Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Can Teams Replicate the Avalanche’s Success?
With Colorado exploding out of the gate in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, there's a good chance that their feel-good story is being watched by plenty of others outside of the Rocky Mountains. Most notably, teams that crashed and burned during the regular season may take a measure of inspiration in watching the Avalanche go from worst-to-first.
However, the Avalanche didn't just wake up as an organization and decide to be better. There are a number of moving parts and they all came together at the right time. For teams like the Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, and Florida Panthers, take note because the following reasons behind Colorado's success aren't easily replicated.
1. A young core — While Nathan MacKinnon is understandably getting all the headlines for, well, just about everything, it's important to remember that this stew has been bubbling for some time. Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly, and Paul Stastny have been assembled as pieces to a young core group for a few years now. Despite the bottoming out of last year's lockout-shortened campaign, MacKinnon has proved to be just one of numerous gems in the Colorado forward lineup. This may feel like a worst-to-first story, but when you look at the bigger picture, it's not that extreme.
2. An all-world goalie — Semyon Varlamov has been a regular in the NHL since the 2009-10 season. However, his numbers have been up and down for a while, include last season when his save percentage was an ugly .903 and his goals-against ballooned to 3.02. This year, his save percentage is a Vezina-worthy .928. The goals-against is still a little high at 2.41 but the Avalanche have enough goal support to withstand that type of barrage. While Colorado's young core of forwards should continue to mature together, Varlamov may remain a question mark going into next season, as he's not that far removed from relatively poor campaigns. In order for him to truly become an elite goaltender, he's got to put a few strong seasons of consistent play.
3. A coach to be feared and/or loved — Patrick Roy is a fiery individual. That's not a surprise to anyone. But when you're playing alongside that fire, it can spark loyalty and motivation, and that's exactly what the Avalanche got after Roy publicly demonstrated his temper a few times early in the season. Some critics thought it was a calculated move to rally the troops, and the truth is that it's probably 50/50 between strategy and just pure temper. However, players learned that their coach would go to battle for them, which strengthened individual commitment to the goal. Passion combined with skill can get you far in this league, and for at least one season, Roy inspired plenty of passion from his players.
4. Luck — Colorado is fast, talented, and explosive. They're also not that great defensively, with a goals-against that is smack in the middle at 15 and a shots-against that is in the league's bottom five. These types of things tend to normalize over the long haul, and if Colorado wants to continue being upwardly mobile, the team will have to address its defensive assets.