Gabriel Landeskog

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Avs continue strong summer by extending coach Bednar

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If you want an example of how quickly things can change in sports, consider the Colorado Avalanche and head coach Jared Bednar, who was signed to a two-year contract extension on Tuesday.

In a bizarre turn of events, Patrick Roy left the Avalanche in August of 2016, not that far from training camp. Bednar was thrown into a tough situation as head coach – some would say, in part because of a lack of options considering a hectic hiring process – and suffered through a disastrous 22-56-4 debut season in 2016-17. That was good for just 48 points in 82 games.

Things were so glum to begin 2017-18 that a miserable-looking Matt Duchene was inspiring a bunch of Simon & Garfunkel memes, and it seemed like the Avalanche might suffer through a lengthy period of … well, darkness.

Instead of merely signaling relief, the Duchene trade instead propelled the Avalanche faster toward the light at the end of the tunnel. The Avalanche stunned the hockey world by making the playoffs in 2017-18 (Bednar’s second season as head coach), and managed a repeat appearance this past season.

[PHT’s Bednar interview from August 2018]

Once the Avalanche punched their ticket to 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they made serious waves.

Colorado didn’t just upset the top-seeded Calgary Flames in Round 1. They clearly and undeniably outplayed the Flames. This Natural Stat Trick chart captures much of the spirit of the Flames falling in five games, as instead of Mike Smith being the one thing that derailed Calgary’s run, he instead held them in some of those contests:

The Avalanche also pushed an excellent San Jose Sharks team to Game 7 of Round 2, with San Jose narrowly escaping, controversial calls and all.

Considering that “mile high” elevation, any reasonable coach would want the Avalanche playing at the sort of pace that will leave opponents huffing and puffing. Bednar embraced that, but others have not, including Patrick Roy. It can be tough to separate smart coaching from sheer happenstance, yet it sure feels like Colorado is moving in the right direction, and Bednar seems to have them pointed forward.

The still-fairly-new coach also deftly handled Nathan MacKinnon‘s kind of adorable tantrum merely by not letting it become a thing.

So, aside from that first-year meltdown, Bednar’s passed most (if not) all of his tests as a head coach, making that extension easy to understand.

Bednar getting top-heavy but somewhat limited Avalanche teams to the playoffs these past two seasons is a testament to his coaching, yet the most intriguing challenges await.

Colorado’s enjoyed a smashing success of a summer, adding legitimate pieces such as Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, and Andre Burakovsky to supplement that mighty top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s up to Bednar to integrate those additions – and maybe manage Kadri’s temper? – along with making the right calls about how to work prospects Cale Makar, Conor Timmins, and Bowen Byram into the mix over the years. Bednar also must manage the goaltending position. While Philipp Grubauer looked like a genuine starting goalie toward the end of 2018-19 and into a strong playoff run, there were also shaky moments, and now the Avalanche don’t have a veteran to fall back on as Semyon Varlamov got that surprising contract from the New York Islanders.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

As much as the Avalanche seem set to take off, it’s easy to see situations where they might stumble in trying to make a greater leap forward. It could be up to Bednar to keep those frustrations from boiling over, and to manage growing pains as the Makars of the world take on greater responsibility.

In the grand scheme of things, the Avalanche appear to be on an exhilarating upward trajectory, and it seems like Bednar is a strong choice to pilot them on that journey.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Return on Duchene trade will help shape Avalanche’s defense for years

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Two years ago the perception of the Colorado Avalanche was very, very, very different than it is today.

At the start of the 2017-18 season they had missed the playoffs three years in a row and six of the past seven, while one of their best returning players, Matt Duchene, wanted out.

It was a wish that the Avalanche management eventually granted him early in the season.

It has turned out to be one of the franchise-altering moments over the past two years that has seen the Avalanche become one of the best young teams in the league, one that looks to be on the verge of becoming a fearsome Stanley Cup contender.

Nothing has played a bigger role in that rapid improvement Nathan MacKinnon turning into a top-5 player in the league and Mikko Rantanen becoming a star right alongside him. But do not overlook the importance of the Duchene trade given how much value they were able to squeeze out of that deal.

Just for a refresher on how it looked at the time, it was a three-team trade that saw Duchene to go to the Ottawa Senators, Kyle Turris go to the Nashville Predators from the Senators, and a collection of young players and draft picks from both teams going to the Avalanche.

That return for the Avalanche included.

  • Samuel Girard, at the time a 19-year-old defender and a top prospect in the Predators’ organization
  • Shane Bowers, the Ottawa Senators’ first-round pick (No. 28 overall) in the 2017 NHL draft
  • Vladislav Kamenev, at the time a 20-year-old forward and No. 42 overall pick from 2014
  • Goalie Andrew Hammond
  • Two draft picks that turned out to be Ottawa’s first-round pick (No. 4 overall) in 2019 and Ottawa’s third-round pick in 2019

With the 2019 NHL draft having taken place this weekend, the return on that trade continued to grow as the Avalanche used both selections on Friday and Saturday.

They used the first-round pick to select defender Bowen Byram from the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, and the third-round pick (the first pick in that round) to select center Matthew Stienburg.

The number of young, premium assets alone makes it an incredible haul for an excellent, but not quite great, player that clearly wanted out of Colorado.

It is also a return that should have a substantial impact on the future of the Avalanche blue line for the next decade.

First you have Girard, who just turned 21 back in May, that took a pretty big leap forward this past season for the Avalanche, playing close to 20 minutes per night and demonstrating some of the offensive flare that made him such a key piece of the trade. When the playoffs rolled around the Avalanche had no reservations about throwing him on the ice with Cale Makar, another of their top prospects and the Avalanche’s own No. 4 overall pick in 2018. When that duo was on the ice together they looked like they had the potential to take over games.

Because the Senators immediately went in the tank after acquiring Duchene and eventually began a two-year fire sale, the Avalanche were in a position to pick Byram at the top of the 2019 draft and add yet another dynamic, offensive blue-liner to their roster.

Between him, Makar, and Girard the Avalanche will have three potential (potential being the key word) top-pairing defenders in their organization that are all age 21 or younger.

This also plays a role in allowing the Avalanche to have more salary cap flexibility than almost any other team in the league, and especially among potential Stanley Cup contenders. When combined with the fact that MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog are playing on long-term contracts that are laughably below market value, getting three talented defenders on entry-level contracts is a huge advantage for them.

This is an admittedly rosy outlook that assumes everything works out exactly as planned. It does not always work out the way when talking about 18 or 19 year old players. But based on what we have seen from Girard and Makar in their brief samplings, and the potential that Byram brings to the organization, there is every reason to believe the Avalanche have the chance to build a dangerous blue line over the next decade. They have the Duchene trade to thank for two of those three key pieces.

It is, at this point, abundantly clear that the Avalanche worked this situation as perfectly as they could have and no doubt came out ahead among the three teams in that trade.

The Senators did not even get two full seasons out of Duchene before trading him for less than they gave up to get him.

Turris has been a massive disappointment so far in Nashville and carries a substantial contract over the next few seasons.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, have several young, talented assets that could be the foundation of a powerhouse team in the NHL, especially with the salary cap space they still have to use this summer and in future seasons.

It is usually difficult to get fair value in a trade of that magnitude, and often times when you give up what is, at the time, the best player in the trade you often times come out on the losing end of it. The theory in these situations is that the trading team can get a kings ransom of players and picks that will one day re-shape the look of the franchise. It almost never works out that way.

The Avalanche made it work.

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.

Avs’ Landeskog takes blame for controversial offside call

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Gabriel Landeskog said he was just as surprised as anybody, but he wasn’t blaming the officiating after a game-tying goal was called back on an offside challenge in Game 7 Wednesday night.

The goal, which came at the 7:49 mark of the second period off the stick of Colin Wilson, would have changed the complexion of the game entirely. The Avs were trailing 2-1 at that point and ended up losing 3-2 in the deciding game where the winner would advance to the Western Conference Final.

The Colorado Avalanche captain coughed up the puck deep in the San Jose zone. Exhausted, and perhaps frustrated, he worked his way to the bench for a line change. Barclay Goodrow, who got the puck, ended up turning it over just outside his own zone, allowing Nathan MacKinnon to streak in, center the puck for Wilson, and tie the game.

Momentarily, at least.

“I came off and all of the sudden two seconds later we score,” the Avs captain told reporters in San Jose after the game. “I didn’t think anything of it, to be honest with you.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Peter DeBoer used his coach’s challenge on the goal and the review was placed in the hands of the NHL’s Situation Room.

“After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesman, the Situation Room determined that Gabriel Landeskog did not legally tag up at the blue line prior to the puck entering the offensive zone,” the league’s official email regarding the goal stated. “The decision was made in accordance to Rule 83.3 (i), “All players of the offending team clear the zone at the same instant (skate contact with the blue line) permitting the attacking players to re-enter the attacking zone…”

The good goal call on the ice was overturned.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen that before but it’s just a clumsy mistake,” Landeskog said. “Get off the ice… If I could have done something different on that play, I would have jumped the boards a lot quicker.”

Avs coach Jared Bednar said that type of offside call is rare.

“In a Game 7, even more so,” he said following the game. “That player has nothing to do with the play that’s going on. It seems like such a minute detail, whether he’s onside or offside. So it’s strange, you know? It’s strange. And it’s something we could have done without tonight, no question.”

Landeskog, who was praised after the game for the way he handled the situation, said that hopefully, the linesmen got the call right.

“I don’t envy their position at all to make that call in a Game 7 like this,” Landeskog said. “It’s a tough job and a tough call have to make. Hopefully, they got it right. But I’m going to take the blame for that because I could have done a lot of things different. Ultimately, my skates were on the ice.”

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Playoff Buzzer: Pavelski returns for Game 7 to lead Sharks past Avs

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Joe Pavelski made his series debut and was a major impact player right out of the gate.

The Avalanche thought they battled back from a 2-0 deficit, but their second goal was taken away because Gabriel Landeskog was ruled as being offside during a line change.

Colorado out shot San Jose 15-2 in the third period, but the Sharks held onto the lead.

San Jose Sharks 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (Sharks win series 4-3)

The Sharks didn’t confirm until nearly the last minute that Joe Pavelski would play, but the captain certainly made it worth the wait. He scored the opening goal and assisted on Tomas Hertl‘s marker to give San Jose a 2-0 lead by 11:35 of the first period. Meanwhile, Nathan MacKinnon left the contest early after crashing into the boards. Everything seemed to be trending towards a clean Sharks victory, but momentum swung to the Avalanche’s side when MacKinnon returned late in the first period and Mikko Rantanen scored with just seven seconds before intermission. Colorado seemed to tie the contest in the second, but the goal was overruled due to an odd offside call on Gabriel Landeskog. To add insult to injury, Joonas Donskoi scored a stunner midway through the second to put the Sharks up 3-1. Tyson Jost put the Avalanche back within one again early in the third period, but San Jose held on despite being out shot 15-2 in the third period.

Three Stars

1. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks. This one is easy. Not only did Pavelski manage to rejoin the Sharks after suffering a scary injury in Game 7 of Round 1, but he was a huge factor in this game. He had a goal and an assist while logging 19:49 minutes of ice time. Only two Sharks forwards were used more in Game 7.

2. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks. One of the two forwards who was used more. Hertl recorded 24:01 minutes of ice time, which is incredible for a forward in a game that didn’t go to overtime. No one on the Avalanche — forward or defenseman — matched Hertl in terms of minutes played. A big part of it was Hertl’s work on special teams. He got 4:39 power-play minutes and 2:42 shorthanded minutes. Of course, it wasn’t just how much work Hertl got in. He also contributed a goal and an assist.

3. Joonas Donskoi, San Jose Sharks. His goal proved to be the game-winner. It was his first marker of the playoffs after he scored 14 goals during the regular season. It wasn’t just how important the marker was though, it also was an amazing goal to cap a great sequence for San Jose.

Highlights of the Night
Pavelski’s deflection goal early in the game gave the Sharks an edge early on. The game had so many twists and turns so it might be a stretch to say that this marker defined the game, but it certainly made a big impact.

Factoids

  • The Sharks are the sixth team in NHL history to start their run with two Game 7 victories at home. [TSN’s StatsCentre]
  • This will be Peter DeBoer’s third trip to the Conference Final as a head coach. The other two times he got this far, his team ended up losing in the Stanley Cup Final.
  • The Western Conference Final will be a rematch of the 2016 series between the Sharks and Blues. San Jose won that one in six games.
  • Mikko Rantanen’s playoff run ends with him recording six goals and 14 points in 12 games.

Thursday’s Schedule

Game 1: Carolina Hurricanes at Boston Bruins, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

What to watch for in Sharks-Avalanche Game 7

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For the second time this postseason the San Jose Sharks find themselves in a winner-take-all Game 7 on home ice.

After a miraculous comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights in Round 1, they are back at it on Wednesday night (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) where they will try to knock out a young, upstart Colorado Avalanche team that is starting to position itself as a major player in the Western Conference.

The winner moves on to play the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Final.

Trying to predict which team that will be is a difficult proposition because this has been an incredibly tight series where no team has anything close to the upper hand.

Let’s take a look at what to watch for and some of the factors that could determine the winner.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. No advantage for anyone six games in

Whether you’re looking at traditional numbers like wins and losses or goals for and against, or shot-based advanced analytics no team has carried the play in this series.

The Sharks lead the goal department by the slimmest of margins, outscoring the Avalanche by a 17-16 margin overall and 13-12 during 5-on-5 on play.

The Sharks have had a slightly bigger advantage when it comes to the possession game and total shot attempts (53 percent to 46 percent) but the Avalanche have actually done a better job generating scoring chances (52 percent) and high-danger chances (54 percent). On one hand, the Sharks have to like that they have been able to control the territorial edge, but they can’t like the fact they are giving up as many chances as they are. One mistake or breakdown against Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, or Gabriel Landeskog and there is a very good chance it is going to end up in the back of your net.

2. Both goalies have been really good

This was probably the big question mark for both teams coming into this season (or at least one of them). Martin Jones had a terrible regular season for the Sharks and struggled early in the playoffs against Vegas before catching fire late in that series and continuing that play into Round 2.

Philipp Grubauer had a tough start to the season for the Avalanche but played lights down the stretch and has been one of the team’s best players in the playoffs. But it probably wouldn’t have been unfair to wonder about him entering the postseason just because he has such a limited track record as a starter in the NHL and flopped in his first playoff experience with the Washington Capitals a year ago. But he has definitely risen to the challenge for the Avalanche.

Usually in a Game 7 you throw everything out the window and just go with the team that has the better goalie, but even that mindset kind of makes this game a huge toss-up because it’s hard to see which team has the advantage.

Neither goalie has a track record of being one of the NHL’s elite, and their performance through the first six games has been fairly similar as they have mostly matched each other save for save.

3. What will the Sharks’ power play look like?

The Sharks’ power play was the driving force behind their Game 7 comeback in Round 1, but it has gone cold in Round 2 against the Avalanche. One strategy that Peter DeBoer and the coaching staff has utilized has been splitting up Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, a decision that seems to be a little unconventional given how the two of them are among the best offensive defensemen in the league and are both dynamite on the power play.

The mindset behind it is that it allows DeBoer to limit Burns’ minutes so he can play more during 5-on-5 situations and be matched up against the Avalanche’s top line that is centered by MacKinnon. I get the strategy behind it, but the Sharks’ power play has struggled mightily in this series and has had its most success when the two of them have been on the ice together. And by “most success,” I mean their only success.

Karlsson and Burns have played just four minutes together on the power play in this series with the Sharks scoring two goals. They have zero power play goals in 22 power play minutes with them split up.

I know the Sharks want to keep Burns fresh to go against MacKinnon, and power plays are often hard to come by in a Game 7, but when the Sharks do get the man-advantage they should not be holding anything back. This is Game 7, and one power play or one goal could be the difference between an extended postseason run and an extended summer.

4. The Joe Pavelski factor

It is still not yet known if Pavelski will return to the Sharks’ lineup, but if he does you know there is going to be an emotional lift for the crowd and the team.

More importantly, there’s an on-ice hockey lift, too.

Remember, this is a player that scored 38 goals during the regular season and the Sharks haven’t had him for a single game in this Round 2 series. And they still made it to Game 7 without him. Getting him back would be a huge addition with your season on the line.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

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.