Matt Calvert

Colorado Avalanche: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Colorado Avalanche.

Pavel Francouz the surprising star in net

If you were to look at the Avalanche roster at the start of the season and had to pick out an area of concern, goaltending might have been the easy choice.

Philipp Grubauer is a solid starter, but is he a championship-caliber goalie? After him, their top backup was the relatively unproven Francouz who entered the season with just two appearances in the NHL and only one season of professional hockey in North American. Given his age (29) and lack of an NHL resume, there had to be at least a little bit of a question mark regarding their goaltending depth.

Francouz has, instead, turned out to be one of the single biggest surprises on this year’s roster.

In 34 appearances he owns a 21-7-4 record with a .923 save percentage and was outstanding as the starter when Grubauer was sidelined due to injury. His overall play has been so good that the Avalanche already signed him to a two-year contract extension. He and Grubauer have turned out to be an outstanding duo and the underrated star of this year’s team.

Injuries have been a major disappointment

When it comes to performance it is really difficult to find a disappointment on this year’s team. The stars have been great, the scoring depth was addressed in a meaningful way over the summer with some great additions, the goaltending has been better than expected, and the young defensemen have excelled and are already blossoming into stars.

Instead of anything relating to performance, the biggest disappointment this season has been the bad injury luck.

Obviously that is not anyone’s fault, but it has kept us from really getting a sense of just how good this team can be when it is at full strength.

The injury list this season includes…

That is not only a lot of games, it is a lot of games for significant players.

Even with all of that the Avalanche have still been one of the league’s best teams and certainly builds some excitement for what their ceiling is when everyone is in the lineup.

Tyson Jost has not really taken a big step forward

If you did want to reach for a performance related disappointment Jost might be the player to look at. It is tough to say that because on one hand he is still only 21 years old and has a ton of talent. So the potential is absolutely there. On the other hand, he has also already played 200 NHL games and has not really shown significant improvement. After that many games it might be time to start wondering if this is the player that he is — a 10-goal, 20-point depth forward. Not saying he can not be more than that, and players do develop at different paces, but we are no longer talking about a small sampling of games here.

He was mentioned in trade rumors leading up to the deadline and it definitely seems reasonable to conclude that he could be moved at some point in the future.

Ryan Graves has been a great complement for Makar

The Avalanche have the potential for an outstanding long-term defense with Makar (the current Calder Trophy front-runner as the league’s Rookie of the Year), Samuel Girard, and 2019 No. 4 overall pick Bowen Byram. That trio, their talent, upside, and contract situations help make them one of the most important parts of the team’s core moving forward and will be the foundation of a potential championship team in the very near future.

There is another player that has emerged as part of that defense this season, and that is the 24-year-old Graves.

He has spent a significant portion of his season playing alongside Makar to help form an outstanding pair.

In close to 500 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season the Avalanche have completely dominated the shot attempt and scoring-chance metrics and have outscored teams by a 31-17 margin with them on the ice. While it is easy to conclude that a lot of that is due to Makar carrying the duo, Graves has also excelled when playing next to Ian Cole.

Basically, no matter who he plays next to, it works.

For the season, Graves has nine goals and 26 total points and is a league-leading plus-40 while playing close to 19 minutes per game.

He may not be the impact player or star that Makar is, but his play has been an outstanding development this season.

MORE:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche
What is the Avalanche’s long-term outlook?

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon still has strong MVP argument

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

We are in the stretch run of the 2019-20 NHL regular season and that means two things: The Stanley Cup playoff races are heating up, and it’s time to start yelling about who should win the Hart Trophy as the league MVP.

When it comes to the latter, almost all of the recent focus has shifted to Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl given his runaway lead in the league scoring race.

But he is far from a slam-dunk winner, and there is still a pretty convincing argument to be made for Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon.

MacKinnon and the Avalanche are back in action on Wednesday night when they host the Anaheim Ducks (9:30 p.m. ET) and will be looking to extend their current winning streak to eight games. They will also have chance to gain ground on the St. Louis Blues for the top spot in the Western Conference.

A win would bring them within just a single point of the Blues while still having a game in hand.

But let’s get back to MacKinnon for a second here, because it seems like he’s starting to take a back seat in the MVP race even though there is still a pretty convincing case to be made for him.

The thing about the MVP argument is everybody has a different definition for what value is and what should matter most. Is it simply the best player? The player that brings the most “value” to a team (which is a completely subjective argument)? The player that does the most for a playoff team?

No matter what your definition or criteria might be, MacKinnon’s season probably fits it.

While he may not win the scoring title this season, he is still one of the league’s top-five scorers entering play on Wednesday and is on pace for more than 40 goals and close 110 points. He is leading the league in shots on goal for the second year in a row and is the focal point of the offense for one of the NHL’s best teams.

During even-strength play, he is tied for the league lead in primary assists, has scored 23 of his 33 goals, and is a possession driver.

When it comes to more subjective things like “value” and the ability to carry his team, he has a direct hand (scoring or assisting) in 39 percent of the Avalanche’s goals this season. That is actually slightly higher than his contribution the past two seasons, while he 39 more points offensively than any other player on the Avalanche roster. Almost every other MVP candidate this season (with the exception of New York’s Artemi Panarin) has another top-tier scorer on their roster this season.

His offensive production and overall contributions have not slowed down even though his two regular linemates (Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog) have both missed at least 15 games this season due to injury. And that is to say nothing of the other injury issues they have had recently to impact their depth, including Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Calvert, and starting goalie Philipp Grubauer. When the Avalanche have needed him to carry the load offensively, he has.

And if you’re one of the people that think an MVP has to be on a playoff team, well, the Avalanche have that covered, too.

MacKinnon has finished in the top-six of the MVP voting in each of the past two seasons (including finishing as the runner-up two years ago) and is almost certain to be there again this season.

Draisaitl might be stealing the headlines right now because of his point totals, but the argument for MacKinnon is still as strong as ever.

Liam McHugh will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Anson Carter and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington D.C.

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NBC Sports will take fans inside the sounds and passion of hockey with a one-hour special “Wired: Stadium Series – Kings vs. Avalanche” immediately following coverage of Ducks-Avalanche on NBCSN

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NBC Sports will utilize an all-female crew to broadcast and produce game coverage of Sunday’s Blues-Blackhawks game, coinciding with International Women’s Day and marking the first NHL game broadcast and produced solely by women in the U.S.

Kate Scott (play-by-play) will call the action alongside U.S. Olympic gold medalists Kendall Coyne-Schofield (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) and AJ Mleczko (analyst) from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Game production will be led by producer Rene Hatlelid and director Lisa Seltzer.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Power Rankings: The Philadelphia Flyers’ wild ride

NHL Power Rankings
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If you are a Philadelphia Flyers fan, how do you do it?

How do you deal with the dramatic swings and the complete unpredictability that your favorite sports franchise throws in your direction every season without being driven completely mad? At any given time you could see a 10-game winning streak, or a 10-game losing streak, and neither one would ever shock you because you just have to think, “yeah, that streak makes sense.”

Take this season for example. The Flyers have already lost four games in a row on three different occasions. The only other teams in the league that have done that are Anaheim, Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, Ottawa, and San Jose. That is a collection of the league’s worst teams and one bubble playoff team (Columbus). That many extended losing streaks should completely bury a team.

But not the Flyers. Not this team. They enter this week with one of the league’s best records (sixth-best points percentage), are currently on a six-game winning streak, and are just three points out of first place in the Metropolitan Division. It all just kind of happened out of nowhere.

That run puts them back in the top-five of this week’s NHL Power Rankings. Where do the rest of the teams sit this week?

To the rankings!

1. Boston Bruins. The Bruins may not have the NHL’s longest current winning streak, but they have the league’s best record (by far) and are 17-5-2 in their most recent 25 games.

2. St. Louis Blues. Since snapping a five-game losing streak that slowed them down in mid-February, the defending champions have ripped off seven wins in a row. The only reason it has not created more space at the top of the Central Division is because of the next team.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Even with all of their injuries (Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Philipp Grubauer, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Calvert) they are still rolling. They have won five in a row, have points in six straight, and are 13-4-3 in the past 20 games.

4. Philadelphia Flyers. A healthy Carter Hart could be a game-changer here.

5. Vegas Golden Knights. This team has been a sleeping giant all season. They were never as bad as their early season record indicated and they are now starting to distance themselves in the Pacific Division race.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning. Hopefully for their sake the Steven Stamkos injury does not linger too far into the playoffs.

7. Dallas Stars. I don’t know how good the Stars are overall as a team, but I do know their goaltending should put the fear of god into any potential playoff opponent.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs. You know, for all of the “sky is falling” mayhem that oozes out of Toronto every time this team loses a game they are 26-13-4 under Sheldon Keefe. That is a 107-point pace over 82 games. Calm down.

9. Washington Capitals. They still have the inside track on another Metropolitan Division crown but they have two absolutely massive upcoming games with the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins. This is their first six-game losing streak since the 2011-12 season. They followed that streak by immediately winning seven games in a row. Let’s see what they do this time.

11. Edmonton Oilers. Leon Draisaitl has a real shot at back-to-back 50-goal, 100-point seasons. The most recent players to accomplish such a feat are Alex Ovechkin, Dany Heatley, and Mario Lemieux.

12. Nashville Predators. They are in a three-way tie for the second wild card spot, but have three more games to play than the two teams they are tied with. They would really have to screw this up to miss the playoffs.

13. New York Rangers. It may not result in a playoff appearance this season (losing Chris Kreider is a big loss), but they have definitely made it interesting and the future looks to be in good hands with this core.

14. New York Islanders. They should make the playoffs, but this has been a very ordinary team since the end of November. They are just 19-18-6 in the 43 games since November 24.

15. Carolina Hurricanes. I like all of their trade deadline moves, but let’s face it: Not having Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce is a problem. They also need one of their regular goalies back.

16. Minnesota Wild. They traded one of their best players in-season (Jason Zucker), they fired a really good coach when the team was starting to turn things around, and they still might end up making the playoffs.

17. Calgary Flames. They could end up with home-ice in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs or they could end up sitting on their couches in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

18. Vancouver Canucks. They can find ways to overcome the injury to Brock Boeser. The injury to Jacob Markstrom is the one that is going to hurt in the short-term.

19. Arizona Coyotes. Their 7-11-4 run over their past 22 games has not completely eliminated them from playoff contention, but given how many games in hand everyone around them has this is not going to be easy.

20. Columbus Blue Jackets. Even after losing 10 out of 11 games they are still in it. That win against Vancouver on Sunday night might be a season saver.

21. Winnipeg Jets. Connor Hellebuyck has helped them hang around this season but overall it’s just not a very good team.

22. Florida Panthers. This season started with so much hope and so much promise and it looks like it is just going to end up being more of the same. Very disappointing.

23. Buffalo Sabres. At the trade deadline they were talking about playing meaningful games down the stretch and then they followed it up by losing three games in a row to pretty much make every game the rest of the way completely meaningless.

24. Los Angeles Kings. Give them credit, with absolutely nothing to play for they are 6-2-1 in their past nine games and beaten a bunch of teams in playoff spots or fighting for a playoff spot.

25. Chicago Blackhawks. He still probably will not do enough to move ahead of top two defensemen, but Dominik Kubalik is playing his way into the top-three of the Calder Trophy discussion.

26. New Jersey Devils. It has been a rough couple of years for Cory Schneider but he has played three outstanding games since returning to the lineup.

27. Montreal Canadiens. Philip Danault has had a sneaky good season here. So they have that going for them.

28. San Jose Sharks. For as bad as this season has been I could still see this team being a contender again next season. I’m not crazy. Get healthy, fix the goaltending.

29. Anaheim Ducks. The last time the Ducks had a season this bad they were still branded as The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

30. Ottawa Senators. Bobby Ryan‘s return and hat trick was a pretty great moment.

31. Detroit Red Wings. There are loyal Detroit Red Wings fans that have watched every game of this season. I salute them. They should get an award.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Avalanche stay hot with win over Sabres

The injury situation is not slowing down the Colorado Avalanche.

Their 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night was their fourth in a row and improved them to 12-3-1 in their past 16 games to help them keep pace in the race for the top spot in the Western Conference.

What makes this current run so impressive is the number of players they have out of the lineup, currently playing without Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Calvert, and starting goalie Philipp Grubauer. It is a testament to the way general manager Joe Sakic and the Avalanche front office has improved the team’s depth over the past year.

That depth was on display on Wednesday night.

J.T. Compher scored the game-winning goal with just under nine minutes to play on Wednesday night, while 20-year-old Martin Kaut scored his first career goal earlier in the night.

The big star of the game for the Avalanche, though, had to be goaltender Pavel Francouz. He continued his outstanding season by stopping 31 out of 33 shots. He helped keep the Avalanche in the game early in the first period, and then made a handful of highlight reel saves late in the third period with the Avalanche trying to protect their one-goal lead. The 29-year-old has been a great find for the Avalanche and earned a two-year contract extension earlier this month.

As for the Sabres, this was their first game after a busy trade deadline that saw them add Wayne Simmonds and Dominik Kahun in an effort to play meaningful games down the stretch, and maybe hang around in the Atlantic Division playoff race. While their recent hot streak has helped bring them closer to the Toronto Maple Leafs for that third spot, they still have almost no margin for error the rest of the way. By failing to gain a point on Wednesday they remain eight points behind the Maple Leafs.

 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Avs, Sabres took surprising deadline approaches

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Avalanche and Sabres were in very different positions heading into the trade deadline. Colorado was comfortably in a playoff spot, while the Sabres were far enough out of a postseason position that no one expected them to make a trade to bolster their team. But the NHL is an unpredictable place.

One of the first moves made on Monday morning was between Ottawa and Colorado. The Avs sent a 2021 draft pick to the Sens for Vladislav Namestnikov. That’s a solid, low-cost depth move by general manager Joe Sakic. The expectation was that the Avs would continue to swing a few deals throughout the day, but outside of a move for veteran goalie Michael Hutchinson, they didn’t do anything else.

Sakic’s team has been hit pretty hard by the injury bug. Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Colin Wilson, Matt Calvert and Philipp Grubauer are all sidelined right now. Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, all they can do is wait for these bodies to get healthy again.

Rantanen is arguably the most important player of the bunch. Since he went down to injury though, the Avs have found a way to win all three of their games. As difficult as it must be to not have him and other key players in their lineup right now, these guys should all come back fresh for a playoff push. They just have to find a way to survive without them in the present.

As for the Sabres, they surprised us on deadline day by giving up one of their 2021 draft picks for pending unrestricted free agent Wayne Simmonds. Even though their odds of participating in the playoffs were slim, general manager Jason Botterill wanted to give his team some kind of spark.

“I think we made Jason’s job a little bit more difficult, which is what our goal was,” forward Kyle Okposo said after Sunday’s win over Winnipeg. “We like the group that we have in here. I think we’ve shown some resilience that’s been missing in the past.”

Simmonds is nowhere close to being the player he was with the Philadelphia Flyers a few years ago. That’s why he fetched a fifth-rounder two years from now. But for a young Sabres team, adding a veteran like him could help them immediately and potentially heading into next year if the marriage between these two sides works.

The 31-year-old has eight goals and 24 points in 61 games with New Jersey this year and five of his eight goals have been scored on the man-advantage.

Botterill also acquired forward Dominik Kahun from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues. The 24-year-old is currently day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

The Sabres were six points out of a playoff spot on Monday. They’re now eight points behind Toronto for the third place in the Atlantic Division, but they have two games in hand. Keep in mind, they’d have to leap over the Leafs, Panthers and Canadiens to get the job done. That’s not an ideal situation to be in, but they’ll have to make the most of it.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. John Forslund, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will have the call from Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.