If you want to get a sense for how good a team is and what its true potential is, take a look at how good it performs when its best player is not on the ice.
You need superstars to win and be your foundation, but they can not win alone.
They need support, they need depth, and your team needs to have a strong complementary cast of players to back them up. It’s why Edmonton has had so little postseason success despite having two MVPs in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. It’s why Tampa Bay can play an entire season without Nikita Kucherov and still comfortably make the playoffs on the way to a championship, or play an entire postseason without Steven Stamkos and still win the Stanley Cup.
It is also why the Colorado Avalanche should still be considered such a dangerous team in the Western Conference this season.
They enter play on Friday having won six games in a row, have scored 36 goals during that streak, lead the NHL in goals per game (4.06), have scored at least four goals in 11 of their 16 games, and currently own the fourth best points percentage in the Western Conference. Given what the Avalanche have done the past few years those numbers are probably not a huge shock. But keep in mind they have done it this season with their best player, Nathan MacKinnon, playing in just eight games and scoring just a single goal when he has played.
He has not played in a game in nearly a month for them, covering every game of the current winning streak.
They are pretty much doing all of this without the one guy that is considered to be the engine for their offense.
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado’s other top player, has also missed three games this season.
All of this is a testament to how deep this roster is offensively, and at all levels of the lineup.
Leading the way for the Avalanche at the moment is defenseman Cale Makar and forward Nazem Kadri.
Makar, just now starting his third season, is already one of the best all-around defensemen (and players) in the league, and there is a strong argument to be made that he could end up being the best player on the Avalanche, perhaps even surpassing MacKinnon, in the not too distant future. He is that good, that dominant, and that impactful.
Colorado’s current winning streak started the very game Makar returned to the lineup back on November 11, a stretch that has seen him score six goals with 10 total points. During 5-on-5 play, the Avalanche are a plus-5 with Makar on the ice. After a slow start and a brief injury absence he is starting to play at his top level and lead an Avalanche defense that is among the league’s best along with Samuel Girard and Devon Toews. And even that group has been decimated by absences this season. Makar, Girard, Toews, and Bowen Byram have combined to miss 17 man games due to injury but have still combined to score 15 goals in the games they have played. They are game-changers.
But perhaps the biggest game-changer for the Avalanche right now has been Kadri, who is off to the best offensive start of his career.
He is currently one of the top-five point producers in the league (seven goals, 18 assists, 25 total points in 16 games) and has been especially hot over the past couple of weeks, currently riding a 10-game point streak. That includes a streak of five consecutive multi-point games.
The issue with Kadri has never been his production or overall play. He is an outstanding two-way player and an ideal second-line center fit for a championship contending team. He can defend, he can score at a 25-30 goal pace, and as he is showing this season is more than capable of taking on a bigger role if needed. The problem has always been that he has struggled to stay within the lines in big moments and keeps getting himself suspended for extended periods of time in the playoffs. But up until that point, he’s outstanding. He is playing some of the best offensive hockey of his career right now and driving the league’s best offense.
The Avalanche were one of the contenders that struggled early on this season, but they are starting to find their stride right now, even without their best player.
It is an encouraging sign for the overall strength of the team and what it can be capable of this season.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.