Three key questions heading into the Avs 2021-’22 campaign
As the puck drops on the Colorado Avalanche season Wednesday, with the Avs welcoming in the Chicago Blackhawks, expectations down at Ball Arena are sky high.
Has Joe Sakic and company assembled a Stanley Cup worthy squad? Can the Avalanche rise to meet expectations and have a deep postseason run in 2021’-22?
Here’s some key questions that should shed some light on how Colorado might fare this season:
What will the Avs get from goaltender Darcy Kuemper?
The biggest offseason subtraction for the Avalanche was the loss of Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer, who left on the first day of free agency to sign a six-year, $35.4 million deal with expansion franchise the Seattle Kraken.
Later that day, Colorado general manager Joe Sakic filled Grubauer’s spot on the roster by trading for Arizona Coyotes netminder Darcy Kuemper.
Like Grubauer, Kuemper is a nine-year NHL veteran, and the two share similar career save percentage and goals against average (Kuemper: .917 and 2.47 / Grubauer: .920 and 2.34).
Grubauer carried the load for much of the season with fellow goalie Pavel Francouz out the entire year following hip surgery. Similarly, Kuemper will be called on early with Francouz starting the season off on injured reserve.
Where Kuemper can separate himself from Grubauer is in the postseason. After winning six straight against the St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights, the wheels fell off for Grubauer, giving up 16 goals in four consecutive losses to be eliminated from the playoffs.
If Kuemper can get hot, and stay hot, in the postseason, there’s no reason to believe the Avs won’t make a deep run.
Is Kurtis MacDermid the answer to the Avs’ toughness issues?
Depending on who you ask, toughness is something the Avalanche seemingly could have used more of during their second-round ousting at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights this past postseason.
At the time, then-Avs forward Joonas Donskoi said, “We were not physical enough.”
Meeting with the media on Tuesday, Avs GM Joe Sakic pushed back on the notion that his team lacked “grit” this past offseason.
“It didn’t have anything to do with a lack of grit. But we’re a team that sticks together and plays through things,” Sakic said.
But Colorado did take measure to shore up its toughness heading into the 2021-’22 campaign, like trading for defensive enforcer Kurtis MacDermid this offseason.
“MacDermid is a big guy who is not going to back down from anybody,” fellow defenseman Cale Makar said on Tuesday.
At 6-foot-5 and 233 pounds, MacDermid definitely will provide a physical presence on the Avs back end, along with veteran Erik Johnson.
Will it be enough come next spring? That remains to be seen.
How thin is the ice beneath Jared Bednar’s skates?
Avs GM Joe Sakic isn’t exactly shying away from expectations that this roster should be at the very least Stanley Cup contending.
On Tuesday, Sakic said, “Our goal is to try to win the Stanley Cup. We’re one of the favorites, and that’s a good position to be in. It doesn’t guarantee anything. But to be picked as one of the favorites going into the season, it means you’re doing a pretty good job with your roster.”
Since Jared Bednar stepped into the head coaching role for Colorado in the 2016-’17 season, the team has steadily improved, culminating in earning a divisional title and the Presidents’ Trophy last season.
However, for four consecutive seasons, the Avalanche have failed to move past the second round of the playoffs.
With expectations high, the pressure is on Bednar to produce at least a deep postseason run with this squad. Otherwise, he’ll be on thin ice.