In years past, a post talking about Colorado Avalanche storylines that wouldn’t go away would have likely included a vacuum in leadership, underachieving players and who to take with the first overall pick in the upcoming NHL draft.
This post contains exactly zero of those storylines. What it does contain, however, is an incredible amount of positivity.
One could say, “These aren’t your father’s Colorado Avalanche,” but in a way, they very much are. Much like the team’s first year spent in Denver, when they scored an improbable Stanley Cup win with players like Joe Sakic, Adam Foote and Patrick Roy on the ice, this iteration of the burgundy and blue is a clutch team with bona fide star power and the ability to win close games.
Sure, Sakic, Foote and (especially) Roy are still contributing, albeit in different roles. These days, however, the names taking charge are of youngsters like Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Semyon Varlamov. Their play, both individually and as a collective unit, is making this team into a bona fide playoff contender for the future. Not everything is perfect up in Colorado, but more of these stories are positive than negative, for the first time in a few years.
On one hand, the Avalanche have been prepared well for the playoffs by employing such clutch players as Max Talbot (who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for Pittsburgh in 2009) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere (a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner). But the playoff potential for Colorado goes much deeper than that: it’s their ability to win close games.
Through Friday, the Avs are 10-1-0 in one-goal games, including an undefeated record in overtime (three OT wins, two shootout wins). Those victories have come against such perennial powers as Pittsburgh (October 21) and Los Angeles (November 23) and also divisional foes like Dallas and Winnipeg (twice each) and Minnesota (in the second game of a home-and-home series to close out the month of November). Under the league’s new playoff format, that’s a great confidence booster to carry in your back pocket.
Roy, the goaltending legend who calls Colorado his first NHL coaching (and general manager) job, has turned the Avs into a team that resembles the units with which he won multiple Stanley Cups (1996 and 2001). They’ve rode stellar goaltending and the right line combinations to a comfortable playoff position so far, as well as earned the respect of more established Central Division rivals like Chicago and St. Louis.
In a development that's surprised exactly nobody, Roy is every bit as fiery as he’s ever been behind the bench. It took him all of one game to get into a spat with a rival coach Bruce Boudreau of the Anaheim Ducks, and that was with Colorado winning 6-1. Imagine what will happen if they ever lose 6-1.
Of course, this is probably the worst storyline of the Avalanche season. Semyon Varlamov was arrested on November 22 on charges of assaulting his now ex-girlfriend. (Friend and potential Olympic teammate Ilya Kovalchuk has suggested that the dispute was over a green card.)
No matter what actually happened between the couple, the case can have far-reaching implications both on and off the ice. For Varlamov, it could mean jail time; for the Avalanche, it could mean losing their Vezina Trophy-worthy goaltender. But most importantly, justice must be served due to the delicate nature of the occurrence, and hopefully all parties are afforded as much, whatever the truth may be.
Five Avs defensemen—Nate Guenin, Jan Hejda, Nick Holden, Erik Johnson and Cory Sarich—are at least 6'3". Six (adding the 6'1" Ryan Wilson) weigh at least 200 pounds.
They’ve earned roster spots at the expense of shorter, more wiry players, such as the 6'1", 190-pound Stefan Elliott and the 5'11", 190-pound Matt Hunwick. It’s clear that size is a prerequisite for the job of defenseman in Roy’s system, and considering that he won Stanley Cups behind such behemoths as the 6'4" Rob Blake, 6'3" Adam Foote and 6'4" Larry Robinson, it’s no shock that he’d think bigger is better.
But can any of Roy’s current big men match the star power of his former teammates?
Sidney Crosby he isn’t, but MacKinnon’s been a contributor for the Avalanche from the very start of the season. He notched two assists in the season-opening blowout victory against Anaheim, and it only took him 10 more days to pot his first NHL goal.
With 18 points in his first 30 games, MacKinnon was tied for fourth with P.A. Parenteau in team scoring as of Friday night. He also owns a plus-six rating and a share of the team lead with three game-winning goals, despite a 6.8 shooting percentage that needs some work. Roy’s faith in the fellow Quebec Major Junior Hockey League alum has so far been rewarded, and should continue to be.
Chris Leone has written for Bleacher Report since 2008 in multiple capacities. Follow him on Twitter @christopherlion.