Five things we learned from the Colorado Avalanche’s Stanley Cup triumph
The Colorado Avalanche clinched the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2001 when they wrapped up a 4-2 series victory over the Lightning on Sunday. The Avs were the clear favorites throughout the season, and they lived up to their billing during the playoffs. They swept their Western Conference rivals aside with almost casual disdain and then took down a dynasty in the Stanley Cup Finals.
It capped a remarkable comeback for a team that served as the league’s basement dwellers just five years ago. Let’s delve into some of the key takeaways from Colorado’s famous victory:
Patience Pays Off for Sakic
General manager Joe Sakic hired Jared Bednar to lead the Avs into a brave new era after a frustrated Patrick Roy quit as head coach in 2016. Bednar’s first season was a baptism of fire, as Colorado went 22-56-4 and had a -112 goal differential. Sakic was under pressure to replace Bednar, but he stuck to his guns.
Meanwhile, he made the astute decision to select Cale Makar with the fourth overall pick that year. Star forward Matt Duchene agitated for a move away, so Sakic let him go to Ottawa, bringing in Sam Girard from Nashville and a first-round pick in a three-way trade. Girard has emerged as a key cog in this Avs team. The decision to stick with Bednar was vindicated, as Colorado reached the playoffs, where they pushed the Predators – the eventual champion – to six games.
Sakic continued to make judicious picks and acquisitions. Andre Burakovsky, Valeri Nichushkin, Nazem Kadri, Devon Toews, Darcy Kuemper, Josh Manson and Artturi Lehkonen all joined between 2019 and 2022, turning the Avs into perennial contenders. Nathan MacKinnon delivered upon his vast potential after Sakic resisted the temptation to trade him,
Three straight defeats in the second round of the postseason may have inspired some general managers to rip up their plans and start again, but Sakic kept the core together, confident they would come good. His vision and patience paid off big time this year.
A Skilled Core Supplemented by Offensive Depth
A solid core featuring MacKinnon, Makar, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Erik Johnson powered Colorado to Stanley Cup glory this year. The team’s firepower was on display throughout the regular season, and they maintained that during the playoffs, with MacKinnon and Makar leading the charge.
The Avs scored more postseason goals per game than any other Cup winner since 1988. They also converted on 32.8% of their power plays. Makar was rewarded with the Conn Smythe Trophy after earning the fourth-highest points tally by a defenseman in postseason history.
The defense was also solid. Game 6 was a perfect example, as the Avs eked out a 2-1 win, keeping the venerated triumvirate of Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn pointless. They were able to suffocate Tampa Bay at times, overwhelming a dynasty en route to victory.
Yet there is also strength in depth. Nichushkin, Lehkonen, Kadri, Burakovsky and J.T. Copher all came in and performed well, lightening the load on the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen combo. Colorado displayed tactical versatility too, and the supporting cast deserves a great deal of credit for this triumph.
Shrewd Acquisitions Paid Dividends
The Avalanche capitalized upon rival teams’ misfortunes when building their Cup-winning roster. For example, Toews was a victim of the New York Islanders’ cap crunch, and Sakic pounced to acquire him at an opportune moment. They also capitalized upon the Stars’ lack of patience with Nichushkin, who has flourished in Denver.
Judicious use of data and analytics helped the franchise identify Lehkonen, Josh Manson and Andrew Cogliano as ideal players to supplement their existing pieces. They moved at the perfect time for these players to boost their playoff chances, and they reaped the rewards. It all goes back to Sakic’s vision for this team, which has now been realized.
They finished the postseason with a 16-4 record, a +1.5 goals differential per game record and an Elo rating of 1631. That puts them among the most dominant Cup winners in history. It was all the more impressive when you consider that they beat the mighty Bolts in the Finals.
Offense is the Best Form of Defense
Throughout the season, critics identified Kuemper as the weak link that could thwart this team’s chances of playoff success. He did indeed struggle during the postseason, allowing over five goals more than his expected goals against tally, but the Avs still found a way to win.
They did a great job of protecting the goalie during the Stanley Cup Finals. Even when protecting a one-goal lead in the third period of Game 6, the Avs refused to retreat into a defensive shell. They pushed forward, taking the game to Tampa Bay and preventing Hedman, Kucherov and Killorn from creating presentable chances.
Colorado did not simply play it safe and absorb pressure. They took calculated risks and proved the old adage that the best form of offense is defense. Even Kuemper came good in Game 6, looking sharp as he saved 22 of 23 shots to have the last laugh at his critics’ expense.
Colorado Could Become the NHL’s Next Dynasty
The Lightning were on the brink of winning a third consecutive Cup when they wrapped up victory in the east. However, they finally met their match when they came up against the Avs in a titanic championship showdown.
Many fans are now wondering if this talented young Avalanche team can replace the Tampa Bay dynasty with one of its own. After all, their best players are under 30, and they have the 12th youngest roster in the NHL.
There will undoubtedly be some offseason changes and free agency gaps, but the core of this Cup-winning team will return next season. The sportsbooks have made them the clear favorites to win the Stanley Cup again, best priced at just +450 with BetMGM and Caesars Sportsbook. Their closest rivals are the Maple Leafs (+900), the Bolts (+1000) and the Panthers (+1200), but right now the Avs are the team to beat in the NHL.