The last time anyone saw the Colorado Avalanche, they were sprawled on the ice in Tampa celebrating a dominant postseason run to the third Stanley Cup title in franchise history.
That late June night capped years of frustration for star Nathan MacKinnon, who had grumbled a year earlier that he hadn’t won, ahem, “anything” in his career. He can’t say that anymore, but the question becomes, can Colorado repeat as champion?
The campaign for another Cup starts Wednesday night at home against the Chicago Blackhawks, after the championship banner is raised at Ball Arena.
The Avalanche are the favorites of many to win it again despite some significant losses. Nazem Kadri scored big goals in the playoffs but signed a free agent contract with Calgary. Colorado had slim hopes of keeping the second-line center amid salary cap constraints.
That has thrust young Alex Newhook into Kadri’s spot.
“It’s anyone’s spot right now, but I’m definitely working to try and earn it,” Newhook said.
Also gone is goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who was in net when the Avalanche clinched the title with the Game 6 win over Tampa Bay. The No. 1 job belongs — for now — to Alexandar Georgiev, whom Colorado acquired from the New York Rangers in the offseason, with Pavel Francouz serving as the backup.
The Avalanche have kept their core of talent together — MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Norris Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cale Makar.
The Avalanche shook up their front office, with Joe Sakic promoted to president of hockey operations and assistant general manager Chris McFarland taking over as GM.
Sakic and McFarland made significant moves in the offseason, signing winger Evan Rodriquez to a one-year deal and signing Valeri Nichuskin, Andrew Cogliano and Josh Manson to multi-year deals.
Colorado will start the season without Landeskog, who is sidelined with a back injury.
Chicago opens the season with a three-game road trip and in full rebuilding mode. Luke Richardson was hired as the head coach and few players are left from the 2015 title team, the last of three championships in six seasons for the Blackhawks.
Captain Jonathon Toews is back, as well as winger Patrick Kane. The two were instrumental in the team’s success from 2010 to ’15, and they are surrounded by plenty of youth. Only three other players are over 30, including defenseman Jack Johnson, who was with the Avs last season.
Richardson has installed an aggressive defensive system that will be tested right away against Colorado.
“We’re looking to kill plays quickly,” Richardson said. “It’s hard defense, and that just gives us more energy to play offense instead of chipping the puck out after being in (our) zone for a minute.”
Winger Sam Lafferty is happy with the new system
“It’s more aggressive than anything I’ve played, and I really like it,” he said. “Because as a center, you can strike sooner. And as a winger, you can strike sooner when the guy climbs the wall.”
–Field Level Media