Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The 2015-2016 Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche

The 2013-2014 season displayed, what was perceived to be, a glimpse into the future of things to come for the young and skillful team. But after a season that was deemed a failure in comparison to the season before it, what is the direction of this team? And will this version of the Colorado Avalanche reach the same height as the version from the early 2000s?

Before we go too far, you as the reader have to acknowledge the fact that “analytics” or “advanced stats” in the hockey world is here and it’s not going anywhere. Analytics is nothing more than a tool to be used to help explain various aspects of the game we love. The Avalanche are a team you can point towards when you want to make a case for analytics. In the 2013-2014 season, the Avalanche “looked” like a juggernaut team. They were young, fast, and explosive. They had numerous players who singlehandedly could make an opposing team’s defence look foolish. They were a ton of fun to watch, but that’s that the thing – watching the Avalanche told a very different story than analyzing the Avalanche. In fact, the 2013-2014 Avalanche were not that different analytically from the 2014-2015 Avalanche.

Colorado Avalanche
Even Strength
All Situations
Power play
Penalty kill
2013-2014: 19.8% (5th)
2013-2014: 80.7% (24th)
2014-2015: 15% (29th)
2014-2015: 84.6% (5th)

At even strength, the Avalanche changed very little from their highly successful season in 2013-2014 compared to the lackluster 2014-2015 season. The 2014-2015 Avalanche started in their own zone 3.7% more than the 2013-2014 Avalanche. The team went from being average to be hemmed in their own end constantly. This can wear a team down as a game progresses, and subsequently wear the team out through the entire season. This could help explain the significant drop in their power play. The drop in their power play was huge and resulted in a swing of about 25 goals for the team. Based on averages, those goals could be equated to 7 wins. Subsequently their poor performance on the power play cost them a playoff spot. Why did their power play drop significantly? That’s a good question. It’s hard to ignore the biggest change for the Avalanche from season to season: Paul Statsny. Statsny was 60% on faceoffs when on the power play and had 15 power play points. Both those factors would contribute to the drop, especially Statsny’s faceoff ability as he was their centre on the first unit. Puck control is everything and the Avalanche are already poor at it, removing Statsny didn’t help; it hurt.

The Team
The Avalanche have a lot of raw skill and boast some great young players in the likes of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon. The loss of Statsny and Ryan O’Reilly will be huge and the Avalanche need newcomers Carl Soderberg and Mikhail Grigorenko to make an impact to fill the void. Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov (traded from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Ryan O’Reilly) have shown promise of being impactful NHLer’s. Grigorenko was the odd man out in Buffalo and should play top six minutes under head coach Patrick Roy. Roy was Grigorenko’s coach when he played with the Quebec Rmparts of the QMJHL. The addition of Zadorov and Francois Beauchemin should be welcomed additions on the blueline for a team that has struggled defensively. Along with Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson the backend looks more promising than in previous years.
Taking into consideration all the additions and subtractions to the roster, this Colorado Avalanche team still has a lot of work to be done to be a perennial playoff team. The top six is young and skillful, but has experienced significant subtractions over the years.  The bottom six forwards are arguably the weakest group in the league. With the additions to their blueline their defense group has improved, but the team still doesn’t have that cornerstone defenseman and it doesn’t appear one will appear soon. With their forward group being weakened and the defense being one of the weakest in the league, the Avalanche need their draft picks to start panning out.

The Prospects
Getting straight to the point, the Avalanche own one of the weakest prospect pools in the entire league. It’s not great. Their best prospect is also their newest, and Mikko Rantanen has the size and skill to be a very good top six forward in the NHL someday. His ability and size will make him a welcomed addition to the Avalanche lineup. Chris Bigras is the organization’s best defensive prospect. He had a great final year with the Owen Sound Attack and will be looking to translate that success to the Avalanche’s new AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. The final noteworthy prospect of the Avalanche organization is Conner Bleackley. Bleackley was Colorado’s first round pick in 2014. Bleackley had a plateau year points-wise with the Red Deer Rebels, but did increase his goals-per-game. He’ll be looking to have a strong final junior year before making the transition to pro.

The Future
The future for the Colorado Avalanche is a fuzzy one. The team is a dreadful possession team which means, without any luck, they’ll finish in the bottom half of the league again this season. They do bode a couple very young, very skilled forwards, but will need the talent around them to develop in order for the team to have long term success. The Avalanche need to draft better as well, as they have had no luck with developing players who didn’t come from the top five of the draft. They need the likes of Rantanen, Bigras, and Bleackley to pan out if they want to improve their team sooner, rather than later.

The Prediction

The Colorado Avalanche will miss the NHL playoffs for the second straight season. 

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Are Too Many 1st Overall Picks a Bad Thing?

The Newest Edmonton Oilers' 1st Overall Draft Pick

As it is now known, the Edmonton Oilers have won the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery.  In a couple months, they will draft Connor McDavid – a touted generational talent with the capabilities of turning a franchise around. The Oilers winning the 2015 lottery will result in their fourth 1st overall selection in six years. Their previous three 1st overall selections came in a row, where they selected Taylor Hall (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011), and Nail Yakupov (2012). This year’s lottery win signifies the second time in four years the Oilers have won the draft lottery (2012). 

The 1st overall selection in the NHL draft allows an organization to add high end prospective talent to help make the team better. With now four 1st overall selections in six drafts, the Oilers must surely be on their way to the top of the NHL. But why hasn’t that success started to appear? Each of Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yakupov are starting to enter the peak of their careers. Three cornerstone pieces are more than enough to start turning the ship around. Yet, the Edmonton Oilers continue to find themselves in the lower third of the league. Shouldn’t this team have seen some promise of better times by now? Of course, there are many components as to why the Oilers still find themselves low in the league standings, but let us focus in on why the luxury of multiple 1st overall selections can be a negative.

If an organization had the 1st overall selection in the draft and passed on the clear-cut number one prospect for that year, they would be deemed foolish, incompetent, and idiotic. It is always the goal to add the best player available to your team, but this doesn’t necessarily help build your team. Take the Oilers for example. They finished last in 2010 and drafted Taylor Hall. A player deemed the best prospect at the time, but who was only ranked slightly ahead of Tyler Seguin. Either player in this year would have worked out well, but most tend to lean towards a center, and in this case, like Seguin. The following year they took the consensus top prospect in center, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. In 2012, the Oilers finished 29th in the NHL and were slated to pick second in the NHL draft until they won the lottery. Again, they took the consensus top prospect and ended up with Nail Yakupov, another winger. Had they chosen in the 2nd position, they could have drafted number two prospect, defenseman Ryan Murray. Murray would have made more sense from an organizational build perspective. Having that top winger, center, and defensemen is crucial in today’s NHL. Continuing on from 2012, the Oilers did get a top prospect defensemen in Darnell Nurse in 2013. In 2014, they drafted a big, strong, and skilled center in Leon Draisaitl. Had the Oilers lost the lottery in 2012, they would have been off the hook for having to draft the top prospect and could have drafted based on need. At this point, they would have had two high end centers, two high end defensemen, and a high end winger. 

That theoretical aside, the draft for 2015 started to shape up that the Oilers would be able to take another top prospect defenseman in Noah Hanifin. Instead, the Oilers win the lottery and will add generational center, Connor McDavid to their organization. Again the Oilers will take the best prospect available, and rightfully so considering who that prospect is, but are they better off for it? This is a team who desperately needs blue chip, cornerstone defensemen and has only taken one in 10 years. They have a wealth of offensive talent, but with the Oilers rushing these players into the NHL, some have had their value diminish greatly due to poor performance. Adding high end talent, especially on defense, is very difficult in the NHL and is typically accomplished through the draft. Good fortune for the Oilers has caused a bit of a mess in their organizational makeup. With all that talent up front, is it a sure thing that they will move up and make a run at the league’s greatest prize? Or will they continue to hang around the bottom, winning the loser's greatest prize?