

We start with a battle of the hottest goalies in the postseason so far as Jake Allen and the Blues host Pekka Rinne and the Predators. The duo of Game 1’s wraps up when Connor McDavid and the Oilers take on Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks 

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online)

U.S. adds Bruins’ McAvoy, Blackhawks’ Trevor van Riemsdyk for Worlds

Getty
Leave a comment

After a whirlwind of an NHL debut suiting up for the Boston Bruins in the playoffs, defenseman Charlie McAvoy is staying busy this summer.

McAvoy and Chicago Blackhawks blueliner Trevor van Riemsdyk are the latest additions to the U.S. roster for the upcoming World Championship.

This comes a day after a tough day for USA Hockey, as both Patrick Kane and Auston Matthews were ruled out from the competition.

Neither of these young defensemen can match that star power, but tournaments like these can be interesting showcases, particularly for McAvoy (who’s already shown great promise at just 19).

The Bruins threw McAvoy right into the deep end against the Senators; only Zdeno Chara‘s average time on ice of 28:46 exceeded McAvoy’s 26:12.

It’s understandable that Matthews and others may opt for rest, particularly after a season made more hectic thanks to the World Cup. In McAvoy’s case, the Worlds represent another chance for him to get his feet wet against NHL-level competition.

MORE:McAvoy shines in debut.

Agent says Kucherov blasted Bolts out of frustration from missing playoffs

Getty
7 Comments

Quite the situation developing in Tampa Bay.

Earlier today, the translation of Nikita Kucherov‘s interview with Sovietsky Sport hit social media and caught a number of people by surprise. In it, Kucherov said some of his Lightning teammates “got their money and stopped working” this season, then complained about a lack of consistent linemates.

And that’s not all. (See below).

When reached for comment, Kucherov’s agent — Dan Milstein — didn’t deny the remarks were made. Instead, Milstein told the Tampa Bay Times they came out of frustration after Kucherov and the Bolts failed to make the playoffs.

More:

Here’s the full text of Kucherov’s remarks to Sovietsky Sport (translation courtesy the Times):

“Some guys overstayed in team. They’ve got their money and stopped working. They knew there’s no competition for their positions and the organization is not going to take someone else. They played not really well this year. You can see it in their stats and way of play. When we played together and I made a pass, they even were not expecting this. That’s why this season was hard for me despite good stats.

“We had great chemistry with [Vladislav] Namestnikov and [Steve] Stamkos at the start of the season. We understood each other really really well. And then Stamkos was injured, I was very upset. I think those nine games were my best in the NHL. After that coaches started shuffling lines. Partners were changing like in a kaleidoscope. It was very hard to get used to it, because guys didn’t play at Stamkos level. It’s hard to explain how I played with them. We had a lack of understanding of each other and there were some problems. I was suffering torments all season, because I couldn’t find perfect chemistry with other partners after Stamkos injury. We played with Jonathan Drouin once, and it was good. But coach didn’t put us together again for some reason.”

It’s unclear who Kucherov is referring to in the opening graph. He had numerous linemates this year, as mentioned in the second graph. As for the money angle, the most recent Tampa Bay forwards to get lucrative paydays were Alex Killorn (seven years, $31.5 million) and Stamkos (eight years, $68 million), both of whom were signed last summer.

Kucherov, as mentioned above, signed a three-year bridge deal at $4.766 million annually in October, then went out and provided the Bolts with terrific value. He emerged as a Hart Trophy candidate down the stretch, finishing the year with 40 goals (second only to Sidney Crosby) and 85 points (fifth-most in the NHL).

But while Kucherov had a great individual effort, the same couldn’t be said for the Bolts. Injuries and inconsistency derailed what was supposed to be a promising campaign, given the club advanced to the Cup Final two years ago, and the Eastern Conference Final last season.

If there is a bright side to any of this, it’s that Milstein told the Times Kucherov wants to remain in Tampa Bay long term.

Related: Yzerman won’t blame injuries for Bolts’ playoff miss